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Gbesela Yeye or English-Ewe Dictionary
The first Gbesela was published in 1910; the second, which was a reprint of the first without any alterations, in 1922. The present edition (1930) is a completely new book and is more than double the size of its predecessors.
The Gbesela Yeye or New Interpreter is intended to serve both Europeans and Africans, and this purpose has governed its composition and arrangement. The Ewe reader will expect to learn from it the Ewe equivalent for an English word which he may come across in his English reading. or in conversation. In consequence the Dictionary should contain not only the English rendering of Ewe words, but should also try to explain at least the more important of such English words for which the Ewe language has not yet developed a precise expression, and for which circumlocution or approximation is necessary. The enormous difference in the development of the two languages makes it necessary very often to use in Ewe the same word or phrase for a considerable number of English expressions with their numerous fine shades in meaning, although, in justice to Ewe, it must be admitted that in certain respects the valent. Ewe language abounds in expressions for which English is hardly rich enough to offer an equivalent.
For anyone who wants to acquire the language, the marking of tones is indispensable, as every one will be aware who has ever seriously tried to approach the language. In a Dictionary, where the words stand isolated, even the Ewe Reader will in many cases not be able to find out which word is intended, if the tones are unmarked.
In books for native speakers of the language, however, that is to say in the national literature, very few tone marks are required, because the context explains what is intended to say. Both non-Ewe and Ewe speakers will find the arrangement helpful by which short phrases or sentences have been added to many words, showing how they are used. This is particularly desirable and almost indispensable in the mutual interpretation of two languages which differ so widely as Ewe and English. The Ewe word in isolation in very many cases conveys practically no meaning to the non-Ewe speaker, unless its construction and application are shown in examples.
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Born in Baden, Germany, Westermann studied at Basel and Tübingen prior to being sent to Togoland (modern Togo) by the North German Mission as a teacher. There he developed an interest in the Ewe language that was to shape the direction of the rest of his life. Two major publications from this period were Wörteruch der Ewe-Sprache (vols. 1 and 2, 1905, 1906) and Grammatik der Ewe-Sprache (1907). In 1908 he left missionary service to begin lecturing on Ewe, Ful, and Hausa at the Orientalisches Seminar in Berlin. In 1910 he replaced the Bantuist Carl Meinhof as professor, later taking up the chair of African Languages and Cultures at Berlin University, where he remained until retiring in 1950. The studies he had begun in Togoland led to an interest in the Sudanic languages, early results of which were published as Die Sudansprachen (1911), but his classification of the languages was continually modified over the years, most notably in “Charaketer und Einteilung der Sudansprachen” (Africa, 1935) and, with M. A. Bryan, The Languages of West-Africa (1952). (“Sudan” in that period included most of West Africa as well as areas to the east.) His main interest was in the languages at the western end of the family, such as Mande or Kpelle and Gola of Liberia, but his bibliography shows extensive publications on languages across West Africa. From 1928 to 1939, along with D. G. Brackett (1929-1939), he served as editor of Africa, the journal of the International Institute of African Languages and Cultures (now the International African Institute).
Westernmann particularly enjoyed working on phonetics and tonetics. Practical Phonetics for Students of African Languages (1933, 1973), written with Ida C. Ward, benefited students for many years. Cultural change and African development also had his attention, and Geschichte Afrikas (1952) was an attempt at a comprehensive survey of the history of the African people. The cumulative effect of his work was to help Africanists see the continent as an indivisible whole.