Clement Martyn Doke

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Clement Martyn Doke (May 16, 1893 in Bristol, United Kingdom – February 24, 1980 in East London, South Africa) was a South African linguist working mainly on African languages. Realizing that the grammatical structures of Bantu languages are quite different from those of European languages, he was one of the first African linguists of his time to abandon the Euro-centric approach to language description for a more locally grounded one. A most prolific writer, he published a string of grammars, several dictionaries, comparative work, and a history of Bantu linguistics.


Missionary in Lambaland

The Doke family had been engaged in missionary activity for the Baptist Church for some generations. His father Reverend Joseph J. Doke left England and travelled to South Africa in 1882, where he met and married Agnes Biggs. They returned to England, where Clement was born as the third of four children. The family moved to New Zealand and eventually returned to South Africa in 1903, where they later on settled in Johannesburg.

At the age of 18, Clement received a bachelor's degree from Transvaal University College in Pretoria. He decided to devote his life to missionary activity. In 1913, he accompanied his father on a tour of north-western Rhodesia, to an area called Lambaland, now known as Ilamba. It is situated at the watershed of the Congo and Zambesi rivers, part of the district lay in Northern Rhodesia and part in the Belgian Congo State. The Cape-Cairo Railway threaded through its eastern portion; otherwise, travelling mostly had to be done on foot.

The Reverend William Arthur Phillips of the Nyasa Industrial Mission in Blantyre had established a Baptist mission there in 1905, serving an area of 25,000 square miles (65,000 km2) and 50,000 souls. The Dokes were supposed to investigate, whether the mission in Lambaland could be taken over by the Baptist Union of South Africa. It was on this trip that Doke's father contracted enteric fever and died soon afterwards (Gandhi attended the memorial service and addressed the congregation). Clement assumed his father's role.

The South African Baptists decided to take over Kafulafuta Mission, while its founder Reverend Phillips remained as superintendent. Clement Doke returned to Kafulafuta as missionary in 1914, followed by his sister Olive two years later.

The Lamba language

At first, Clement Doke was frustrated by his inability to communicate with the Lamba. The only written material available at the time was a translation of Jonah and a collection of 47 hymns. Soon he mastered the language and published his first book Ifintu Fyakwe Lesa (The Things of God, a Primer of Scripture Knowledge) in 1917. He enrolled in Johannesburg as the extension of Transvaal University College for an MA degree. His thesis was published as The Grammar of the Lamba language. The book is couched in traditional grammatical terms as Doke had not yet established his innovative method of analysis and description for the Bantu languages. His later Textbook of Lamba Grammar is far superior in this respect.

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