This project was supported by the AHRC. It ran for three and a half years from 1 Jan 2006. It concentrated on endangered languages on the Nigeria-Cameroon borderland.
The Nigeria-Cameroon borderland is one of the most linguistically diverse regions of the world, with many languages either near extinction or severely endangered. This project builds on previous work by the participants in surveying and documenting endangered languages in this region. One example is the language of the Somyewe, a small group of blacksmiths whose language and culture are on the verge of disappearing. Documentation of two other local languages was also undertaken Mbonjanga (Kwanja) and Wawa. Documentation followed best practice procedures as developed by the EMELD initiative, and will be situated in context of the linguistic and cultural ecology of the region.
The project was directed by Dr
David Zeitlyn from the Anthropology Department, University of Kent, and
it brought the Canadian linguist Bruce Connell to Kent. Dr Connell is an
acknowledged expert in endangered languages, especially in Africa, and
an authority on the langugaes of the Nigeria-Cameroon borderland.
In November 2006 Dr Connell was awarded the Silver Jubilee award for his work on and the support for the development of Nigerian languages by the Linguistic Association of Nigeria.
An article "Drop 'raiders of
lost argot' act" by Tony Tysome was published in The Times Higher
Education Supplement on Friday, 20 October 2006. This was critical of
what it characterised as the Indiana Jones attitudes of some linguists
working on endangered languages.
We wrote a response which appeared on Friday, 27 October 2006, as follows:
The story "Drop 'raiders of lost argot' act" (October 20) does little more than trivialise the issue of language endangerment. The preservation of linguistic diversity is important. It is not merely a question of "documenting dying languages". Linguistic diversity, cultural diversity and biodiversity are all interlinked; loss of a language inevitably leads to a diminishment of the world's cultural heritage, as has been recognised by Unesco with whom we worked in Cameroon. Far from being an endeavour in which individuals can play the hero, endangered language work is a painstaking venture, always collaborative, and resulting in little tangible reward for the linguists. Bruce Connell and David Zeitlyn. University of Kent, Canterbury
The issue of language endangerment is raised in Tony Tysome's "Drop 'raiders of lost argot' act" (THES October 20 2006). While the attention given to the question of language endangerment is welcome (at least on the principle that 'any publicity is good publicity'), we feel Tysome's article does little more than trivialize the matter. Language endangerment, or to put it in slightly different perspective, the preservation of linguistic diversity, is important. It is not merely a question of 'documenting dying languages for the sake of research' (although this in itself is a valid and valuable endeavour). Linguistic diversity, cultural diversity and biodiversity are all interlinked; loss of linguistic inevitably leads to a diminishment of the world's cultural heritage and consequently its biodiversity. Having worked with and among endangered and minority languages and their speakers collectively and individually for over 20 years in various parts of Africa, we can say with some confidence that few if any scholars involved with endangered languages and cultures have grand pretentions as to their work, and few if any consider themselves to be 'heroic'. To the contrary, in contemporary linguistics the fieldwork involved in the documentation of an endangered language is just about as unglamorous and as lacking in prestige as it gets.
The intimate relation between language and culture and the importance of maintaining diversity in both is increasingly accepted. UNESCO has recognized this, and through its Intangible Heritage Unit, has established an Endangered Languages Program. Under its auspices, we collaborate with linguists and other local scholars in Cameroon to work toward the establishment of programs in that country to preserve its linguistic heritage. Far from being an endeavour in which particular individuals can play the role of hero, endangered language work, if it is to be successful, is always a collaborative venture involving painstaking work and resulting in little tangible reward. If Professor Matras finds he has colleagues who 'have adopted a pretentious attitude', we can only suggest that this has nothing to do with language endangerment. Such people are to be found in all academic disciplines and indeed in all walks of life.
From September 2006 3 PhD students worked on the project.
