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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


Page 8

unlikely to enter into regular Afro-European verbal contacts. The later
vocabularies used almost the same selection of phrases and terms as the first,
yet it is possible that Barbot made a point of collecting a vocabulary at
Whydah because French interests there were developing, and indeed he may
have
included the vocabulary in a report to the authorities which he says he made
on his return.
The shape of the vocabularies
The Gold Coast vocabulary was organised in three sections, each
containing items in French and in Akan/Twi equivalents or supposed
equivalents. The first section is a list of 21 short phrases of the kind
useful to a European visitor to Africa, particularly a sailor or trader.
The
second is a much longer list of terms, some 215, mostly simple single terms
in French and Akan/Twi, generally represented by single words in each,
although the French nouns are occasionally with a definite or indefinite
article. The verbs, a smaller number of these than the nouns, are in the
infinitive in French, and there are a few adjectives. The third section is
a
list of numerals.
The second list is arranged, as Barbot said, alphabetically, that is,
by the French terms. There is no evidence that Barbot was copying a standard
or earlier list and we presume that the selection of terms was his. This
makes
it plausible that his procedure was to draw up the list and then work through
the items with an informant, to obtain the equivalents in Akan/Twi. But it
is
unlikely that at this stage the terms were arranged alphabetically since
it
would have been easier to ask about them if arranged in semantic groupings.
However, since the later vocabularies followed the same list, which by 1682
Barbot had incorporated in alphabetic form in his 1678-9 journal, in
collecting them he may have had to follow the alphabetic order, unless he
retained his original notes or rearranged the terms. A fair number of the
terms could be obtained by addressing the informant in sign language,
especially those denoting parts of the body and common tools, and it may
well
be that Barbot used this technique with oral informants. Indeed some errors
in the vocabularies suggest this strongly. If so, however, this does not
of
itself make it the more likely that in each instance Barbot dealt directly
with an African informant, since such errors could have arisen when another
European used sign language.
In both his accounts Barbot presented the four vocabularies in matched
entries across the page, with the French phrases and terms appearing in an
initial column on the left. This makes it clear that the later vocabularies
were based on the earlier Gold Coast list of phrases and terms. However,
a
handful of Gold Coast terms were not found equivalents in the Senegal
languages, apparently because they were not appropriate, or were thought
to
be not appropriate, to that region (e.g. terms for banana, orange, Guinea
pepper, potato); hence blanks were left in the Wolof and Fula columns.
Probably certain of the blanks in the Ewe column can be similarly explained
(e.g. lead). Other blanks in all the later vocabularies were probably instead
the result of the informant not knowing the correct word, or more likely,
not
understanding what Barbot was asking him. Conversely, Barbot showed some
flexibility by adding a small number of terms to the later vocabularies,
some
of them terms thought peculiarly appropriate to the localities (e.g. for
Senegal, terms for ostrich and couscous, and for Whydah the term for cowries),


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