Chadic Newsletter Online

ISSN 1618-7369

Report on the First West Chadic Language Workshop

Posted by useibert on Sunday, April 22, 2012

Report on the First West Chadic Language Workshop, held in Jos, 20-21st April, 2012

 Roger Blench

A workshop was held in Jos, 20-21st April, 2012, to bring together speakers of West Chadic languages, especially those concerned with either developed or potential orthographies. In practice, most of the languages represented were A3 languages. Speakers of the following languages attended;

As well as a survey team from Language Development Facilitators, staff of TCNN and a deputation from the Department of Linguistics, Nassarawa State University were also in attendance. More details of the programme are on the attached pdf. The workshop was used as an opportunity to record basic sociolinguistic and lexical data for lesser-known languages, including Ywom, Takas, Mushere and Cakfem. Video interviews with speakers were also recorded to introduce the languages and to make a plea for outside assistance with language development. These will be posted on Roger Blench’s YouTube page shortly.

Broadly speaking, the following important points emerged;

1. Even languages with long established written traditions, such as Ngas and Goemai, are having problems with reading. Brief descriptions of their orthographies make it clear why this should be so; orthographic conventions are over-complex and difficult to teach. A newly-written language such as Mushere has no consistent orthography at all.

2. Mwaghavul is gradually adapting its written conventions to take into account modern insights into its phonology and morphology.

3. No languages currently mark tone, despite the abundance of homophones and homographs, and this is becoming an increasing problem for readers. Only ad hoc solutions are being adopted at present, including the really bad one of using unnatural forms to make sentences unambiguous.

4. The literature, such as it is, has been really unclear on the linguistic status of languages such as Mupun and Takas, but they tend to be treated as Mwaghavul dialects. However, it turns out that all the early evangelism in this area was conducted in Mwaghavul, and it was thus learnt by an older generation. So reports of inter-intelligibility may well have been exaggerated. Once the data has been transcribed, it will be made available on the internet to begin resolving these questions.

5. Mushere turns out to be highly complex. There are at least two sharply distinct dialects, and Kadim, which although previously listed as a dialect, is completely incomprehensible and may not even be a Chadic language. Survey work on Kadim will try and resolve this issue.

6. The distinctiveness of Ywom may well be the result of long-term interaction with Tarok,  and that underlyingly it is a well-behaved A3 language. A Reading and Writing book was published for Ywom late 2011, indicating the presence of labial velars, gb and kp, as well as three central vowels.

7. Mwaghavul is reported to have a ritual language for speaking about the njii, spirits, now known only to a small group of elders. Further work is in hand to document this; similar parallel languages may exist for other A3 languages.

The way forward

It was generally agreed that much more work is required on linguistic analysis and the development of orthographies that are easier to read and more consistent. It is clear that literacy committees, which often have appointees present because of their status rather than their interest in literacy, can represent a block to language development. Speakers (I hope) went away with a new resolve to try and renew interest in developing practical systems of reading and writing. At the same time, it was clear that much more descriptive linguistics is required to analyse unusual sounds, and in particular to determine the status of individual languages.

A second West Chadic Languages Workshop is planned for two years hence, and we hope to invite speakers of barely documented languages such as Jorto, Pyapun and Tal, as well as reporting on progress in the present languages.


The Workshop was sponsored by Kay Williamson Educational Foundation, and assisted with facilities by Language Development Facilitators, Nigeria. The organisers were Roger Blench and Nathaniel Daapiya.

> West Chadic Language Workshop Programme April 2012 (PDF, 24 kB)

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