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144 7 Making the Bushman dictionary, 1934–1956 Miss Bleek has been engaged for some time in compiling a dictionary in five languages, all Khoi-San dialects. When she speaks in these tongues it sounds like high-powered knitting needles on low throttle, just clicking over.1 Thus was Dorothea introduced in a column in the Cape Times of 26 April 1946. The Cape Town daily newspaper was advertising the ‘short talk’ she wastopresentatanexhibitionof rockartreproductionsthatwouldbedisplayed along with work by Leo Frobenius. The article described Dorothea as‘tall, spare and grey-haired’, living ‘quietly’ near Newlands station, a ‘gentle householder’ and also a ‘world-famous person’. If the audience was lucky, it went on to say, ‘Miss Bleek may talk in some of the Khoi-San dialects. She is the only living European with a real mastery of Bushman language.’ At the time,two years before she died,Dorothea was embroiled in the protracted and convoluted process of readying her bushman dictionary manuscript for publication. It was an entanglement that would last past her death. As she had experienced with previous book projects, seeing the dictionary into print was a fraught and time-consuming process. Perhaps she thought of Lucy Lloyd’s long-ago struggles to publish Specimens of Bushman Folklore, and Stow’s The Native Races of South Africa some 30 years earlier. Dorothea attended to the delays with customary stoicism and dedication. She was 73 years old by the time she forwarded the all-but-completed manuscript to its publisher, the American Oriental Society of New Haven, Connecticut. She would not live to write the 30-page introduction she had planned, nor to see A Bushman Dictionary in print. When it did finally appear, it was welcomed as the crowning achievement of a lifelong pursuit, albeit one that was focused on languages Dorothea herself believed were dying out. Throughout her career she had been firm in her oft-stated view that the ‘tribe’ she had spent her life studying was either ‘rapidly being absorbed by Book 1.indb 144 10/12/15 10:57 AM M A K I N G T H E B U S H M A N D I C T I O N A RY, 1 9 3 4 – 1 9 5 6 145 stronger races or dying out’. The quotation is taken from a letter Dorothea wrote to the linguist Clement Martyn Doke at Wits in May 1932. Its particular context was a response to a query from the Inter-University Committee on African Studies with regard to future funding for ‘bushman’ research, and it provides testimony to Dorothea’s attitude to research. Along with a summary of published research on bushman groups in the southern African region, Dorothea recommended that the languages in the northern part of the Bechuanaland Protectorate, especially around Lake Ngami, be studied and recorded. ‘Being a dry difficult country it is still the home of various Bushman tribes of whose speech we only know odd words.A young man who is a good shot would be the best person to do this work, one who would live and hunt with the Bushmen as [the geographer Siegfried] Passarge did; but he should first train himself by the study of the available Bushman material.’ The Inter-University Committee was presumably wondering whether to allocate resources to the study of bushman literature, but Dorothea was sceptical:‘It is hopeless to encourage the literary development of the languages,as the people who speak them are either rapidly being absorbed by stronger races or dying out.’2 As we have seen, variations of the sentiment expressed in the letter to Doke are repeated throughout Dorothea’s scholarship – publicly in her lectures, letters to the press, journal articles and books, and privately in correspondence. It is a constant refrain in the record, and it echoes the attitude expressed decades earlier by Wilhelm Bleek.3 The motif of vanishing cultures was a persistent theme in Dorothea’s scholarship, as it was among many scholars of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries . Yet running parallel was her commitment to producing a dictionary of ‘bushman’ languages, and in so doing to realise the dreams of her father and aunt. Along with the notebooks, the dictionary was part of Dorothea’s inheritance. It was both an intellectual and a material legacy that found concrete form in the card indexes and shoeboxes filled with the /Xam lexicon. Physically, the indexes consisted of /Xam words with English translations penned...


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