As shared in last week’s column, the historians will invade our city through air and road on June 27th, 2013. The conference comes to an end on Saturday 29th. It is the 24th biannual conference of The Southern African Historical Society (SAHS). Historical knowledge is critical to any society and illuminates corners of a people’s understanding of themselves and others in an unimaginable way. For some time now I have been interested in the history not just of the Batswana but also of the Setswana language.
The known studies of the Setswana language may be traced as far back as November 1806 when the German, Hinrich Lichtenstein in Ueber der Beetjuans ‘Ábout the Batswana’ (published in 1807), which was later translated into English (see Lichtenstein, 1973:63), where he considered the various Tswana tribes as a single linguistic group and wrote of ‘Beetjuana words’. He also lists in Upon the Language of the Beetjuans (1815:478-488) a vocabulary of The Beetjuan Language. And around the same time, Henry Salt (1814: appendix, xxvii) records A few words of the Mutshuana language copied from a manuscript journal of Mr Cowan. These words included, ‘sun’ let chãchi (letsatsi in current orthography); ‘moon’, werri (ngwedi); ‘much’ too na (tona) and ‘morning’ kom mo shu (kamoso). Campbell (1815:221) also lists Bootchuana Words in his Travels. Schapera records that,
“The people among whom Moffat laboured at Kuruman were called Batlhaping (sing. Motlhaping). They were the southern-most tribe of the Bantu-speaking group collectively known as Batswana (usually written Bechuana or Bechwana) and the first group to come into contact with white people (Schapera, 1951:xv).
In 1857, Livingstone writes that Moffat had just completed translating ‘the Bible in the language of the Bechuanans, which is called Sichuana’. Lichtenstein also notes that, “Under the name of Betjuana, Sihtjuana, Muhtjuana, are to be included all the tribes that inhabit the country that extends from the river Kuruhman, as its most southern boundary thirty or forty days journey northwards; several tribes inhabiting this latitude extend quite to the eastern coast of Africa.” (Lichtenstein 1930:407)
Of great significance to the Setswana language is the Kuruman Mission station of 1824 with the expertise of Robert Moffat and his associates. In Kuruman in the LMS (London Missionary Society), Moffat was to rise to great significance, not only in the dissemination of Christian theology amongst the Batswana, but most importantly, in that he became the first person to reduce the Setswana language to a written form (Livingstone, 1857:200). He translated the Bible and several hymns for his missionary expansion and in 1840 started training local converts to read the scriptures so that they could propagate them amongst their own. Thus an interest in the Setswana language was mainly to “produce sound Christian teachers who [would be able to] preach the gospel, cope with white men, understand elementary business transactions and the value of land and evangelise Bechuana” (Moffat, 1857:2). It was with the arrival of another missionary, Dr. David Livingstone, in 1841, in Kuruman that the education of locals increased and a school was built in Mabotsa in 1844. Since then there was an increase in Setswana research, most of it in the form of grammars books of the language. These amongst others, include works by, James Archbell’s A Grammar of the Bechuana Language (1837), Rev. J. Fredoux A Sketch of the Sechuana Grammar (1864), A.J. Wookey (1904). These were later followed by more robust linguistic studies of the language, for instance the first Tswana phonemic study by Jones, D and Plaatje’s (1916) and later Sandilands (1953) and Cole (1955).
Additionally, Setswana has a long lexicographic tradition characterised by a low dictionary production. Jones (in Matumo 1993:vii) traces the origin of Setswana lexicography to John Brown’s bilingual dictionary (1875), which is criticized by Kgasa and Tsonope (1998:iv) for its bilingualism, and to Robert Moffat’s (1830) Setswana version of the Gospel of St Luke, which has definitions of difficult words in its final back pages. “In 1830 Robert Moffat published a Setswana version of the gospel of St Luke, and at the back offered two pages of explanations of the more “difficult” words. Is it fanciful to regard this as the first small germ of a dictionary? …but the first published dictionary of which the Botswana Book Centre has record is that of John Brown in 1875” (Jones in Matumo 1993: vii).
Cole (1955:xxviii) places lexicographic research in later years in the plant names compilations of Miller (1951) and van Warmelo’s (1931) lists of kinship terms.
However lexicographic research in Setswana dates much earlier than Moffat’s 1830 writings that Jones refers to and certainly earlier than Cole’s botanical and kinship references. Research shows that Lichtenstein in the two volumes of Travels in Southern Africa in the years 1803, 1804, 1805, and 1806 had a list of about 270 Setswana words and phrases. The original document in German appeared around 1811. Therefore the earliest lexicographic activity, at least of ‘headword lists’, known to us so far can be traced to 1803-1806, in Lichtenstein works. In 1815, John Campbell in his Travels in South Africa gave a list of 80 ‘Bootchuana Words’. Salt (1814) in Voyage to Abyssinia contains a list of 20 Mutshuana words and their equivalents in English. Therefore, lexicographical work in Setswana, regardless of its size and detail, existed before the work of Moffat, who only came to Southern Africa in 1816.
The first published bilingual dictionary, Lokwalo loa Mahuku a Secwana le Seeneles, was compiled by John Brown (1875) of the London Missionary Society. An enlarged and revised version was published in 1895 and was reprinted in 1914 and 1921. In 1925 John Tom Brown produced the third edition of this dictionary based on A.J. Wookey’s research (Peters 1982:xxiv). However since the 1925 dictionary version of Tom Brown to mid 1970s, Botswana went through an inactive period of dictionary production. It was not until 1976 that Morulaganyi Kgasa published his 134-page monolingual dictionary – Thanodi ya Setswana ya Dikole ‘The Setswana Dictionary for Schools’, whose main target group was primary school pupils. Kgasa’s dictionary is the first monolingual dictionary from Botswana. In 1998, in collaboration with Joseph Tsonope, Kgasa compiled the second monolingual dictionary Thanodi ya Setswana which up to date remains the definitive monolingual Setswana dictionary from Botswana. A smaller, but detailed, trilingual dictionary – Setswana, English and Afrikaans – was produced by Snyman et al (1990) in South Africa, whose target was the secondary and university reader. The latest dictionary from Botswana is Creissels and Chebanne’s (2000) Dictionaaire Francais-Setswana Thanodi Sefora Setswana, which is the first French/Setswana bilingual dictionary. Its primary target group is students of French at secondary and university level. It stands out as the first and only dictionary from Botswana with phonemic transcriptions and a large amount of pictorial illustrations. Of late Cole and Warren-Moncho (2012) have produced the impressive Macmillan Setswana and English Illustrated Dictionary. The latest Setswana monolingual dictionary is Tlhalosi ya Medi ya Setswana (Otlogetswe, 2012)
I have so far sketched the development of Setswana language and lexicography, situating it within the missionary educational system. However, over the past 30 years computational approaches, especially in English lexicography, have catapulted lexicographic research forward with rippling effects felt on Setswana lexicography.
I must stop here because the historians are coming.