LINGUIST List 10.68

Sat Jan 16 1999

Review: Winkler: Kpelle-English Dictionary

Editor for this issue: Andrew Carnie <>

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  1. Amanda Hallie Seidl-Friedman, Winkler: Kpelle dictionary.

Message 1: Winkler: Kpelle dictionary.

Date: Wed, 6 Jan 1999 10:34:07 -0500 (EST)
From: Amanda Hallie Seidl-Friedman <>
Subject: Winkler: Kpelle dictionary.

Winkler, Elizabeth Grace (1997) _Kpelle-English Dictionary with
 English-Kpelle Glossary_. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University
 Linguistics Club Publications. 101 pp.

Reviewed by Amanda Seidl <>

This is a relatively small dictionary of Kpelle (a Western Mande language,
as spoken in Bong County, Liberia). It is divided into three sections; an
introduction which discusses briefly Kpelle phonological processes and
grammar, the main body of the dictionary, and the English-Kpelle glossary.

The intoduction to the dictionary contains three subsections. The first
subsection provides some genetic information about Kpelle. The second
subsection includes a description of the sound system which includes a
brief description of consonant mutations in Kpelle and information about
the tonal inventory. The third subsection includes a discussion of Kpelle

The body of the dictionary begins with a brief description of how to read a
dictionary entry as well as a list of abreviations. Because the author of
the dictionary uses phonetic transcription she also provides a list of the
ordering of the phonetic segments in the dictionary body. The dictionary
itself contains just over 1,100 entries. Many entries include example
sentences which contain the headword with translations. 

The English-Kpelle glossary contains 1,065 English words and their Kpelle
glosses and is organized alphabetically.

Winkler's dictionary is important because there are few Kpelle dictionaries
in existence. In fact this dictionary is only one of two that I have
heard of. The downside to this dictionary is that it is fairly brief, but
is fairly impressive for a dictionary that began as a project for a field
methods class working with just one language consultant! 

The methodology for the compilation of the dictionary included using word
lists from previous Kpelle glossaries and articles on Kpelle and a list of
Mende (a closely related language) words. Winkler also made up her own
lists of words from the environment. The result of these various sources
combine to make a dictionary which includes a large number of high
frequency words, but which in general has more nouns and fewer verbs than
most dictionaries.

Because the grammar of the Western Mande language family has been
significanly less studied than some other families, some of the
categorizations as adjective or verb are sketchy, but Winkler freely admits
this deficit and the vague quality of these categorioes is not detrimental
to the dictionary's overall readability.

This dictionary is extremely useful for language learners of Kpelle as well
as for linguists who are working on Kpelle.

I have one small worry: because the author is not a native speaker I hope
that the tone contrasts in the dictionary have been intrumentally checked
or that Winkler's ear is better than mine. I am concerned that most of
the example sentences in entries contain no examples of tone sandhi. In 
many related languages, Mende being one, tone sandhi occurs in many
environments and although I am willing to believe in this lack of sandhi in
Kpelle I think it would be helpful if Winkler stated this fact explicitly
in the introduction. 


Amanda Seidl. Department of Linguistics. University of Pennsylvania.

I have studied Mende consonant mutations with a language consultant from
Sierra Leone. I have also worked at the Linguistic Data Consortiuum and with
the African Language Resource Council editing and helping native speaker
linguists compile dictionaries. I am currently working on a dissertation on
the syntax-phonology interface.

Amanda Seidl
Department of Linguistics
University of Pennsylvania
619 Williams Hall

dept phone: (215) 898-6046

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