The general topics of the PhDs cover the following:
The PhD projects were planned as an integral part of the overall project. They aimed to understand and describe some of the broader cultural factors that mitigate for and against linguistic survival in the Cameroon / Nigerian borderlands where the project is focussed. The students undertook their field work at the same time that Connell and Zeitlyn made making fieldtrips as part of this project so supervision extended from Kent to the field. This permited a degree of flexibility in this aspect of the project, so that decisions could be made in the field in response to the combination of local circumstances, the interests of the students, and the overall aims of this project. The students worked on the cultures of language use among Wawa and Njanga in Cameroon. On the basis of initial work undertaken by Connell these will provide a powerful contrast between still viable but threatened and almost extinct languages. A series of studies of attitudes to the different languages spoken in a Wawa village and at Mbonjanga provided some of the empirical core of the PhDs.
The students developed and collected a representative corpus of language material for the documentation of Wawa and Njanga and organized this material in an archivable documentation. Data collection was done at Mbondjanga and Oumiare, a Wawa village. These two languages are at different stages with respect to endangerment and attrition, which posed the problem of determining what is representative in each case.
Working in Oumiare
Sascha Griffiths Contact: sgriffit at cit-ec dot uni-bielefeld dot de
Griffiths, S. S., & Robson, L. (2010). Cultural Ecologies of Endangered Languages: The Cases of Wawa and Kwanja. Anthropological Linguistics, 52(2), 217 - 238.
Thomae, M., Zeitlyn, D., Griffiths, S. S., Van Vugt, M. (under review). Intergroup contact and rice allocation via a modified dictator game in rural Cameroon. Field Methods.
Marieke started her studies
with a BA in Modern Languages and Cultural Mediation at the University
of Southern Denmark in 2000.
After her degree she worked for a month for the Gesellschaft fuer Bedrohte Sprachen (Society of Endangered Languages) in Cologne before she then went on and completed a MA in Euroculture in Groningen, The Netherlands.
In her thesis she focussed on the influences of market forces on European minority languages, with Frisian and Irish as case studies.
In 2004-2005 Marieke completed her MA in Language Documentation and Description at SOAS and wrote her thesis on the properties of vowels in Dida, a language spoken in Ivory Coast. In 2006 she started her PhD at UKC with the goal to produce a broad documentation of Wawa, a Mambiloid language spoken in Cameroon.
contact: mm330 at kent dot ac dot uk
Working in Mbondjanga
This thesis was submitted in September 2010 and awarded in January 2011 by the examiners Professor Maarten Mous of Leiden University and Glenn Bowman of University of Kent.
For a copy of the thesis (in pdf format) please contact Laura at: firstname.lastname@example.org. I can also be contacted through my LinkedIn page
This thesis is a comprehensive discussion of Njanga, a moribund (highly endangered) language of Cameroon, and its associated linguistic, socio-cultural and historical ecology. The investigation incorporates a description of the richly diverse Kwanja region, a sketch grammar of Njanga and comparison with neighbouring and related languages, a description of the culture, history and society of Njanga speakers, and a discussion of why Njanga declined; the latter forms the central research question of the study.
The explanation for Njanga’s decline is primarily functional. Njanga is a dialect of Kwanja with only 4-10 remaining speakers and no remaining utility - daily nor ceremonial. Isolated to use in just one small village - Mbondjanga - Njanga’s decline was precipitated by language contact and the narrowing of Njanga’s functionality to that of a symbolic marker of a particular limited group of speakers in the village - that of the royal, ruling dynasty whose role is passed down only through patrilineal descent. Marked as such, villagers, and in particular female villagers, had low exposure to the dialect and were disinclined to learn a language which had no use to them.
Given the low functionality, Njanga has a much depleted linguistic structure. It is greatly assimilated to its sister dialect, Sundani; non-assimilated elements are principally phonological and lexical. Componential to this study is a comparison with related dialects. Through such comparison I underline the elements of Njanga that are unique.
To email David Zeitlyn please
send to "david dot zeitlyn at anthro dot ox dot ac dot uk"
To email Bruce Connell please send to "bconnell at yorku dot ca"
More on Mambila
|Created 4 Jan 2006 last modified 20 May 2011 (in celebration of Cameroon National Day)||Funded by:|