South African developer launches Wortel — Wordle in Afrikaans

Software developer Francois Botha has put together and hosted an Afrikaans version of word game sensation Wordle, which he has dubbed “Wortel”.

Wordle is a word guessing game based on the mechanics of the board game Mastermind.

Players have six chances to guess a five-letter word. The game indicates whether letters have been correctly guessed and whether letters are in the correct position.

Earlier this month, the New York Times bought Wordle for an undisclosed sum in “the low seven figures.”

Botha explained that he could get an Afrikaans translation of the game online reasonably quickly, thanks to an open-source project called React-Wordle.

“While much of React-Wordle was coded by one person, it has since been handed over to others and is supported by a multitude of contributors,” Botha told MyBroadband.

Wortel’s code is hosted in Github, which automatically deploys any changes Botha pushes to where he hosts the game on Microsoft’s Azure cloud platform.

Francois Botha, Wortel developer

Like the original Wordle, none of the game’s code executes on the server.

When you connect to the website, the whole game is downloaded to your browser — including the word of the day.

“If you want to cheat, it’s actually very easy to go and look what the solution is, but where’s the fun in that?” Botha said.

Botha said that when Wordle caught on, probably like many people, he thought it would be fantastic to have a version in his mother tongue.

While it would have been a fun challenge to write a Wordle clone from scratch, he said he didn’t have the time, making React-Wordle a welcome find.

This allowed him to spend his time developing an Afrikaans word list for the game instead.

“That was the hard part,” said Botha.

Building a word list for Wortel

The first version of Wortel had a limited set of Afrikaans words, and a few friends who tested it found that basic words like “volke” (peoples) and “ruspe” (caterpillar) were not recognised as valid guesses.

Botha explained that the game needs two word lists — one list of five-letter words that are accepted guesses, and another for the word-of-the-day.

To develop a list of accepted answers, he first came upon Mieliestronk’s word list.

However, this excluded words like “ruspe”, and plurals and diminutive word forms such as “volke” and “hasie” (bunny).

In his attempts to solve the problem, Botha came upon LibreOffice’s Afrikaans dictionary.

While this contained a broad list of words, it still only included singular and non-diminutive forms.

However, Botha then found an accompanying file containing various Afrikaans language rules in the Hunspell format.

He then wrote a simple program to generate every five-letter sequence of characters from “aaaaa” to “zzzzz” and ran it through the Hunspell engine, keeping only valid words.

“I think it could probably still be improved, but at least it doesn’t feel like the word list holds the game back,” said Botha.

For the word-of-the-day, Botha says he randomly re-ordered the answer list and manually eliminated some words, including hurtful or “naughty” words.

“The target word won’t be plural or diminutive, and I avoided words with circumflex (ˆ) and diaeresis (¨), such as geëet.”

Botha said he is still figuring out how to handle characters like e, ê, and ë.

Currently, players can guess “geeet”, even though it doesn’t look like a real word, but it won’t ever be the solution.

To make managing the daily word tenable, Botha said he maintains the next 50 days’ words or so.

However, he made it clear that he does not choose the day’s word as that would be too much admin. He generated a random list and just makes sure the solutions are reasonable before putting them in the game.

Botha said he does not run Google Analytics or any other tracking code on Wortel.

He is uncertain whether he would have to get the user’s consent for browser cookies to do so, and he’d like to keep the site nice and clean — as it is now.

Based on statistics reported by Azure, the game is receiving around 11,000 visits a day already.

“From the feedback I’ve received, it sounds like most people feel the Afrikaans version of the game is more difficult than English,” Botha said.

“A linguist would have to confirm, but I think it’s because English has a larger vocabulary and the way Afrikaans words are formed.”

Afrikaans words can have several consecutive and repeating vowels, which rarely happens in English.

“For example, ‘meeue’ (gulls) is a valid guess. Although, no one would really use it as it does not eliminate many incorrect letters.”


Now read: Wordle sold to New York Times

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South African developer launches Wortel — Wordle in Afrikaans