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The contribution of missionaries to Shona lexicography

A Viriri


The article discusses the developments in Shona lexicography during the colonial era and the contribution made by the missionaries in general and Father M. Hannan in particular which later resulted in the on-going process of compiling monolingual dictionaries by the African Languages Research Institute (ALRI) (into which the ALLEX project has been transformed). The missionaries employed various methods that did not only signal the beginning of an economically exploitative relationship between "the West and the rest of us" but also had ancillary cultural consequences (Dathorne 1975: 3). Their motives towards the development of African literature in general and Zimbabwean lexicographic work in particular were primarily evangelical and not to further creative writing. This caused Father Hannan to experience problems not only in his translation of the Shona Bible but also in his Standard Shona Dictionary. Hannan is used as an example because his translation problems were typical of those experienced by all missionaries. Hannan's dictionary was a welcome new development using the orthography introduced in 1931 and revised in 1955.
The aim of his dictionary was "to record Shona words in Standard Shona spelling" (Hannan 1959: ix). Hannan's dictionary has made a considerable contribution to standardising Shona orthography.

Keywords: lexicography, missionary, cobuild, shona dictionary, monolingual dictionary, bilingual dictionary, culture, translation, standard orthography, colonialism, cultural imperialism, shona proverbs, african languages research institute (alri), influence.
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