I first became fascinated with language when I was introduced to German by Mr. Samuel Rosselet when I was a student at UBBTS. Little did I know that one day I would end up doing linguistic research, literacy, and Bible translation in the West African country of Cameroon. This interest in language has continued throughout my life and was the impetus for my most recent project.
In December 2022, I put the finishing touches on the trilingual version (Tikar-French-English) of a 3700+ word dictionary in one of the 250+ languages of Cameroon. This dictionary is a project that was started in the 1980s by my former colleague, Ellen Jackson. As members of SIL/Wycliffe Bible Translators, she and I worked to reduce the Tikar language to writing by developing an alphabet that reflected the sounds present in this previously-unwritten language, and then producing various reading materials in the language. Our ultimate goal was to translate the New Testament into Tikar, which we accomplished in the late 1980s with the help of several Tikar speakers. Although Ellen had compiled a bilingual (Tikar-French) dictionary in the 1980s, it had never actually been published. In 2018, she began working on fine-tuning the dictionary entries and I volunteered to do some proof-reading. I eventually ended up learning how to enter the corrections into the dictionary program myself. As I worked on the bilingual version of the dictionary, I collaborated with a number of Tikar speakers in Cameroon to get their invaluable input.
In April 2022, another former colleague from Cameroon days created an app for the completed French-Tikar dictionary and uploaded it to Google Play Store. The app was enthusiastically received by the Tikar people in Cameroon and was downloaded over 300 times within the first three months. However, I soon began to receive comments about how useful an English version would be since the DNA results of a number of African Americans have shown them to be descended from the Tikar of Cameroon. Before the pandemic, several of these descendants actually travelled to Cameroon to observe, and in some cases, participate in, some of the traditional Tikar ceremonies, and showed an interest in learning some Tikar words. However, unless they could read French, the dictionary would not be of use to them. I gradually came to the conclusion that the project was not in fact complete, and that the dictionary could be improved by translating everything into English, making it trilingual. Having it in English would not only make it accessible to English speakers visiting the region, but would also make it useful for linguists looking to do comparative studies of related African languages.
My hope is that this dictionary will ensure that the Tikar language is preserved for future generations. Since language reflects culture, I tried to include sample sentences which not only illustrate the meaning of the dictionary entry, but also depict the culture and worldview of the Tikar people. For instance, the Tikar perceive an illness as being some kind of outside force capable of doing something to you. Thus, to say that someone has a fever, they say “fever is hurting him”; and if someone becomes blind, they say “blindness seized him”.
Although many hours were spent on this project, it has been a very enjoyable experience, and as the Tikar would say, my heart is making me happy to know that the Tikar now have access to this trilingual version of the dictionary.