|At my desk in Utengule: shoebox in the foreground|
Ray Abrahams, and having never word-processed them remain eternally grateful for this simple piece of advice. Compiling a dictionary using a card index or slips of paper was a time-tested practice, as afficianados of the making of the Oxford English Dictionary and James Murray's 'quotation slips' will know. Alison Redmayne, my ethnographic mentor, suggested I use index cards for recording Sangu when I first visited her in Oxford in April 1980. She also later recommended that I get hold of a copy of Wilfred Whiteley's 'Suggestions for recording a Bantu language in the field', an article based on a brief study of the Fipa language, in which the same method is suggested ("It is probably easiest to begin by collecting a word-list on cards", 1964: 2). At the same time she sent me photocopies of the slips of paper on which she'd made her own small collection of Sangu vocabulary in the 1960s. And afterwards she wrote "If you do not have a filing box and cardboard index cards you can make your own index cards and use a biscuit tin - that is how my Kihehe dictionary started" (letter from Oxford dated 11 July 1980). While writing this note I asked Alison for more details: she recalls quartering quarto-sized sheets of paper to make her own cards or rather slips. For many years now she's kept these in a metal index card file drawer. This is the only copy of her Hehe dictionary, a language which very few Europeans can speak like her.
Phoenix mainframe computer in Cambridge, I typed up most of my Sangu dictionary (Walsh 1985), though I didn't get round to including all of the linguistic information from the shoe box and other notes that I'd made on language use, including transcriptions of songs and other tape recordings. And although I've since done further work on particular parts of the lexicon, including Sangu plant and animal names (e.g. Walsh 1995; 1996), I haven't made any attempt to incorporate additional terms and definitions in the dictionary, which I no longer have in electronic form (except as a scan of the computer printout). Nonetheless, I'm pleased that the contents of my old shoe box have been of some use to subsequent researchers, including linguists working for the Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL) (e.g. Tlustos 2000). For some years SIL researchers have used their own electronic Shoebox, "a computer program that helps field linguists and anthropologists integrate various kinds of text data". As the blurb says, this programme "is especially useful for helping researchers build a dictionary as they use it to analyze and interlinearize text. The name Shoebox recalls the use of shoe boxes to hold note cards on which definitions of words were written in the days before researchers could use computers in the field." Such is progress, but I'd hate to be parted from my own tatty box of linguistic history.
Bilodeau, Jacques 1979. Sept contes Sangu dans leur contexte culturel et linguistique. Elements de phonologie du Sangu, langue Bantou de Tanzania. Textes des contes avec traduction et notes. Thèse de Doctorat de Troisième Cycle, Université de la Sorbonne Nouvelle, Paris.
Tlustos, Martin 2000. Draft Sangu dictionary (incomplete). Unpublished ms., Mbeya, December 2000.
Walsh, Martin. 1984. The Misinterpretation of Chiefly Power in Usangu, South-west Tanzania. Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, University of Cambridge.
Walsh, Martin 1985. Shisango Dictionary. Unpublished ms. (computer printout), Cambridge, June 1985.
Walsh, Martin 1995. Snakes on the Usangu Plains: an introduction to Sangu ethnoherpetology. East Africa Natural History Society Bulletin 25 (3): 38-43.
Walsh, Martin 1996. Fish and fishing in the rivers and wetlands of Usangu. East Africa Natural History Society Bulletin 26 (3/4): 42-47.
Whiteley, W. H. 1964. Suggestions for recording a Bantu language in the field. Tanzania Notes and Records 62: 1-19.