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Didier Demolin Phonology Laboratory, Université libre de Bruxelles

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Presentation on theme: "Didier Demolin Phonology Laboratory, Université libre de Bruxelles"— Presentation transcript:

1 Comparative perspectives in the study of languages from the North-East of Congo
Didier Demolin Phonology Laboratory, Université libre de Bruxelles & Universidade de São Paulo Lyon, May 2008

2 Linguistic diversity and language contact
The North East of Congo shows an important linguistic diversity. There are 4 different linguistic families present in the area: Bantu, Central Sudanic , Nilotic and Ubanguian. This situation is the consequence of ancient language contacts that shaped the linguistic landscape of this part of Congo. Culuturally there are agriculturalists (forest and savanah), hunther gatherers and pastoralists settling the region. This area also covers the limit between the rainforest and the savannah that is very rich ecosystem having a high population density.

3 Language families Bantu C : Boa, Liko
D : Bodo, Bira, Nyali, Hema, Kumu, Ndaka, Mbo, Bali Central Sudanic: Moru-Mangbetu Mangbetu-Asua : Mangbetu, Medje, Makere, Malele, Mapopoi, Nabulu, Lombi, Asua Mangbutu-Efe : Mangbutu, Ndo, Mamvu, Lese, Mvuba, Efe

4 Oubanguian Zande, Barambo Ma, Mba, Mayogo, Bangba Mondo, Dongo Nilotic Kakwa, Alur

5 Mbuti Pygmies Central sudanic Asua (Mangbetu-Asua) Efe (Mangbutu-Efe)
Bantu Sua Kango, Tchwa




9 2. Bantu from the North East of Congo
Bantu C : Boa and Liko are languages with class prefixes and suffixes This might be the consequence of contact with Ubanguian languages Bantu D : Bodo, Nyali, Ndaka, Mbo, Bali The vowels systems are similar to the [±ATR] vowel systems of the neighboring Central Sudanic Languages. There are also several consonants that are likely borrowed from Central languages (implosives, flaps, trills, labio-velars). Bira (D 32) has only two class prefixes.




13 Language contact with Bantu languages
There are several interesting cases of changes due to language contact in this region. For example the Mangbele who are assimilated to the Mangbetu were originally speaking a language very close to Boa. They are now present at various places in the North East of Congo (sometimes quite far one from the other). Bali and Liko share a lot of lexical items with the languages belonging to the Mangbetu language group.


15 3. Central Sudanic languages
Mangbetu-Asua Comparative data show that Asua which is the language spoken a group of Pygmies is the most distinctive. Otherwise most languages are quite close but for Lombi that is more distant. Mangbutu-Efe Comparative data show that Magbutu and Ndo are more distinct than Mamvu, Lese, Efe and Mvuba that are more similar. Lese and Efe that is the language by a group of Pygmies are the more similar.


17 4. Languages spoken by the pygmies
Mbuti is not a language. Indeed it is a generic name applied to the Pygmies of the Ituri and sometimes to all Pygmies of the North East of Congo. This term covers 2 groups of Pygmies speaking Central Sudanic languages (Asua and Efe) and three groups of Pygmies speaking Bantu languages (Sua -2 groups-, Kango and Tchwa). These correspond to the three groups of Bantu languages, Bira-Kumu (Sua and Kango), Bodo-Nyali (Tchwa) and Liko-Bali (Sua). Comparative data are based on specialized lexicons (mammals, birds and botanical terms).

18 Comparative data between the different languages spoken by the Pygmies show that there is common vocabulary between Asua and Efe; between Asua and Kango but much between Efe and Kango, Tchwa or Sua. The analysis of specialized lexicons (zoological, botanical and ornitological) suggest that –for this part of the lexicon- Pygmy languages can be divided in two groups that reflect the distinction between Central Sudanic and Bantu languages. However Asua seems to be closer to Bantu languages than Efe.

19 Looking at the zoological lexicon (that has comparable lists for all languages but sometimes for Asua) it is possible to show that there are some common items between Central Sudanic and Bantu languages. Most of the time Sua, Kango and Tchwa group together while Efe is different. When data for Asua are available they show more similarities with Bantu languages when compared to Efe.



22 5. Comparative and historical perspectives
The present state of the comparative data from the North East of Congo and particularly from the Ituri region allows making some observations. The history of the relation between Asua and the other languages of the Mangbetu linguistic group is important to understand the historical depth of their relation and the contact between Central Sudanic languages with some neighboring linguistic groups (Bantu and Ubanguian). The relation between Asua, Efe and the different Pygmies groups speaking a Bantu language is not straightforward.

23 The three different groups of Pygmies (and famers) speaking a Bantu language seem to reflect (three?) different periods of the history of these languages. The sound systems, the lexicon and even the morphology of the Central Sudanic and Bantu languages of the region seem to reflect different periods of historical contacts. More comparative data is badly needed to refine or reject these observations. Genetic data will be essential to clarify some of these problems in terms of human geography and history.

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