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Carl Meinhof and the German Influence on Nicholas van Warmelo's Ethnological and Linguistic Writing, 1927-1935

Sara Pugach
Journal of Southern African Studies
Vol. 30, No. 4, Special Issue: Writing in Transition in South Africa: Fiction, History, Biography (Dec., 2004), pp. 825-845
Published by: Taylor & Francis, Ltd.
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4133886
Page Count: 21
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Carl Meinhof and the German Influence on Nicholas van Warmelo's Ethnological and Linguistic Writing, 1927-1935
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Abstract

The influence of German linguist Carl Meinhof on the work of his student, Nicholas van Warmelo, was substantial and has been underexplored. They met in the 1920s, when van Warmelo went to the University of Hamburg to study under Meinhof and was essentially 'groomed' to join his faculty of African and Pacific Languages. Van Warmelo never did work in Hamburg and instead returned to South Africa, where he became Government Ethnologist in 1930. Even so, Meinhof and van Warmelo remained close, and from the late 1920s collaborated on the English translation of Meinhof 's magnum opus, Grundriss einer Lautlehre der Bantusprachen (Introduction to the Phonology of the Bantu Languages). This book, which in its English translation offered phonetic descriptions of six Bantu languages considered important to British and South African colonialists, was completed only shortly before the appearance of van Warmelo's Preliminary Survey of the Bantu Tribes of South Africa. I will demonstrate that the influence of the Grundriss and other texts by Meinhof was evident in the Survey as well as in certain of van Warmelo's other ethnological writings. Moreover, the classification of African languages and 'tribes' as carried out by Meinhof and van Warmelo was very political; in van Warmelo's case, fixing 'tribal' ethnicity provided order to what, for whites, may have appeared a jumbled mass of peoples whose relationships to one another were not immediately discernible. This was perhaps significant in an era when issues of detribalisation and urbanisation were of increasing concern to white South Africans. The certainty of van Warmelo's ethnic constructions, even if these were still not entirely worked out, may have suggested a direction for resolving these perceived crises. Further, Meinhof 's impact on van Warmelo points to a need to examine more fully the role of German philology and anthropology in shaping South African anthropology in general and Afrikaner volkekunde in particular.

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