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Fortune 2004: Essays on Shona Dialects

In the early 1970s, the volume that is presented here as a collection of essays on Shona dialects, was compiled as course notes in the Department of African Languages and Literature at the University of Zimbabwe . The purpose was to meet an urgent need for teaching materials on Shona dialects for undergraduate students majoring in Shona. The sections on each dialect were written by members of staff who were in the department at that time, under the leadership of Professor George Fortune, who was the Head of Department since its inception until his retirement in 1980. Each essay is based on the research and expertise of the contributor. These essays are still in use as teaching materials at the University of Zimbabwe , and it is for this reason that the ALLEX Project has decided to finance a photographic reprint in book form of the original stencilled pages. A couple of general essays on sociolinguistics that were in the original course notes, have also been included in the current volume.

The sections on individual dialects or dialect groups are, in fact, extremely compact presentations of especially phonological and morphological features in those dialects. In some cases, points concerning the lexicon and sociolinguistic features are remarked on as well. In all, these pages make up information packed reading.

The approach is comparative in the sense that the Zezuru dialect, on which standard written Shona has been based since Doke's Report on the Unification of the Shona Dialects (1931), is to some extent treated as a measuring rod for linguistic items worthy of comment. What is perceived as identical with, or not significantly different from, these language forms is to a large extent bypassed. This means that these essays are not, and do not pretend to be, complete descriptions of their subjects.

What kind of readership are they aimed at? The primary user group has been and will be students of African languages at university level. They should ideally have completed their introductory courses in general linguistics or and Shona structure in order to be abreast with terminology, concepts and classification systems. They should also have more than a working knowledge of standard Shona. However, the informed mother tongue reader should also be able to benefit from these dialect descriptions, not least from the systematic approach to a field of African linguistics which still offers enough new tasks for a whole work force.

It has to be admitted that the title Essays on Shona Dialects stretches the concept of what an essay is. This is due to the compact form, and the evident lack of time and space available to the authors at the time of production. Each of these dialects could well have had a monograph of several hundred pages, and hopefully they will have that in the future. A wider circulation of these essays will, one must hope, inspire Zimbabwean linguists to go back and attack the study of Shona dialects again and, in their turn, present fuller descriptions that do justice to the richness of each dialect in terms of vocabulary and syntax, as well as phonology and morphology.


Herbert Chimhundu and Oddrun Grønvik

The ALLEX Project