Farewell, Mr. Ideophone: William J. Samarin (1926-2020)

I note with sadness that William J. Samarin has passed away in Toronto on January 16, 2020 at the age of 93. An all too short obituary notes that he was “known for his work on the language of religion and on two Central African languages: Sango and Gbeya”. In linguistics, Samarin was of course also known for his extensive work on ideophones, playful and evocative words with sensory meanings.

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A visit to Akpafu by David Asante, 1887

The first ever published account of a visit to Akpafu was written by David Asante, a Twi pastor who travelled throughout today’s Volta Region in the company of some white missionaries. The journey took place in January 1887; the date of the visit to Akpafu was January 25th, 1887. The account was originally written in Twi, and translated in German in 1889 by the eminent linguist J.G. Christaller, who published it in a German geographical journal. This post provides an English translation.

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Early sources on African ideophones, part IV: S.W. Koelle on Kanuri, 1854

Sigismund Wilhelm Koelle is one of the founding fathers of African linguistics, and 1854 was one of his more productive years: he published the first large-scale comparison of some 200 African languages (the famed Polyglotta Africana), but also a corpus of Kanuri folklore, a grammar of Vai, and a grammar of Kanuri. In the latter, he wrote about “singular adverbs which seem to be common in African languages” — one of the first comparative statements on the type of words that would later come to be known as ideophones.

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