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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 11

(7) Many of the Akan/Twi terms change their spelling slightly,
but it is not clear whether this was due to re-thinking the orthography
or just careless copying." The changes include the addition of an
accent or accents to a number of terms, in some instances an additional
accent. But Barbot was so very slapdash in putting accents on French
words that it is very doubtful whether the accents on African terms mean
While some of the miscopyings can be corrected and probably most of the
changes are of little consequence, this comparison of the Gold Coast
vocabularies serves as a warning that all the vocabularies are to some extent
crude ones. Barbot not only failed to exercise sufficient care when copying
but did not wholly understand what he was doing, such ignorance about
linguistic niceties being inevitable at that time. Hence any conclusions
be drawn from this material must make allowance for its formal deficiencies.
The Senegal vocabularies contain, apart from the numerals, 224 Wolof
items and 219 Fula ones, only slightly fewer than the Gold Coast vocabulary,
omissions being partly made up by additions. Although for these vocabularies
we do not have two manuscript versions to compare, as was the case with the
Gold Coast vocabulary, nevertheless certain copying errors between the missing
earlier version and 1688 can be detected. The Fula term 177 is the equivalent
of gloss 176, and the Wolof term 169 is wrongly placed in the Fula column.
item 153 the original gloss in 1679, 'laver', interpreted as meaning to wash
a material object, is correctly represented by the Fula term; but when, Barbot
mistakenly conflated two sequential Akan/Twi items in 1679 to produce in
the altered gloss of 'laver les mains', the new meaning of 'laver', to wash
a person, is not that of the Fula term.
The Ewe vocabulary is much shorter than the other three. It contains,
apart from the numerals, 160 items. It has one additional phrase (although
this is only a variant on a phrase in the other vocabularies) and only one
term additional to those found elsewhere. Presumably it was collected either
more hastily - Barbot was in Whydah very briefly, probably only for two or
three days - or else from a less well-informed source, or perhaps both. A
misplacements other than those noted above appear in this vocabulary which
not the result of miscopying into 1688 may have been slips in his original
In the printed English version of his account, which Barbot was still
finalizing at his death in 1712, the vocabularies were recast, with the French
glosses being translated into English and the items rearranged alphabetically
by the English terms."' The English glosses occasionally clarify the
meaning of a French term but the translation, almost certainly by Barbot
" However, two spellings had already been provided in 1679 for no.4,
linked by 'ou'; and
alternative terms had been given for no.103. In 1688 an alternative term
for Akan/Twi no.218
appeared, matching two terms for Ewe/Fon no.218.
'7 The English version of Barbot's account was probably not begun until the
1700s and was
therefore prepared some twenty years after the French account. It is unlikely
that Barbot had
retained his original notes and that he referred to them when preparing the
English version of
the vocabularies. Nothing in the vocabularies themselves suggests other than
that he recast them
by working from the version in 1688.

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