Learn Bemba by Speaking It

J.P.Belin, W.F.

Published by The White Fathers, P.O. Abercorn, Northern Rhodesia.

No date, but I bought it for 15/- in about 1961, when it was already an established textbook.

When I first arrived in N.R. from S.R., at which time I think I was a citizen of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland, I asked Merfyn Temple if I should learn, Bemba or Lozi, or another language. He replied that there were 37 (?) languages, and the best one to use was English. However, it seemed a good idea to learn a few Bemba words.

The front cover of the book, originally light green but now a sort of antique khaki.

Page 1, the Introduction. Forty years later, it's interesting to note that Father Belin was a pioneer of the "direct method" of teaching/learning languages. Discussing translation, our French master in Newark, Notts, in the 1940's, pointed out that a boy's English translation was not "what the French says". He explained, "What the French says is French", i.e., the nuances of a language are not conveyed by word-for-word translation. The direct method became later standard teaching practice in schools.

The author deals first with the nine classes of words in Bemba. Page 5 is typical of this part of the book, delightfully portraying real life people, items and activities, albeit in somewhat crude ink drawings.

Page 10 has a nice example of the adaptation of English words, in mbokoshi. I think the Shona/ciZezuru equivalent in Harare being something like bokisi. The same type of borrowing, often with an additional terminal vowel, happens in Japanese, e.g., chiizu (cheese) and sarada (salad).

Page 23 has another adaptation in liwindo. It also portrays implements which are immediately recognisable for anyone who has lived in Africa, as well as a staple item of diet. When we asked Merfyn Temple, who spent a lot of time living and working in remote parts of Zambia, how he coped with whole smoked fish with his sadza, he told us he didn't have any problems until it came to eating the eyes!

Page 318 is one of the few pages in English. It takes me back to my first year in Africa, 1953, when a Rhodesian-born European in Fort Victoria was complaining about her domestic servant. She had asked him, "Haven't you polished the floor?" and his answer was, "Yes". She discovered that he had not yet polished the floor. His response had been perfectly correct, "Yes, I have not polished the floor". It's interesting but sad how, for folk who do not have a little patience and understanding, language can be the great divider.