The Roots of Mambila:

Convergence and divergence in the development of Mambila

Bruce Connell

University of Oxford

Text of a paper presented at the 26th Colloquium on African Languages and Linguistics, Leiden, The Netherlands, Sept. 5–7 1996.

Comments and discussion welcome


The Mambila language comprises a cluster of dialects which straddle the Nigeria–Cameroon border. One of the striking aspects of Mambila is its apparent internal diversity – Blench (1993), for example, regards it as the most diverse of the Mambiloid languages. The accepted view regarding this heterogeneity, established by Perrin & Hill (1969) and fostered by Zeitlyn (1994) as well as Blench, is that there is a basic division among the dialects giving two clusters. The boundary between the two essentially corresponds to the major geographical division between the Mambila Plateau and the Tikar Plain. Earlier, Meek (1931) had also suggested a fundamental two-way split, though one that had little in common with that eventually proposed in Perrin & Hill. New research suggests that earlier divisions of Mambila were premature; at least by some criteria, Mambila does comprise two major dialect clusters, though the division is not that envisaged by previous researchers. This paper provides evidence of the division among Mambila dialects and then goes on to explore two issues: the relative roles of divergence and convergence in the rise of the present Mambila situation, and what the Mambila situation can tell us about the dynamics of language change more generally.

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