The picture shows the cover of our Chichewa/ Chinjanja Dictionary. The book is a unique tool for people in the Chichewa/ Chinyanja speaking regions of Central Africa, especially Malawi and Zambia. Being the only dictionary of its kind, it is an indispensable instrument for Africans and expatriates, foreign workers and visitors, students and teachers, and for those who deal with English and Chichewa at a scientific or scholarly level.
Many potential users are troubled by extreme poverty, diseases, and poor transcultural understanding. Stagnation of education and development belongs to the consequences, and has led to critical situations. Users of the dictionary are equipped for overcoming this crisis of communication. Our Dictionary Project is focusing schools and other places of learning. We hope to find funds for printing large quantities of the Dictionary for free distribution among secondary school pupils, especially those of them who are orphans, and their teachers.
Chichewa/ Chinyanja: key language
Since 1997 I have been involved in Malawi, as a resident and as a friend at a distance. I taught at Zomba Theological College for almost a decade and developed a keen interest in various aspects of African society and culture. At present from our vantage point in The Netherlands we continue to be active for Malawi. Out of this the Chichewa/ Chinyanja Dictionary Project was born. Why? The English language has acquired an important position in the societies of Central and Southern Africa. However, the vernacular languages have remained indispensable vehicles of communication. For more than 15 million people in Malawi, Zambia, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Botswana and South Africa, Chinyanja or Chichewa has become the most important language of daily life. The language of the Chewa or Nyanja has gained importance and strength by developments in its written and oral use, and because an increasing number of its speakers have come to discover and emphasise their common linguistic heritage and practice. That is why it has become an intermediary language for all Malawians, and for many people in the whole of Central and Southern Africa.
A crisis of communication
During my time of residence in Malawi I experienced a crisis of communication, which is caused by the difference between cultures and languages. In general this crisis affects all situations of learning and communication. Of course in schools the crisis is more acute than anywhere else. The communication gap especially affects the poor, the illiterate, the orphans and the sick, because it bars their social mobility and emancipation. Learners of Chichewa or English were especially handicapped by the absence of Dictionaries in their mother languages. In this situation I have had the opportunity to compile dictionaries, English-Chichewa (EC) and Chichewa-English (CE). Donors helped me to publish and spread them. In the course of time tens of thousands of books have been distributed for free, mainly to secondary school pupils. By January/ February 2009 the two books had run out of stock. They have not been reprinted.
We decided to have the separate EC and CE collections combined to one book. In 2009 the combined CE-EC Dictionary began its history. In 2010 the second edition was published. It has almost run out of stock. In February 2012 the third edition saw light. For the first time the dictionary was published outside Malawi. VTR-Publications in Nürnberg, Germany, has made the book available to users in Europe, America and other places of the world, through www.vtr-online.de , Amazon and other bookshops. The dictionary has grown to 1.3 kg, 884 pages with more than 43,000 entries. The new edition is a hard cover book of high quality, fit to be used for a long time in rough climatic circumstances. We have planned the fourth edition, if possible to be printed and published in Malawi, so that we can continue our project of distributing dictionaries for free to learners and teachers in Malawi and Zambia. This plan depends on donor funding.
Besides, an important move was made when the CE-EC Dictionary went online, on 28th May 2010. We expect that the paper and online versions will sustain one another in attracting the attention of potential users and to encourage sponsors of the Project. Also we are continuing the process of improvement, research, and the collection of vocabulary for later editions. Working on the contents of the book and guiding the printing and distribution requires a lot of effort, intellectually, organisationally and financially.
Financing the Project
Research, printing and distribution of dictionaries requires money. Since the beginning of the history of Chichewa/ Chinyanja dictionaries, in 1854, this process has relied mainly on external funding, e.g. by the Anglican Church through its Church Missionary Society, its Universities’ Mission to Central Africa, and its Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, the Church of Scotland, the Free Church of Scotland, the African Lakes Company, the National Education Company of Zambia, The US Peace Corps, the University of South Africa, the Franciscans, the Zambesi Industrial Mission.
The editions of the present Dictionary were financed by well wishers, especially the following private persons and foundations (Dutch: stichtingen), in alphabetical order: Burgland Charitas, Edukans, Evanaid, Koekoek, H.M., and A.A., Liberty, Metgezel, Oikonómos, Protestants Steunfonds, Rotterdam, Share4More, Stéphanos, Verheij Consultancy, Weeshuis der Doopsgezinden, Werkgroep Zambia.
Stimulated by publishers and bookshops a modest market for dictionaries has developed in Chichewa/ Chinyanja speaking Africa. The selling of dictionaries has allowed for commercial funding, but only to a certain extent. We trust that the positive trend with regard to the selling of dictionaries will continue to be strengthened by the economical and educational developments. A growing part of the general public is able to buy books, through the bookshops of Malawi and Zambia. However, the majority of the population has never seen the inside of a bookshop. Yet many of them are learners, especially the young people at schools. They need the Dictionary in the first place. We sincerely hope that more ngo’s, government offices, schools, churches and other institutions are going to buy the book for their employees, students and other relations. For every book they buy we can finance a free book for a Malawian or Zambian pupil, who cannot afford to buy the book himself/ herself.
Until now, the history of Chichewa lexicography has depended on the outside world to a great extent. We are sure, however, that the educational leaders of Chichewa speaking Africa are getting increasingly conscious of their linguistic responsibilities. Good examples are the activities of the Centre for Language Studies of the University of Malawi, and the Malawi Institute of Education at Domasi. They show the growing African input in lexicography. At the same time Africa should not be ashamed to be assisted in this process by the world of donors and linguists. In a globalising world North and South are called to cooperate to their mutual benefit. Dictionaries are bridging the gap!
A call or help
By supporting our Project you contribute to combatting the basic educational problem in Chichewa/ Chinyanja speaking Africa. The Dictionary reduces the language barrier between users of English and of Chichewa/ Chinyanja. Please consider that the Project does not include any costs for compiling, editing and lay-outing the book and the online version, as these activities have been offered for free, in the interest of the people of Malawi and Zambia.
Please read ‘How to contribute’, which shows ways of how to assist the Project. Decide which way fits you most.