Guide on “African fiction in local languages of non-European origin”

LocalLanguagesIIIIMG_20150703_105616Several libraries collect material in local African languages of non-European origin. This guide gives a few hints on how to find novels in Swahili, poetry in Ndebele or plays in Xhosa. Libraries do use certain methods of subject indexing and classification helping to locate literature in African languages in the library catalogues.

Some of the approaches do also apply for the local literature in English, French, Portuguese and Spanish. However, the main focus of this guide is on local African languages of non-European origin.

Frankfurt University Library, Germany

The DFG-funded special subject collection on Africa South of the Sahara uses keywords according to the German authority file GND and the RWSK-rules. Additionally, we also name the language and the genre of the fictional text.

The pattern is:

Country, e.g. “Simbabwe”
Language, e.g. “Ndebele-Sprache, Simbabwe”
Genre, e.g. “Roman” (novel)

With this type of keyword search Zimbabwean novels in Ndebele can be found.

Other examples are:

For the purpose of classification an “Eppelsheimer”-inhouse solution is applied. This allows to answer some broader questions: All novels from Africa in Frankfurt University library can be retrieved e.g. with “3!! M 0059 k*“.

The pattern to index fictional text looks like this:

334 = e.g is the country code for Kenya
M 0059 = is a fictional text
k = novel, h =drama, e = poems, m = short story etc.

The code for local African languages is:

A combination of both is possible, some examples:

To find studies about a certain language together with the texts in this language one can use the !-mask, e.g. “300 Lq 009! Yoruba” for all studies on the Yoruba language and all the texts in the same language.

Finally, the search via keyword and classification can also be combined. If one explores all the texts in one language, one will also find non-fictional books in African languages, e.g. the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) soccer rules in Swahili.

Jahn Library for African Literatures, Germany

The Jahn Library for African Literatures at Mainz University uses special local keywords like “12.3 Ghana” and “12.3 Roman” or  “12.3 Swahili” and “12.3 Kriminalliteratur”.

Additionally, the Jahn Library has an elaborated system of shelfmarks, e.g.:

JF West Africa

JF1 General critical sources on West African literature
JF2 West African anthologies
JF3 Critical sources on individual West African writers
JF4 Literary works by individual West African writers

Creative writing in West African languages has the shelf mark ‘JF’ followed by a specific language code, e.g., JF YOR for creative writing in Yorùbá, relevant critical sources and translations from and into the Yorùbá language:

JF YOR1 General critical sources on Yorùbá literature
JF YOR2 Yorùbá anthologies
JF YOR3 Critical sources on individual Yorùbá writers
JF YOR4 Literary works by individual Yorùbá writers
JF YOR5 Translations of literary works by individual writers from the Yorùbá
JF YOR6 Translations of literary works by individual writers into Yorùbá

They provide also a list of African-language literatures available in the Jahn Library and their shelfmark codes, with “JH GAN” for the Ganda language for example. It is possible to search for this shelfmark in the OPAC of Mainz University library, e.g. for JH GIK (Gikuyu).

ASC Leiden Library, The Netherlands

The African Studies Thesaurus includes the subject category “19.03 LITERARY GENRES” with e.g. “novels (form)” or “praise poetry (form)”. The subject category “18 LANGUAGE AND LINGUISTICS” lists the names of the African languages. Via the OPAC both can be combined in one search, e.g.: “Praise Poetry (form)” AND “Yoruba language”.

NAI Uppsala,  Sweden

The keyword-system applied by the library of the Nordic Africa Institute looks like this:

Main Author: Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, 1938-
Title: Mũrogi wa Kagogo / rũgano ta ũrĩa rwaguũrĩirio Ngũgĩ wa Thiongo.
Imprint: Nairobi : East African Educational Publishers, 2004
Contents: 1. Ngoma cia ũnene. 2. Ngoma cia mĩhari
Note: In Kikuyu.
Abstract: A novel.
ISBN: 9966251626
Keyword:  Novels
Keyword:  Fiction; Authors, Kenya; Kikuyu language

So there are keywords for the genre like “Novels”, “Poetry”, …, for the country identification like “Authors, Nigeria” and for the language, like “Kikuyu language”, “Swahili language” or “Swazi language”.

internet library sub-saharan Africa (ilissAfrica)

All the above mentioned catalogues can be searched simultaneously via ilissAfrica. However, the heterogeneous subject indexing sometimes lead to odd results. While the ASC and NAI systems are similar and both use English keywords, the German libraries need to be accessed in German. The most successful way to use ilissAfrica is via known author searches or via language names and genre in English and German, e.g. “Swahili novel” OR “Swahili Roman”.

MSUYorubaSHLibraries in the US

In the US the Library of Congress Subject Headings build a convenient tool. The combination of language and “texts” is the right way, e.g. for the material at MSU in Yoruba: “Yoruba language — Texts.

An extensive list of books in African languages stored at the Melville J. Herskovits Library of African Studies, Northwestern University,  is available online.

Indiana University Libraries offers a Guide to the African Crime Fiction Project. This refers to crime, detective, and mystery novels that are set in Africa or feature African characters. Materials can be located via exploration of  the “Author’s Nation(s) of Origin” and the
Language of Publication” (e.g. Setswana, Swahili, Zulu).

Websites on the subject

  • The Literary Map of Africa, Ohio State University Libraries, is a bio-bibliographical database.
  • Yale Guide to Resources in African Languages and Literature
  • Further websites like online dictionaries, e-book collections etc. are listed by ilissAfrica.

Comments and additions are most welcome!

About ilissafrica
This is the blog of the internet library sub-saharan Africa (ilissAfrica).

2 Responses to Guide on “African fiction in local languages of non-European origin”

  1. Pingback: Guide on “African fiction in local languages of non-European origin” | The translation studies portal |

  2. Pingback: Guide on “African fiction in local languages of non-European origin” | Metaglossia

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