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Tracing Language Movement in Africa$
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Ericka A. Albaugh and Kathryn M. de Luna

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780190657543

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: February 2018

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780190657543.001.0001

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Localizing the Global

Localizing the Global

The Wanderwörter of 19th Century South Central Africa

(p.259) Chapter 12 Localizing the Global
Tracing Language Movement in Africa

David M. Gordon

Oxford University Press

By the late 19th century, a caravan trade extended from the Indian and Atlantic littorals through the hinterlands of south central Africa. Industrial commodities—guns, cloths, iron, and beads—were exchanged for ivory, slaves, beeswax, and rubber. Along the trade routes and in trading centers, words spread to describe new commodities, new peoples, new trading customs, and new forms of political power. These Wanderwörter originated in the languages of the coastal traders, in particular in Portuguese and Kiswahili. When the diverse vernaculars of the south central African interior were transcribed by colonial-era missionaries into “tribal” languages, such wandering words were incorporated into these languages, often disguised by distinctive orthographies. Other words were left out of dictionaries and political vocabularies, replaced by supposedly more authentic and archaic words. Examining these wandering words provides a window into linguistic dynamism and political-economic change prior to European conquest.

Keywords:   Wanderwörter, south central Africa, caravan trade, loanwords, linguistic change, slave trade, Luso-Africans, Swahili

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