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Hair, P. E. H. (Paul Edward Hedley); Barbot, Jean, 1655-1712 / Barbot's West African vocabularies of c. 1680
(1992)

Barbot's West African vocabularies,   pp. 1-15


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are copies, if not copies of copies. The significance of this is related
to
the nature of early vocabularies collected by Europeans. In general, Europeans
did not understand the languages whose terms they were recording. Therefore,
when copying they were copying what was to them so much gibberish, and they
could not be guided, as when copying one's own language, by fore-knowledge
when it came to deciphering what they (or others) had earlier written. That
in Barbot's case mistakes occurred with each copying of sets of African terms
can be proved by comparing versions of the same vocabulary, and in particular
by comparing the two manuscript versions of the Gold Coast vocabulary, the
one
in the clean copy of the journal and the other in the French account written
only half a dozen years later. And it is further suggested by comparing these
versions with the version in the printed account of 1732, although of course
here we must allow for misprints, the responsibility in this case solely
of
the printer and his proof-readers, since Barbot himself was no longer alive
to check. As it happens, Barbot had a very clear hand, and no doubt because
of this the number of proven miscopyings is limited. Nevertheless, what all
this means is that, because we lack the original notes, it is more difficult
to gain clues as to Barbot's mode of collection from an analysis of the
vocabularies than it would otherwise be, since certain of the peculiarities
may be the product not of the mode of collection but of the modes of
transcription and transmission.
Why did Barbot collect vocabularies?
In the later version of his account Barbot included a vocabulary of
Akan/Twi published, in 1602, in a Dutch work on Gold Coast by Pieter de
Marees, a work Barbot extensively used for other information even in the
earlier version of his account.'2 But Barbot's Gold Coast vocabulary first
appeared in the journal of the 1678-9 voyage and this journal lacks evidence
that at this earlier date Barbot was acquainted with the Dutch work. It would
seem therefore that whatever persuaded him to collect a Gold Coast vocabulary
in 1679, it was probably not the example of this particular earlier vocabulary
or any desire to update the Dutch material. After his return to France in
1682, and after the generation of the idea that he should use what he had
seen
in Guinea and what he had recorded in his journals, in order to enlarge a
proposed translation of the material on West Africa in a recent compilation
on all Africa by another Dutchman, Olfried Dapper, Barbot began to read
extensively in the early literature on West Africa in several languages.
In
these works, including that of De Marees, he could not fail to encounter
examples of African terms and word lists of African languages."' Yet
there is
no trace of any such reading in the 1678-9 journal - if the missing 1681-2
journal did contain traces this might indicate that he began his reading
12 See note 5 above.
" Barbot does not seem to have read German, or at least to have had
any acquaintance with
German writings, and there is no evidence that he knew of the Akan/Twi vocabulary
in Muller's
1673 book. Dapper's work, in its section on West Africa which Barbot translated
at length, quoted
odd African-language terms and at one point ran through a large number, cited
each separately
within a text (see Hair, 'Vocabulary of Vai', note 4 above), yet it contained
no formal
vocabularies, not even the Akan/Twi vocabulary in De Marees, a work from
which Dapper borrowed
heavily.


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