Conservative and progressive women

The Kera language, spoken in Chad, has an established writing system that works well, but as the translation team were checking their work, they found that it was difficult to decide between k and g for certain words (and the same was true with t and d and to some extent p and b). Mary Pearce studied the phonetics and phonology of the language in depth, and then realised that these decisions depend on the pitch of the word. Kera is a tone language with three tones. The high tone goes with k, t and p while the low tone goes with g, d, and b. The problem words were the ones with mid tone - because they really were pronounced as half way between k and g! Added to this, there were different tonal dialects. The women in the village kept to the old patterns with three tones and no real g, d, and b. The men in the village were a little influenced by French, so the g, d and b were creeping back into their language. The men in town were also influenced by French and only had two tones. The women in town were the most progressive and they had no tones at all! For sociolinguistics, this is very interesting because it shows how language contact affects things and it shows how the two genders behave in rural and urban settings. Other languages show similar patterns where women are the most conservative in rural settings, but the most progressive in urban settings. However, it is rare to find examples of situations where all of these effects are happening at the same time.

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