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LINGUIST List 17.1514

Tue May 16 2006

Review: African Lang/Dictionaries: Jones (2004) (3 books)

Editor for this issue: Lindsay Butler <lindsaylinguistlist.org>

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        1.    Dmitry Idiatov, Boko dictionary

Message 1: Boko dictionary
Date: 12-May-2006
From: Dmitry Idiatov <Dmitry.Idiatovua.ac.be>
Subject: Boko dictionary

Announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/15/15-2685.html

AUTHOR: Jones, Ross McCallum
TITLE: Boko Dictionary
SERIES: Languages of the World/Dictionaries 24
YEAR: 2004

AUTHOR: Jones, Ross McCallum
TITLE: Bokobaru Dictionary
SERIES: Languages of the World/Dictionaries 30
YEAR: 2004

AUTHOR: Jones, Ross McCallum
TITLE: Busa Dictionary
SERIES: Languages of the World/Dictionaries 31
YEAR: 2004

Dmitry Idiatov, Department of Linguistics, University of Antwerp


The dictionaries provide a lexicographic description of three closely
related East Mande languages. They have been compiled by the
author over a period of 35 years under the auspices of the Summer
Institute of Linguistics and represent an important supplement to the
1998 grammar of this language cluster published by the same author
with Lincom GmbH (Jones 1998). The three dictionaries are organized
in the same way. They start with a very brief introduction in which the
organization of the dictionary is explained, and a few grammatical
phenomena relevant for the presentation of the data are mentioned.
This is followed by a list of major typological features of the source
language and two tables representing pronominal paradigms, which
show the complexity typical for East Mande languages. The Bokobaru
and Busa dictionaries also include a table with demonstratives. The
second part is constituted by the LANGUAGE-English dictionary,
which is root based. All non-sentential examples, derivatives and
compounds beginning with the main entry word are given as sub-
entries. Entries, subentries and examples are in bold, abbreviations
are in italics, and the rest is in regular font. The (sub)entries are
presented in the practical orthography but are always accompanied by
a phonological representation in square brackets when the
orthographical form is ambiguous. Synonyms, variants and etymology
for loans are often provided (cognate forms in one of the other two
languages of the cluster are also subsumed under the
label ''etymology''). The Boko and Bokobaru dictionaries include
around 7000 entries (subentries and main entries). Busa dictionary
includes around 6600 entries (subentries and main entries), although
it is only half the size of the other two dictionaries, which indicates that
the Busa entries are less elaborate. The third part of each dictionary
is made of an English-LANGUAGE index. The LANGUAGE equivalent
is provided with a part-of-speech label and a reference to the
subentries and main entries, when the equivalent is not the main entry
itself, or just to the main entry in the LANGUAGE-English.


Abbreviations used:
BK:[page number] -- Boko dictionary,
BB:[page number] -- Bokobaru dictionary,
BS:[page number] -- Busa dictionary.
Examples are put between *...*. IPA characters are adjusted to the
ASCII chart.

The dictionaries provide the first, and in all probability the last,
lexicographic description of Boko, Bokobaru and Busa. Therefore,
their importance cannot be underestimated. They will serve as a
useful resource for anybody interested in Boko, Busa, Bokobaru, and
in Mande or African languages in general. Linguists interested in
lexical typology will surely find interesting data there as well. Although
after 35 years of work on a language, one might have expected a
more elaborate lexicographic description, the dictionaries are in
general of good quality.

The following points of criticism can be mentioned. To start with, the
Boko dictionary is advertised (both on the web and on its back cover)
to provide ''glosses in English and French'', although only English
ones are there. The introductions and grammatical sketches in the
dictionaries are too summary and some users may find them difficult to
use without having Ross's (1998) grammar at hand. To a certain
extent this drawback is compensated by the list of typological features
of the three languages and tables with pronominal paradigms.

In all three dictionaries, the number of entries is impressive for a
dictionary of an African language. However, to a certain extent, the
high number is due to the numerous compounds included as (sub)
entries. As a user I would have appreciated if their internal structure
were made clear in one way or another. Another point is that many of
the compounds do not seem to be particularly lexicalized and their
inclusion as (sub)entries in the dictionary is at least questionable, e.g.
*gukpe-deo* 'people from the east (lit.: 'east-people/inhabitants')'
(BK:67) or *gusia-deo* 'people of darkness (lit.: 'darkness-
people/inhabitants')' (BK:67; it is also not very clear to me what the
latter compound means exactly). A similar remark can be made
regarding the use of illustrative examples. To my mind, they could
have been left out when they do not add any relevant morphosyntactic
or semantic information to the translation. For instance, for the word
*fura* 'cap' an example literally meaning 'Sabi brought a new cap' is
given (BB:45).

