Malcolm Guthrie

Malcolm Guthrie ( born February 10, 1903 in Ipswich, England; † November 22, 1972 in London ) was an English linguist, who has especially studied the Bantu languages. He can be considered one of the most important Bantuisten the 20th century.


After studying metallurgy he turned to theology and ordained several years in the Baptist church of Rochester. In 1932 he went as a Baptist missionary to Kinshasa in the Congo. There he devoted himself next to his missionary activity to the study of local Bantu languages, in particular the common language Lingala. In 1940 he returned to England and in 1942 was promoted to Senior Lecturer (Lecturer ) appointed for Bantu languages ​​at the School of Oriental and African Studies ( SOAS ). 1942 - 1944 he undertook extensive research trips in eastern, central and southern Africa, during which he collected the material for his doctoral thesis The Tonal Structure of Bemba; With this work he received his doctorate 1945. From 1950 to 1968 he headed the Africa department of SOAS, 1951, he was appointed to the newly established Chair of Bantu languages ​​, emeritus professor in 1970. Guthrie died in 1972.

Common Bantu Proto Bantu and homeland

With his first talked comparative work (1948-1955) Guthrie broke the dominance of the German Africanists who died in 1944, Carl Meinhof from the Bantuistik that had exercised this nearly 50 years. He worked with new structuralist methods and separated sharp diachronic and synchronic linguistic phenomena. Since the Bantu languages ​​no earlier written fixations have ( exception is the Swahili texts since the 10th century in Arabic script, other Bantu languages ​​have been transliterated on the basis of the Latin alphabet until the middle of the 19th century ), it was extremely difficult to find a genetic structure to create the approximately 500 languages ​​and to develop a proto- Bantu language. Guthrie went in two steps: first, he collected almost everywhere Words and morphemes in all accessible to him Bantu languages ​​, they bundled to about 2000 word equations and determined on the basis of this extensive comparisons, the sound correspondences in the various Bantu languages. The sum of these word and Morphemgleichungen he called common Bantu (synchronous phase). From this he attempted in a second step the volume history of the Bantu and to tap the Proto - Bantu ( diachronic phase).

From the regional distribution of Bantu roots, he drew the conclusion that the original homeland of the Bantu languages ​​have south of the equatorial rain forest located - he referred to this space in the Congo region as Bantu nucleus - and all Bantu peoples had migrated from there to their present settlements. This hypothesis has been proven wrong; now generally eastern Nigeria and western Cameroon is regarded as the original home of the Bantu. (See the article in Bantu languages ​​, the " original home and spread .")

The Guthrie - zones

Ever since 1948, Guthrie had designed his system a practical geographically oriented classification of all Bantu languages ​​, which he continued to expand until 1970 and clarified. He shared the Bantu languages ​​into 16 groups ( "zones" ), which he with the letters A - S ( excluding I, O, Q) described, for example, Zone A is the group of Bantu languages ​​of Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea. Within each zone, the languages ​​are grouped into ten units, so are about A10 = Lundu - Balong group and A20 = Duala group of Zone A. The individual languages ​​are numbered in each group of ten; For example, A11 = A12 = Londo and Lue, dialects can be denoted by small letters, eg A12a. This classification Guthrie is primarily geographically oriented, it has a genetic significance according to current knowledge, hardly. However, it is still commonly used as a reference system of the Bantu languages. ( See also the article Bantu languages ​​, the " Bantu languages ​​by Guthrie - zones.", Where all the major Bantu languages ​​are divided into their respective Guthrie zone. )


Guthrie was a reserved loner and shared his ideas with not prior to the publication of a work or a book other researchers. At the international trade debate in the African and Bantuistik he attended only by his works, he had hardly well-known students. Its aftermath has remained relatively weak, they can not be compared with the formative force of Carl Meinhof, who coined the Bantuistik and large parts of the African 50 years. About Lasts has his concept of the common Bantu and his practical classification system for Bantu languages ​​, which is still used today as a standard reference.

Important works Guthrie

Abbreviations of journals:

  • Africa = Africa. Journal of the International Institute of African Languages ​​and Cultures. London 1928ff.
  • AS = African Language Studies. London 1960ff.
  • BSOAS = Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies. London 1940ff.
  • JAL = Journal of African Languages ​​. London and Hertford 1962-72.