Malcolm Guthrie

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Malcolm Guthrie (10 February 1903 – 22 November 1972), professor of Bantu languages, is known primarily for his classification of Bantu languages (Guthrie 1971). The classification, though based more on geography than relatedness, is nonetheless the most widely used.

Malcolm Guthrie was born in Hove, Sussex, England, the son of a Scottish father and Dutch mother.

The magnum opus of Guthrie is Comparative Bantu which appeared in 4 volumes published in 1967 (volume 1), 1970 (volumes 3 and 4), and 1971 (volume 2). The 4 volumes provide not only a genetic classification but also a reconstruction of Proto-Bantu as the Proto-language of the Bantu language family. For his reconstruction, Guthrie drew data from 28 so-called 'test languages' that were picked more or less randomly. It has been argued, for example by Wilhelm Möhlig, that this renders his reconstruction unreliable, since the reconstructed forms, and hence the genetic tree, would be different if one changes the selection of languages.

Guthrie also published extensively on a wide range of Bantu languages, including Lingala, Bemba, Mfinu, and Teke.

See also[edit]


  • Guthrie, Malcolm (1948) The classification of the Bantu languages. London: Oxford University Press for the International African Institute.
  • Guthrie, Malcolm (1967–71) Comparative Bantu: an introduction to the comparative linguistics and prehistory of the Bantu languages. 4 vols. Farnborough: Gregg Press.
  • Möhlig, Wilhelm J.G. (1974) ‘Guthries Beitrag zur Bantuistik aus heutiger Sicht’, Anthropos, 71, 673-715.
  • "Obituary: Malcolm Guthrie"