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  • Le vocabulaire scientifique dans les langues africaines. Pour une approche culturelle de la terminologie
  • Françoise Ugochukwu
Marcel Diki-Kidiri (ed.), Le vocabulaire scientifique dans les langues africaines. Pour une approche culturelle de la terminologie. Paris: Karthala (pb €29 – ISBN 978 2 84586 926 4). 2008, 304 pp.

This well-structured book, the result of five years of collaborative study, brings together five linguists: Diki-Kidiri, from the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS); Baboya, from the Centre of Theoretical and Applied Linguistics, Kinshasa; Mbodj, Director, Centre of Applied Linguistics, Dakar; and two doctoral students from the University Institute of Applied Linguistics, Barcelona. Covering seven African countries (Senegal, Mali, Central African Republic, Congo, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Uganda) and two European countries (France and Spain), the authors jointly present a cultural approach to the study of terminology in African languages, the ultimate goal being regional and national development. They aim to facilitate the acquisition of new knowledge and technologies, with people mastering their environment while preserving their cultural heritage. [End Page 333]

An in-depth reflection on the complex process of nomination, the book is based on a vast corpus gathered from scientific journals, dictionaries and individual fieldwork, in several African and European languages in contact: mainly Sango, Lingala,Wolof and Fulani, with occasional examples taken from Bambara, Liko and Kinyarwanda, French, English, Spanish and Catalan. This intercontinental coverage presents readers with a wide variety of texts taken from law, botany, football, engineering, vulcanology and religion, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in translation, a detailed study of the mechanisms used in nomination in Sango and Lingala (Chapter 5) and another focusing on insects – all meant to serve as prompts towards the development of scientific lexicons in African languages. The book proposes, in addition, a grid of neologisms in African languages and ‘a practical summary’ (p. 71) of choices, techniques and theories.

The work is divided into three parts: theory (six chapters), methodology (two chapters) and applications (eight chapters). It takes readers through the process of language development in response to the challenges of information technology, within the framework of taxonomy projects initiated from different platforms by international bodies such as UNESCO, AUPELF-UREF, ACCT (Project on Thematic Lexicons for Central Africa), CELTA (Centre for Theoretical and Applied Linguistics), OQLF (Quebec Office for French Language) and RIFAL (International French-Speaking Network of Linguistic Management), and highlights the necessary collaboration of linguists and local populations. The first part looks at the purposes of nomination – describing the world, expressing self, communicating and arguing, using language to modify situations – and considers norms and standards, reflecting on the standardization process. It then gives a glimpse of some of the difficult choices facing African linguists. Examples taken from a pool of commonly used words such as ‘God’, ‘doctor’, ‘dictionary’, ‘bicycle’ or ‘mosquito’ in various African languages, the categorization of IT components such as monitor, mouse and software in Britain and France, and fascinating anecdotes such as that of the French translation of the word ‘computer’ by a university professor retrieving the old, obsolete French ‘ordinateur’, illustrate and clarify the theory, revealing the nomination process to be deeply embedded in peoples’ cultures.

A quotation from Rey’s Le réveille-mots: une saison d’élection (1996, quoted on p. 54) reminds us that ‘the words, when tickled, teach a history lesson’ and that the nomination process brings together linguistic, cultural and historical data to ‘express and communicate specialist knowledge’ (p. 33). Authors survey proven mechanisms of communal appropriation of new concepts, skills and objects, and their nomination in highly skilled academic and cutting-edge disciplines: a two-step process of acquisition and appropriation through analysis and identification, followed by cultural appropriation. The foreign word can either be adopted as it is, translated, or replaced with a locally created word (p. 55). The third option is presented as the best, and the use of cultural creativity advocated, ensuring that newly created scientific words join the pool of everyday language and benefit all users. Chapter 13, which focuses on the work done by Tourneux and his team in northern Cameroon to help Fulani farmers in the fight against cotton-devouring insects...


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pp. 333-335
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