Dictionnaire Fon-Français avec une esquisse grammaticale

Dictionnaire Fon-Français avec une esquisse grammaticale. By Hildegard Höftmann, in collaboration with Michel Ahohounkpanzon. (Westafrikanische Studien 27.) Cologne: Rüdiger Köppe, 2003. Pp. 424. ISBN 3896454633. €52.80.

Reviewed by Silvia Kouwenberg, University of the West Indies, Jamaica

Hildegard Höftmann is known among students of the Gbe languages for her 1993 work Grammatik des Fon (Leipzig: Langenscheidt). Strangely, no reference is made to this publication anywhere in the Dictionnaire Fon-Français. More generally, one might have expected a work of this nature to acknowledge its eminent forerunners, starting at least with Diedrich Westermann’s Grammatik der Ewe-Sprache (Berlin: Dietrich Reimer, 1907).

The dictionary consists of three parts. Part 1, the introduction (11–20), briefly notes the classification of Fon within Niger-Congo, describes the historical and modern territorial bounds of the language, and notes the intended audience of the dictionary and some of the considerations that guided the compilation of the dictionary. It also explains the format of the dictionary’s entries, lists abbreviations, and explains the orthography, which follows the official Benin orthography—which, unusually, makes use of a number of phonetic symbols (ɖ, ɛ, ɔ). Part 2, the grammatical sketch (21–53), is subdivided into morphology (nominals, pronominals, verbs), syntax (where ‘élargissement du prédicat’ covers such topics as the use of markers of aspect, modality, and negation, as well as adverbial material; ‘proposition composée’ covers coordinated constructions; ‘phrase complexe’ pertains to various types of subordination), and a systematic summary (which illustrates tense, aspect, modality, and types of subordination). Part 3, the bulk of the work, is the Fon-French dictionary (55–424).

Missing from the grammatical sketch is a discussion of the phonology of Fon (see instead Hounkpati Capo’s A comparative phonology of Gbe, Berlin: Foris, 1991). Nonetheless, one cannot get around certain aspects of it as some of the morphology of Fon is templatic. Part 2 provides useful insights into the morphological processes that are extensively illustrated in the dictionary entries, but there are a few unfortunate mismatches. For instance, lànmɛ̀syɛ́nsyɛ́n ‘santé’ is described as a compound of lànmɛ̀ ‘corps’ and syɛ́nsyɛ́n ‘fort’ (22) but entered as an unanalyzable form in the dictionary (283); reduplicated sísí ‘respect’ (25) is missing from the dictionary listing. However, by and large, the dictionary is an excellent resource for the study of word formation in Fon, as complex forms are identified as such and the user is referred to the entries for the relevant component parts. About a third of the entries are accompanied by illustrations, adding to the usefulness of this work for linguistic research in the morphology and syntax of Fon.

The author has not attempted exhaustive coverage of Fon’s lexicon. At c. 8,000 entries, the choice of words for inclusion was based on the considerations set out on p. 13, such as the frequency of occurrence in her corpus of texts (representing a wide range of traditional and modern text types) and general acceptance by Fon speakers as supported by the judgments of several respondents and the author’s own observations. Given the large territory over which Fon is spoken, which makes variation unavoidable, the author’s choice betrays her support for the goals of standardization rather than full documentation.