What I also felt missing in the dictionaries is encyclopaedic information
and attention to stylistic nuances of translations. For instance, quite a
few examples seem to be translated word-for-word rather than in plain
English. Thus, one finds translations like 'Sabi's masculinity is
complete' (BB:65) and 'We are the truly circumcised' (BK:165), where I
would like to see a cultural comment explaining what is exactly meant
or a more liberal translation, followed by a literal translation.
Admittedly, in some cases both free and literal translations are
provided, as in (BK:156), but strangely enough the literal translation
there precedes the example, while the free translation follows.
Another example of a too literal translation is 'His male organ is
discharging' (BK:64). Here the English translation seems to be of a
rather different stylistic register than the Boko sentence. I do not know
whether the dictionaries were also meant to be used by the speakers
of Boko, Bokobaru and Busa, but should this be the case, I am sure
plain English translations would have been more useful to them than
such word-for-word approximations. The general lack of stylistic labels
in the dictionaries (such as, vulgar, formal, archaic, etc.) is also
regrettable. Just as regrettable is the lack of ethnographic comments
and more extensive descriptions of many artefacts and concepts
typical for the three language communities. No scientific names and
descriptions are provided for flora and fauna terms, although in the
case of terms designating animals and birds quite specialized English
equivalents can often be found.

The way the labels ''vt'' (transitive verb) and ''vi'' (intransitive verb) are
used in the dictionaries is not completely clear to me. As in other
Mande languages, the distinction between transitive and intransitive
verbs in Boko, Bokobaru and Busa is very straightforward and easy to
make: If the verb has a preposed object then it is transitive, in all other
cases it is intransitive. Both transitive and intransitive verbs can also
have a postposed indirect object regularly marked by a postposition.
As a rule, omission of the direct object of a transitive verb is not
allowed. In BB:106-107 we can find the following (sub)entries. On the
one hand, there is *le ke* 'sharpen' labelled as ''vt'' and indeed, it
needs a preposed object *fee le ke* 'sharpen a knife'. On the other
hand, there is *le die ...-ne* 'give instructions' also labelled as ''vt'', but
it allows only for a postposed object marked by the postposition *ne*.
At the same time, there is *le ku ... -n* 'interfere in, involved (be)'
which is also used without a preposed object but is labelled as ''vi''.
Another point here is that in all three cases *le* 'mouth, opening' is
itself an (incorporated) object of the verb.

The root principle of organization of the dictionaries is sometimes a bit
uncomfortable. For instance, in the Boko dictionary *lán ...-wa* 'as if' is
put under *lá1* 'as, since' on p.98, whereas I would have looked for it
on p.100, according to the alphabetical order. Furthermore, it is not
always clear why entries are organized the way they are. Are they
organized from a basic, prototypical meaning to secondary meanings
(e.g., metaphoric extensions), or from the most common meaning to
less common ones, or from an etymologically first meaning to the
derived meanings? Consequently, it is not always easy to find your
way in such an entry. This is particularly the case with verb entries,
such as the entry *mo* in BK:114 organized as follows: 1) 'swallow',
2)'come', then subentries in the following order 'swallow whole' --
'bring to' -- 'gulp down' -- 'bring, come with' -- 'be enough' -- 'arrival' --
'arrival time' -- 'swallow down' -- 'oral' -- 'bridesmaid'. Admittedly, I
may be too demanding here. People tend to forget how difficult it is to
organize all your entries in a clear and straightforward way.

Typos are not numerous. The typeface is clear and legible with
boldface (sub)entries and examples. The nice cover is also an
aesthetic plus as compared to the usual Lincom publications. I
particularly appreciated the presence of phonological transcriptions
for main entries, as well as references to synonyms and source forms
of loanwords. The availability of an English-LANGUAGE index is more
than welcome. Last but not least, I was positively impressed by the
wealth of vocabulary treated in the dictionaries. Thus, ideophones and
flora and fauna terms, which are often underrepresented in
lexicographic publications, can be found in abundance in the
dictionaries under review. The dictionaries even include place and
person names. Subsuming, I find the three lexicographic descriptions
under review to be of good quality. They will surely serve as an
invaluable source of information to all those interested in Boko, Busa
and Bokobaru.


Jones, Ross McCallum (1998). The Boko/Busa language cluster.
München: Lincom GmbH [LINCOM Studies in African Linguistics, 30]

I am a PhD student at the University of Antwerp. My current research
focus is on typological aspects of interrogativity, especially
interrogative pro-words. I am also interested in descriptive linguistics
and lexicography, with special emphasis on Mande languages, such
as Bamana and Toura. I am working on a Toura-French dictionary.
The latter work stems from the project on "Lexicology of Eastern
Mande languages in the context of Mande linguistic comparison"
(http://www.unizh.ch/spw/afrling/prjbsch/mande.htm) funded by the
Swiss National Science Foundation. The first results of this project
have been recently put on the web at http://www.mandesud.net.
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