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Missionary Contributions to Bantu Languages in Tanzania. James Thomas Last (1850–1933) and the Vidunda language

Journal article
Authors Karsten Legère
Published in Historiographia Linguistica
Volume 36
Issue 2/3
Pages 395-408
ISSN ISSN: 0302-5160
Publication year 2009
Published at Department of Languages and Literatures
Pages 395-408
Language en
Keywords Tanzania, Bantu languages, Vidunda (G38), early missionary contribution, vocabulary
Subject categories Bantu languages


This paper deals with linguistic work by the lay missionary James Thomas Last (1850–1933), who was among the first Europeans to live up-country in what is now Tanzania. In the course of a seven-year stay he was exposed to African languages which have only partly been known outside Africa. Last collected linguistic data that culminated 1885 in the publication of the Polyglotta Africana Orientalis. This book is a collection of 210 lexical items and sentences elicited in or translated into 48 African languages, and supplemented by entries for some other languages. In order to demonstrate the relevance as well as the inconsistencies of this missionary’s contribution, special attention is paid to the book section on the Vidunda language currently spoken by approximately 10,000 people in Central Tanzania. It turns out that approximately 75 per cent of the Vidunda entries are still acceptable today. The data even provides insight into the grammatical set-up of Vidunda (e.g., the noun classes and constituents of the noun phrase). Less relevant are the verbal paradigms. In a nutshell, Last produced material which had for many years been the sole source of lexical and grammatical information about the Vidunda language (reproduced from the paper).

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