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

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

Page 10

certainly the fullest available in accessible volumes throughout the
eighteenth century (the works by De Marees, Mller and other col hectors being
comparatively unknown and rare). But academic interest in African languages
did not develope significantly until the nineteenth century. Meanwhile, even
if Barbot's vocabularies had been consulted for practical purposes, their
value would have been limited. Like all early representations of non-European
languages, they are inaccurate phonetically and sometimes crude semantically,
and as such would have been of only very limited help to a novice European
attempting to communicate with the relevant Africans in Guinea. Their ultimate
value has been other than practical. In the later eighteenth century and
early nineteenth century the printed vocabularies perhaps did something to
convince those few Europeans who read Barbot's folio volume (reissued in
and 1752), if they needed convincing, that Black Africans had complex
languages and that this suggested that they had rich traditional cultures
were fully human. Today the vocabularies have academic value, as a historical
document whose study throws a little more light on the obscurities of the
Black African past and the history of Afro-European relations.
Comparing versions of the vocabularies
Barbot did not number the items in his vocabularies but this has now
been done. The Akan/Twi vocabulary contains, apart from the numerals, 236
items - 21 phrases and 215 terms. When we compare the version in the 1678-
* 9 journal (hereafter 1679) with that in the French account written 1683-8
(hereafter 1688) - assuming the latter to have been copied from the former,
although it is just possible that both derived from the same source, the
original notes made on the voyage - we find the following differences, some
significant. (For ease of reference we shall describe the French term as
'gloss' although strictly speaking it is the African terms which are glosses
on the French term.)
(1) Three items have wholly dropped out, presumably by miscopying.
I have added these at the end of the list given below, as items 254-
(2) One term, item 124, is omitted while its gloss has changed
from 'fers pour en forger' to 'des fers pour les pidz' - the omission
may be due to miscopying or may relate to the changed gloss.
(3) Many other glosses are changed, although usually only
slightly. The definite or indefinite article is regularly added to
nouns and where 1679 gave the imperative of verbs in both the singular
and the plural forms (e.g. vends, viens), 1688 gives it in only in the
plural.  Spellings   are  frequently   varied.  Changes   which  appear
significant are noted in the list below (e.g. 'les bras' becomes 'le
bras' and 'laver' becomes, misleadingly, 'laver les mains'.
(4) Through miscopying, items 127-32 are wrongly lined in 1688
and set against the 1679 glosses here numbered 128-33. This has been
corrected in the list below.
(5) Barbot adds in 1688, by deducing their shape from the numerals
already given in 1679, the following numerals: 11-19, 1,000. He adds to
the last 'Etc' and on a new line for 1,200 a remark which is partly
illegible but perhaps reads 'de meme du reste'.
(6) Barbot adds in 1688 four new terms which seem to be borrowed
from his printed sources, the terms for God, gold, cloth and maniguette



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