Dr Joan Maw, scholar of Swahili languages
3 April 2014
Dr Joan Maw, former lecturer in Swahili at SOAS, University of London has sadly passed away, aged 87.
Born in Yorkshire, Dr Joan Maw later moved to London and studied languages, specialising in Swahili. She spent many years learning the language in Nairobi in the 1950s and 1960s.
Dr Maw returned to London to lecture at SOAS throughout the 1970s, 80s and early 90s. During this time she wrote several papers, including the monographs Narrative in Swahili (1992) and Swahili Style (1974). She continued to work at SOAS as a consultant at the Language Centre until 2009.
In his SOAS Working Papers in Linguistics Vol.15 (2007): 173-184, Oliver Stegen of SIL International wrote: “It is not possible to talk about Swahili narrative style or differences between oral and written Swahili, without referring to research done at SOAS, particularly by Maw (1974; 1992)." Maw compared oral and written Swahili texts, paired with regard to their producers’ intention, including reasoned argument, rhetoric persuasion, story-telling, and conversation.
She was also a trained psychotherapist; her portrait was painted by one of her patients and a subsequent friend, expressionist artist Stephen B Whatley. He remembers her for her "deep sensitivity, youthful persona and sparkling humour" and the decorative African beads she enjoyed wearing.
After her retirement she pursued her many cultural interests, including choral singing and painting.