Documenting Nyangbo language through cultural events. According to the tradition of the Emlis, the chief of Tafi inaugurates a newly installed chief of Emli. In this instance a durbar is held for Togbui Afari IV, the paramount chief of Tafi, to welcome Togbui Dadra V, the newly installed chief of Emli.

Above: Documenting Nyangbo language through cultural events. According to the tradition of the Emlis, the chief of Tafi inaugurates a newly installed chief of Emli. In this instance a durbar is held for Togbui Afari IV, the paramount chief of Tafi, to welcome Togbui Dadra V, the newly installed chief of Emli.

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Saving Languages

The number of languages spoken around the world has been decreasing at an alarming rate, prompting concern from both academics and the United Nations. Not only does the disappearance of a language reduce the diversity of our social fabric, but we loose the knowledge, history, and literature of entire cultures.

Chimiini

Linguistics assistant professor Brent Henderson has received a grant from a National Science Foundation/National Endowment for the Humanities joint program on Documenting Endangered Languages. He will document the Chimiini language by publishing a reference grammar, a volume of stories and other texts (written in English and Chimiini), and by archiving digital recordings of the language in an endangered language digital archive. Henderson’s team is also working on a practical dictionary and plans to build a multi-media website for the language.

Chimiini is the language of the Wamiini, an offshoot of Swahili sea-faring cultures that developed in relative isolation over seven centuries. In the 1970s, the language and relocation policies of the Said Barre regime in Somalia weakened its use; it became highly endangered in the early 1990s when full-blown civil war exploded in Somalia. Today, the Wamiini community is spread across the globe, in refugee camps in Kenya and in immigrant communities in the United States and the United Kingdom. The fragmentation of the community is leading to rapid erosion of the language.

Despite some pioneering academic work on Chimiini in the 1970s and an academic lexicon published a few years ago, little documentation of the language exists. There is no in-depth grammatical description and the traditional stories, poems, songs, and other texts have not been recorded. The Wamiini community, however, is very sensitive to the loss of their language and is actively participating in the chance to preserve it for future generations.

Tutrugbu

Professor James Essegbey from the Department of Languages, Literatures, and Cultures is working to save another of these endangered languages. Essegbey is documenting the language and culture of the Nyangbo, a small community in the Volta region of Ghana. The people of Nyangbo refer to themselves as the Batrugbu and their language Tutrugbu. Tutrugbu is one of 14 languages being replaced by two main regional languages, Ewe and Akan.

Funded by the National Science Foundation, Essegbey is collecting video and audio recordings of different communicative events, especially those that document Nyangbo culture. This includes basic daily events, such as greetings, elaborate funeral practices, and various economic activities of the community. These recordings are in turn transcribed, annotated and translated, and stored at the DOBES archive for endangered languages at the Max-Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in Nijmegen in the Netherlands, from where they can be accessed by researchers from all over the world.

Essegbey is also working on a Nyangbo-Ewe-English dictionary and a descriptive grammar of Nyangbo. In addition, he is collaborating with Dutch researchers to investigate the influence of languages spoken in the southern part of Ghana, Togo, and Benin on the creation of creoles.

For more information on the project, go to http://www.clas.ufl.edu/users/essegbey/nyangbo.html.

Credits

Writer

Jeff Stevens, CLAS Communications and Outreach, jstevens@ufl.edu

Sources

James Essegbey, essegbey@ufl.edu, 352-846-2431
Brent Henderson, bhendrsn@ufl.edu, 352-392-0639

Photo

Courtesy James Essegbey

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