This article discusses some aspects of vernacular lexicography in African languages from a historical perspective. Firstly, it focuses on early lexicographic activities of missionaries who developed dictionaries alongside other print materials in African language communities where they worked. Because these pioneer lexicographers lacked prior lexicographic training and experience, as well as sufficient linguistic experience and cultural understanding of the people they interacted with, their dictionaries are fraught with limitations and prejudices which have been subjected to criticism from mother-tongue speakers. However, the article acknowledges the vital contributions of those earliest activities to African lexicography and the development of African languages in general. Secondly, the article deals with modern vernacular lexicography inspired by digital affordances and linked to the revitalization, documentation and preservation of marginalized and endangered minority languages. Talking Dictionaries developed by the Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages are discussed as they relate to African languages, particularly in Zimbabwe. With reference to African languages, Talking Dictionaries highlight challenges which are linked to the level of lexicographic development and general development of the languages. Drawing on the broader context of Talking Dictionaries in non-African languages where the fortunes have been more positive, as well as other digitally inspired lexicographic projects that involve speech communities, suggestions are made regarding improvement of vernacular lexicographic activities in African languages.


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pp. 213-243
Launched on MUSE
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