Gottlieb, Alma and M. Lynne Murphy (1995) BENG-ENGLISH DICTIONARY with
English-Beng Index, Indiana University Linguistics Club Publications,
116 + xxvi pp.
Reviewed by Patrick C. Ryan <PROTO-LANGUAGE@WorldNet.att.net>
To get a fully functional, up-to-date dictionary of a language spoken by
less than 10,000 people in a small African country (Ivory Coast) for
$11.50 is sufficient unto itself to merit praise for the Indiana
University Linguistics Club, a non-profit student assocation.
Softbound but well put together, and printed clearly on a good grade of
paper stock; carefully proofed for possible errors (unfortunately,
perhaps, not for errors of omission): technically, the book is very well
worth its price (perhaps, double its price).
Professor A. Gottlieb, who collected the materials for this dictionary
during a fourteen month study among the Beng in 1979-80 and a two month
visit in 1985, displays the devotion to her subject in this dictionary,
and in a companion work on Beng society and customs, Under the Kapok
Tree, which characterizes the true scholar who makes a real contribution
After a Table of Contents, brief curricula vitae of the two authors,
Acknowledgments, a Preface, and Map of the Ivory Coast showing the
territory in which Beng is still spoken, Gottlieb provides an
Introduction which describes the linguistic affiliation of Beng
(Southern Mandi) and sketches the linguistic milieu.
Gottlieb's genuine appreciation of Beng culture is epitomized by her
explanation of the words which have not been included in the dictionary
". . . because their inclusion would violate the secrecy that surrounds
their knowledge (p. xi)."
The dictionary then proceeds to a brief section on grammar entitled: The
Structure of Beng, authored by M. L. Murphy.
A very basic description of Beng phonology is presented first; and on
page xix, we find an outline of "Beng Grammar", which is sadly too
cursory to satisfy readers who were hoping for a full-fledged grammar as
a bonus to the dictionary.
As an example, under "Personal Pronouns" on page xix, the reader is
tantalized with "Beng has a wealth of pronominal forms, since pronouns
in subject position may vary according to the tense and polarity of the
verb." But then, in order to root these out, one must look under the
individual dictionary headings.
When I, in fact, did this, a pattern suggested itself that might occur
to other readers if the pronouns had been tabulated. The word for
"he/she/it" as a subject of a verb which is present or future is "o:" ;
with a past tense, it is "e:"; in a negative sentence, or as a
pronominal object, "he/she/it" is "a". A provisional hypothesis might be
that the base form must be *a; and that attached elements indicating
present/future (really imperfective?) and past (really perfective?)
might be reconstructed which, through phonological processes would yield
o: and e: in commonly seen transformations; e.g. a + y -> e:, and a +
w -> o:. An additional example of the same processes might be "nga",
they, as a subject of a negative verb, corresponding to "ngo:", they, as
a subject of a present/future construction. The presence of *nge:,
*they, past, would have been helpful but it was not there. When I
checked the English-Beng section for "they" as the subject of a past
verb , I found no entry under "they".
On page xx of the grammar section, Murphy tells us that "Negativity in
sentences is indicated by the verbal suffix i (with concommitant tonal
changes) and a negative subject pronoun form". But on page 46 of the
Beng-English dictionary section, we read "nm, adv. not". It would have
been enjoyable to find out how this "adv." was used in terms of negative
sentences, but, alas, no information is forthcoming in the grammar
section. This seems particularly sad and unnecessary.
After the sadly deficient treatment of the grammar, we have a listing of
References, and the value of this dictionary is that, of those listed on
three pages, only ten directly pertain to the language itself, to judge
by the titles; and there is no other Beng-English (let alone English-
Beng) dictionary among the listings!
The dictionary itself, except for possible inadvertent omissions (see
above), is well-organized, with the Beng words in bold type for easy
scanning. Each Beng entry is first characterized grammatically (n.,
adj., v., etc.), and, where appropriate, brief but important background
information for understanding the signficance of the word in Beng
culture is included.
My hope, after reading this book, is that Professor Gottlieb will put
her knowledge to work again, and produce a fuller treatment of Beng
grammar and vocabulary in a suitably expanded format, which will be of
interest to all those interested in Mandi and African languages in
Patrick C. Ryan
9115 West 34th Street
Little Rock, AR 72204-4441