WOCAL 7: African languages for development, education and cultural heritage

WOCAL 7 delegates discuss one of the twenty-three posters based on the work of participants in a series of “Discover Your Language” courses offered by SIL in Chad.

(August 2012) The 7th World Congress of African Linguistics (WOCAL 7) was held at the University of Buea in Cameroon 20-24 August.The theme of this year’s event was “Language description and documentation for development, education and the preservation of cultural heritage in Africa.” WOCAL, which takes place every three years, began in 1994 as an international gathering focused on a broad range of topics in African linguistics with a strong emphasis on the participation of African scholars. An opening keynote address was provided by Professor Jacques Fame Ndongo, Cameroon’s Minister of Higher Education.

More than five hundred researchers from around the world were expected to attend WOCAL 7, with more than two hundred presenting research, including twenty-nine staff of SIL and CABTAL,* a regional partner of SIL. SIL presentations of note include those by SIL President Dr. John Watters, Dr. Mary Pearce, Dr. Ken Olson and Dr. Keith Snider.

Watters’ presentation, “Tone in Western Ejagham (Etung): Lexical tone on verb forms with segmental affixes,” built on his two previous studies of tone in the language. Ejagham is spoken in Nigeria as well as Cameroon, where Watters worked for many years.

Pearce and a group of linguists, students and members of local language committees from Chad led three poster sessions. The posters focused on features of Chadian languages and were developed by participants in a series of “Discover Your Language” courses. Many of the poster creators are members of the Chadian organization FAPLG,** which promotes language development in approximately twenty-five language communities of the Guéra region.

Olson and Snider both presented research on the speech sounds of African languages. Olson’s presentation was entitled “The geographic distribution of bilabial trills in Africa.” There is evidence that the distribution of the speech sound known as the bilabial trill is very similar to the distribution of several other linguistic features noted by previous researchers. These features are common in a certain area of Central Africa with a high level of contact between language groups. Snider shared his findings from “Vowel length in Chumburung: An instrumental study.” Chumburung is a Niger-Congo language spoken in Ghana.

CABTAL linguists Ndokobai Dadak and Jacquis Kongne Welaze, who both hold advanced degrees from the University of Yaoundé, presented research on grammatical features of the languages they work with. Dadak’s presentation, “Reduplication in Mafa and Cuvok, two Central Chadic languages of Cameroon,” examined the form, syntax and function of reduplication in these two languages, with observations on the role that this feature plays in the categorization of word classes. Dadak is a mother-tongue speaker of Mafa. Welaze’s presentation, “Documenting the information structure of the Tunen language,” described the significance of deviations from the language’s standard word order and the impact of those variations on information structure. Welaze’s conclusions were based on natural narrative, hortatory and expository texts collected in collaboration with native and fluent speakers of the Toboagn dialect of Tunen spoken in Ndikinimeki, Cameroon.

SIL has a long-standing commitment to supporting the language development efforts of ethnolinguistic communities across the African continent. This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of SIL’s partnership with African communities, government ministries and educational institutions, beginning with a cooperative agreement with the University of Ghana in December of 1961 and the beginning of language development activities in 1962.

*Cameroon Association for Bible Translation and Literacy/Association Camerounaise pour la Traduction de la Bible et l'Alphabétisation

**Fédération des Associations pour la Promotion des Langues au Guéra/Federation of Associations for the Promotion of the Guéra Languages

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