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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 13

previously.1' For each term supplied by Barbot an attempt is made to find
some
term in the appropriate modern language that appears to have a close phonetic
and semantic resemblance. The relationship is indicated by the symbol =.
But
this should not be taken to mean that the modern term exactly represents
or
exactly corresponds to the vocabulary term. Apart from phonological and
semantic   changes   in   the  language    over  the   intervening    centuries,
   the
inexactitude of the early vocabularies, in particular their crude orthography,
reflecting both an inadequate form of transcription and the failure of the
collector to hear the phonetic peculiarities of languages other than his
own,
in itself makes it often difficult to be sure that a Barbot term is the same
as a modern term. Equally, since the stated meaning of a Barbot term is
sometimes   too   general,    too  vague,   patently    inaccurate,    or
 culturally
irrelevant because referring to an item outside the contemporary African
experience, the matching of Barbot terms and modern terms is at times a good
deal less than straightforward.
To be more specific. At best, the form of a term as it appears in
Barbot's manuscript can only have been a crude representation of the actual
term in the language as then spoken. Some of the reasons for this deserve
to
be spelled out.
(1) Barbot's handwriting is clear and in general transcription
from his manuscripts is easy and reasonably secure. However, following
to some extent contemporary usage, he failed to distinguish between /u/
and /v/, so that, for instance,     'oua' can be read 'ova'. On French words
his marking of accents was not wholly regular or consistent, therefore
his placing of accents on African terms may not be comprehensive,
reliable or even meaningful. The accents on African terms appear to be
only phonetic modifiers, not stress or tone indicators.
(2) Barbot spoke none of the African languages (indeed no African
language) and had no knowledge of, or probably notion about, their
structures. He simply wrote down what he heard, or thought he heard, and
In the papers cited in note 4 above I have occasionally suggested identifications
of odd
terms, and Dr Jones has done the same in his identification of De Marees's
Akan/Twi vocabulary
in Jones, German sources (note 5 above). Since Barbot's printed account has
been widely used by
twentieth-century historians of West Africa, it is plausible that odd terms
in hsi vocabularues
have been identified in other works. The most extensive reference to Barbot's
vocabularies known
to me is as follows. In a detailed study of the African-language terms in
a collection of world-
wide vocabularies published at St Petersburg in 1790 (P.S. Pallas ed., Sravnite7
nyj slovar vsech
jazykov i narecij .. ./Linguarum totius orbis vocabu7aria compararativa,
2 vols, 1787/1789; 2nd
enlarged ed., ed. Theodor Jankowitsch de Miriewo, 4 vols, 1790-91), Fodor
has commented on a
small number of Barbot's Fula and Wolof terms, and tabulated about sixty
terms in each of these
languages with corresponding terms in nineteenth and twentieth century sources
(IstvAn Fodor,
Palas und andere afrikanische Vokabularien vor dex 19. Jahrhundert (Hamburg,
1975), 44-52,79-
81,97-9,100-103, Tables 1-5). While this material is of considerable interest,
Fodor was only
able to use 1732 for the Barbot items (and his references to Barbot's biography
are not wholly
correct). The identifications in the present publication were prepared independently
of Fodor's
work. That two of Barbot's vocabularies were still being cited in a work
of 1790 as authoritative
sources is noteworthy. But the St Petersburg editor extracted Barbot terms,
not from 1732, but
from a 1748 German translation of Churchill's Voyages,  A77gemeine Historie
der Reisen, which
admittedly copied the African-language terms accurately. Thus he produced
a transcript in Russian
script of a German transcript of an English transcript of a French source,
and so added another
stage to the corruption of the original African-language terms.


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