Academic journal article African Studies Review

Geography of Meaning, Topography of Struggle in a Kinyarwanda Dictionary

Academic journal article African Studies Review

Geography of Meaning, Topography of Struggle in a Kinyarwanda Dictionary

Article excerpt

GEOGRAPHY OF MEANING, TOPOGRAPHY OF STRUGGLE IN A KINYARWANDA DICTIONARY André Coupez, Thomas Kamanzi, Simon Bizimana, et al. Inkoranya y'íkinyarwaanda mu kinyarwaanda nó mu gifaraansá; Dictionnaire Rwanda-Rwanda et Rwanda-Français. 3 vols. Butare, Rwanda: Institut de recherche scientifique et technologique; Tervuren: Musée royal de l'Afrique centrale, 2005. xxix + 2895 pp. euro75.00. Paper. euro75.00. CD-ROM with Adobe Reader.

In 1959 Thomas Kamanzi began to collaborate with André Coupez in compiling a comprehensive dictionary of Kinyarwanda. They were joined a little later by Simon Bizimana. Still later on, Father Augustin Musada came into the working group. By 1965, with a team of twenty-six Rwandan researchers, the project had taken on a systematic and formal shape. Along the way to 2005, the project attracted a large number of contributors and editors, Yvonne Bastin, Claire Grégoire, Baudoin Janssens, Charles Ntazinda, Gaspard Rwabukumba, and Gabriel Sematema, prominent among them. Grégoire's and Janssens 's selfless efforts saw the dictionary through to publication in time for the late André Coupez (d. 2006) to see the final product. No other group of scholars and public intellectuals has come together in the medium of an African language to produce such a dictionary. It is, quite simply, without peer on the continent.1

A rich source for linguists and lexicographers, the Inkoranya should interest readers in other disciplines as well. Using Adobe Acrobat in the CD-ROM version, historians and anthropologists can hunt for regional variations in vocabulary which work against a standardized Kinyarwanda. They may find in these variations hints of a far greater diversity of linguistic culture than might be deduced from the singular term "Kinyarwanda." For example, they will find distinctive versions of conceptual arrangements (such as notions of bravery, 644) and of consumption (such as evaluative terminologies that rate beer by its quality, 627), among many other examples - all of which illustrate the depth of Kinyarwanda as a spoken terrain. Literary scholars will find much to examine in the consistent citation of numerous proverbs, riddles, and passages from popular stories, dynastic poetry (ibisígo), poetry of herders (amazína y íinká) and military poetry (ibyíivugo), and stories and histories told at court (littérature du cour), which are packed into many definitions. However, this reader could not discern a similarly systematic effort to tap the vast resources of historical tales (ibitéekerezo) - with a provenance beyond the court - or the scholarship that has worked with them.2 These matters hint at the Inkoranya's partialities of emphasis and omission.

Still, this monumental work reveals the benefits of long-term funding for basic research. Rwanda barely eclipses metropolitan Los Angeles in size and population, but the literary, ethnographic, and oral corpuses from Rwanda are astonishing; such oral genres include poetries, many types of royal and popular traditions, ritual associated with monarchy, and proverbs and riddles.3 Coupez, Kamanzi, Bizimana, Musada, and their colleagues had the better part of a lifetime to sift through these materials - some of which they themselves produced - for evidence of meaning and usage. The result is avast array of information on syntactic, substantive, adjectival, and modal valences (circumstantials, for example), synonymy, antonymy, archaisms, borrowings (with special attention paid to terms with origins in Christian and Islamic life and thought), and the shape of a host of semantic fields.4 Scholars interested in the subtleties, variations, and contextual specificities of meaning in Kinyarwanda will find a great deal here. For this is far more than a mere listing of words, their definitions, and different senses. For many of the fields, the work identifies and explores the central idea at the core of the field. Indeed, the Inkoranya forms a detailed and systematic geography of meaning that pushes to the limits what lexicography can achieve in striving to depict the life of language. …

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