The Mawukakan Lexicon is the first publication of an ongoing project at the Linguistic Data Consortium (LDC) aiming to build an electronic dictionary of four Mandekan [Eastern Manding languages of the Mande Group of the Niger-Congo family] languages. The other three variants of Mandekan involved are the Bambara or Bamanankan [Mali], the Maninka or Maninkakan [Guinea-Conakry] and the Odienne Jula or Wojenekakan [Cote d'Ivoire]. The lack of written tradition makes such a dictionary project extremely important. Our expectation is that once this initial goal is reached, it will become easier to extend the dictionary to all the other varieties of Mandekan.
For the dictionary of a small language like Mawukakan (less than half of a million speakers) to be the most useful, it has to combine the linguistic component with a cultural component. The fact that the Mawukakan - English lexicon is coupled with a Mawukakan - French one makes this project a bit more important, given that Mawukakan speakers live mostly in the francophone area of West Africa. The project consists of the collection of the largest amount of data possible on the Mandekan and the Manding culture and making it available electronically for the research community.
To pursue the objective defined above, the concept of dictionary-making adopted is the one being developed at the LDC. It is a very revolutionary approach to the lexicology of the languages which do not have a writing tradition. The originality of this project resides in the fact that it extends the scope of the lexical database behind that of a simple list of lexical entries. It suggests that the database includes, in addition to the lexicon itself, anything that can help to a better knowledge of the language and the culture of the Manding people. That means a collection of audio and video recordings, as well as all of the written materials available on the language and the culture. By adopting this concept, it becomes easy to preserve small languages like Mawukakan from a speedy death. In fact, apart from creating the best conditions for the popularization and standardization of the writing system of the concerned languages, the new approach to lexicology can contribute to minimizing significantly the cost of the research on those languages and cultures. Creating the largest electronic database possible on Mandekan and the Manding culture is more than suitable. The availability of such databases will contribute to an exposure of all of the aspects of that language and its culture. That can help popularize the writing system of the language and trigger more interest for its study. An access to such reference can only affect positively the research on the concerned language and culture. Because of its electronic nature, updating the database will be an easy and permanent exercise, dependent on the feedback received in reaction. That situation will also reduce to the strict minimum the number of fieldtrips the researchers interested in Mandekan need to take.
Today's technological breakthroughs make such objectives not very difficult to reach. The powerful computers and modern dictionary-making tools available now have transformed lexicology into a more exciting enterprise than before. As for the Mawukakan lexicon we are making available here, anyone with a minimal training in linguistics should be capable of exploiting it. But for maximum and efficient exploitation of the global database which will result from this project, an initiation to the linguistic disciplines of Phonetics, Phonology and Syntax will be the most helpful. Our hope is that the final product be exploitable by linguists as well as all other researchers who are interested in the language and the culture of the Mandenkas. This explains, in part, our choice of the International Phonetic Alphabet [IPA] as the main transcription system of the Mawukakan. IPA is the least costly system for transcribing the African languages without a writing tradition, and for which an alphabet was defined only at the end of the 1950s, a period in which most of the colonies in West Africa became independent.
Both the Toolbox and the XML versions of this dictionary use the Unicode (UTF-8) encoding. The Doulos SIL Unicode font works well, as do a number of other fonts displaying ASCII, Latin-1 (U+00A0 through U+00FF), Latin Extended-A (U+0100 through U+017F), Latin Extended B (U+0180 through U+024F), IPA extensions (U+0250 through U+02AF) and Combining Diacritic Marks (U+300 through U+36F).
For an example of this publication, please examine this XML subset of the lexicon.
© 2005 Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania