African Language Families and their Structural Properties

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African Language Families and their Structural Properties

  1. 1. African language families and their structural properties Sonja Bosch Department of African Languages University of South Africa [email_address] Workshop: Language Technologies for African Languages, EACL, Athens, Greece. March 31 2009.
  2. 2. Goal of the workshop <ul><li>to provide a forum to meet and share the latest </li></ul><ul><li>developments in the field of language technologies for African languages; </li></ul><ul><li>to attract linguists who specialise in African languages and who would like to leverage the tools and approaches of computational linguistics; </li></ul><ul><li>to attract computational linguists who are interested in learning about the particular linguistic challenges posed by African languages. </li></ul>
  3. 3. Overview of tutorial <ul><li>Introduction </li></ul><ul><li>- Video: The History of Mankind </li></ul><ul><li>Four African Phyla </li></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>- History of division </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>- Main characteristics </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Africanisms </li></ul><ul><li>Discussion / Interaction </li></ul>
  4. 4. Introduction <ul><li>Aim of tutorial - </li></ul><ul><li>to give an overview of the complex language situation on the African continent, not only regarding the vast variety of languages spoken, but also regarding the classifications of languages; </li></ul><ul><li>to create an awareness of a few of the characteristic structural properties of some of the African languages; </li></ul><ul><li>to hopefully inspire as many researchers as possible to get involved with language technology research in African languages. </li></ul>
  5. 5. Video: The History of Mankind <ul><li>Journey of Mankind -The Peopling of the World </li></ul><ul><li>Who were our ancestors? From where did we originate? </li></ul><ul><li>Interaction of migration and climate over the last 160 000 years. </li></ul><ul><li>“ We are the descendants of a few small groups of tropical Africans who united in the face of adversity, not only to the point of survival but to the development of a sophisticated social interaction and culture expressed through many forms.” </li></ul><ul><li>Stephen Oppenheimer - tracked routes and timing of migration, placing it in context with ancient rock art around the world. </li></ul>http:// www.bradshawfoundation.com /journey
  6. 6. Distribution of languages by area of origin http:// www.ethnologue.com/ethno_docs/distribution.asp?by =area#1 7,000 828,105 100.0 5,723,861,210   100.0 6,912     Totals 800 4,675 0.1 6,124,341   19.0 1,310   Pacific 220,000 6,294,532 26.3 1,504,393,183   3.5 239   Europe 10,171 1,538,077 61.0 3,489,897,147   32.8 2,269   Asia 2,000 47,464 0.8 47,559,381   14.5 1,002   Americas 25,391 323,082 11.8 675,887,158   30.3 2,092   Africa Median Mean % Count   % Count Number of speakers   Living languages   Area
  7. 7. African Language Families http://encarta.msn.com/media_461520382_761565449_-1_1/African_Language_Families.html
  8. 8. Main research constraints shared by all African languages <ul><li>Limited number of researchers </li></ul><ul><li>Large number of languages involved </li></ul><ul><li>Poor documentation for most languages </li></ul><ul><li>Long-standing interaction between adjacent languages </li></ul><ul><li>Disappearance of some languages in second half of 20 th century </li></ul><ul><li>(cf. Heine & Nurse, 2000:5) </li></ul>
  9. 9. Documentation for African languages <ul><li>Quality and quantity – fairly high to nil </li></ul><ul><li>Reasonably accurate and comprehensive reference grammar – fewer than 100 African languages </li></ul><ul><li>Majority – inadequate grammar, analysis of part of language, article or two </li></ul><ul><li>Some – word list, or even less </li></ul><ul><li>(cf. Heine & Nurse, 2000:5) </li></ul>
  10. 10. Four African Phyla <ul><li>Greenberg in The Languages of Africa (1963) - traced the historical origin and development of African languages, and classified them into four major groups: </li></ul><ul><li>Niger-Congo - 300 million to 400 million speakers (1,436 languages) </li></ul><ul><li>Afro-Asiatic - 200 million to 300 million speakers (371 languages) </li></ul><ul><li>Nilo-Saharan - 30 million speakers (approx. ) </li></ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><li>(196 languages) </li></ul></ul></ul></ul></ul><ul><li>Khoisan - 200,000 to 300,000 speakers </li></ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><li>(35 languages) </li></ul></ul></ul></ul></ul>
  11. 11. Classification of four African phyla <ul><li>Khoisan – language phyla or collection of languages? </li></ul><ul><li>Afro-Asiatic – most widely recognised phylum, longest history of research, largest number of researchers </li></ul><ul><li>Nilo-Saharan – proposed by Greenberg 50 years ago </li></ul><ul><li>Niger-Congo – recognised approx. in same format since 19 th century </li></ul>
  12. 12. Four African Phyla <ul><li>Greenberg in The Languages of Africa (1963) - traced the historical origin and development of African languages, and classified them into four major groups: </li></ul><ul><li>Niger-Congo - 300 million to 400 million speakers (1,436 languages) </li></ul><ul><li>Afro-Asiatic - 200 million to 300 million speakers (371 languages) </li></ul><ul><li>Nilo-Saharan - 30 million speakers (approx.) </li></ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><li>(196 languages) </li></ul></ul></ul></ul></ul><ul><li>Khoisan - 200,000 to 300,000 speakers </li></ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><li>(35 languages) </li></ul></ul></ul></ul></ul>
  13. 13. Niger-Congo <ul><li>Kordofanian languages : southern Sudan (Nuba Hills). </li></ul><ul><li>Mande : West Africa; incl. Bambara (Mali), Soninke (Mali, Senegal and Mauritania). </li></ul><ul><li>Atlantic-Congo : </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Atlantic: incl. Wolof (Senegal), and Fulfulde (across West Central Africa) NB : v alidity of Atlantic as genetic grouping is controversial). </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Ijoidin (Nigeria), incl. Ijo and Defaka. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Dogon (Mali). </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Volta-Congo: </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Senufo (Côte d'Ivoire and Mali) and incl. Senari and Supyire. </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Gur ( Côte d'Ivoire,Togo, Burkina Faso and Mali) incl. Dagbani (Northern Ghana). </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Adamawa-Ubangi: incl. Sango (Central African Republic). </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Kru (West Africa) incl. Bété, Nyabwa, and Dida . </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Kwa: includes Akan (Ghana) and Gbe languages (Ghana , Togo, Benin, and Nigeria, of which Ewe is best known. </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Benue-Congo, incl. among others: </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Bantu: a very large group, incl. Swahili (Kiswahili) and Zulu (isiZulu). </li></ul></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Yoruba and Igbo (Nigeria). </li></ul></ul></ul></ul>
  14. 14. Niger-Congo structures <ul><li>Tonal languages </li></ul><ul><li>e.g. Zulu: ínyàngá (HLH) „moon/month“ </li></ul><ul><li>ínyàngà (HLL) „medicine man“ </li></ul><ul><li>Noun class system </li></ul><ul><li>singular/plural by means of affixes </li></ul><ul><li>e.g. Zulu: umuntu/abantu „person/persons“ </li></ul><ul><li>concordial agreement </li></ul><ul><li>e.g. Zulu: aba ntu aba ningi ba yasebenza „Many people work“ </li></ul><ul><li>Verb suffixes </li></ul><ul><li>modification of meaning of the verb </li></ul><ul><li>e.g. Zulu: -pheka „cook“, -phekela „cook for “, -phekwa „cooked by “, </li></ul><ul><li>-phek is a „let cook“ </li></ul><ul><li>Word order </li></ul><ul><li>SVO widespread, but SOV found in Mande, Ijoid and Dogon. </li></ul>
  15. 15. Four African Phyla <ul><li>Greenberg in The Languages of Africa (1963) - traced the historical origin and development of African languages, and classified them into four major groups: </li></ul><ul><li>Niger-Congo - 300 million to 400 million speakers (1,436 languages) </li></ul><ul><li>Afro-Asiatic - 200 million to 300 million speakers (371 languages) </li></ul><ul><li>Nilo-Saharan - 30 million speakers (approx.) </li></ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><li>(196 languages) </li></ul></ul></ul></ul></ul><ul><li>Khoisan - 200,000 to 300,000 speakers </li></ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><li>(35 languages) </li></ul></ul></ul></ul></ul>
  16. 16. Nilo-Saharan <ul><li>Komuz languages. </li></ul><ul><li>Saharan languages (incl. Kanuri (Niger, Nigeria)). </li></ul><ul><li>Songhay languages (Mali, Niger). </li></ul><ul><li>Fur languages (incl. Fur). </li></ul><ul><li>Maban languages. </li></ul><ul><li>( Chari-Nile languages - later rejected, placing four branches below on equal footing with above ). </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Central Sudanic languages (CAR, Chad, DRC). </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Kunama language. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Berta language. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Eastern Sudanic languages (incl. Nubian (Sudan, S Egypt) and Nilotic languages (incl. Dinka (Sudan), Luo & Maasai (Kenya, Tanzania)). </li></ul></ul>
  17. 17. Nilo-Saharan structures <ul><li>Tonal languages </li></ul><ul><li>Verb prefixation and suffixation – no class agreement </li></ul><ul><li>Case-marking on nouns, e.g. dative and locative (to indicate grammatical relations and semantic functions) </li></ul><ul><li>Simplified noun class systems </li></ul><ul><li>Word order – SOV most common </li></ul>
  18. 18. Four African Phyla <ul><li>Greenberg in The Languages of Africa (1963) - traced the historical origin and development of African languages, and classified them into four major groups: </li></ul><ul><li>Niger-Congo - 300 million to 400 million speakers (1,436 languages) </li></ul><ul><li>Afro-Asiatic - 200 million to 300 million speakers (371 languages) </li></ul><ul><li>Nilo-Saharan - 30 million speakers (approx.) </li></ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><li>(196 languages) </li></ul></ul></ul></ul></ul><ul><li>Khoisan - 200,000 to 300,000 speakers </li></ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><li>(35 languages) </li></ul></ul></ul></ul></ul>
  19. 19. Afroasiatic <ul><li>* Chadic (Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon, Central African Republic and Niger. Hausa, its principal language). </li></ul><ul><li>* Berber (dominant language Tamarshak / Tamasheq). </li></ul><ul><li>* Semitic (incl. Amharic and Tigrinya). </li></ul><ul><li>Cushitic (incl. Beja and Oromo as principal languages. Beja (Sudan and Eritrea), Oromo (Ethiopia). </li></ul><ul><li>* Egyptian (4,500 years of written records, not spoken for 600 years. Its final phase, Coptic is liturgical language of Coptic Church). </li></ul><ul><li>Omotic (Omo plateau in Ethiopia. North and South Omotic subfamilies). </li></ul><ul><li>* General agreement that these major branches are clear-cut entities. </li></ul>
  20. 20. Afro-Asiatic structures <ul><li>Tonal languages - appear in the Omotic, Chadic, and South and East Cushitic branches of Afro-Asiatic. </li></ul><ul><li>Two-gender system in singular, with the feminine marked by –(a)t, </li></ul><ul><li>e.g. Amharic: sew “ man”, set “woman”; ligu “boy”, ligitu , “girl”. </li></ul><ul><li>Emphatic consonants , variously realised as glottalized, pharyngealised or implosive – changes meaning of word. </li></ul><ul><li>Word order - VSO with SVO tendencies. </li></ul>
  21. 21. Four African Phyla <ul><li>Greenberg in The Languages of Africa (1963) - traced the historical origin and development of African languages, and classified them into four major groups: </li></ul><ul><li>Niger-Congo - 300 million to 400 million speakers (1,436 languages) </li></ul><ul><li>Afro-Asiatic - 200 million to 300 million speakers (371 languages) </li></ul><ul><li>Nilo-Saharan - 30 million speakers (approx.) </li></ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><li>(196 languages) </li></ul></ul></ul></ul></ul><ul><li>Khoisan - 200,000 to 300,000 speakers </li></ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><li>(35 languages) </li></ul></ul></ul></ul></ul>
  22. 22. Khoisan <ul><li>(1) Non-Khoe </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Ju (Northern) - (!O)!Xũũ, ||X’au||’e, Ju|’hoan (DC) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>!Ui-Taa (Southern) </li></ul></ul><ul><li>(1.2.1) !Ui </li></ul><ul><li>(1.2.2) Taa </li></ul><ul><ul><li>‡ Hõã (200 speakers, Botswana. Moribund.) </li></ul></ul><ul><li>(2) Khoe (Central) </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Khoekhoe </li></ul></ul><ul><li>(2.1.1) North Nama/Damara, Hai//om, ‡Aakhoe (DC) </li></ul><ul><li>(2.1.2) South †!Ora; Cape Khoekhoe varieties </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Kalahari Khoe </li></ul></ul><ul><li>(2.2.1) West Kxoe, Buga, ||Ani (DC),Naro (DC), G||ana, G|ui, ‡Haba (DC) </li></ul><ul><li>(2.2.2) East Shua, Ts’ixa, Danisi, |Xaise, †Deti, Kua-Tsua (DC) </li></ul><ul><li>( 3) Sandawe </li></ul><ul><li>40,000 speakers in Tanzania (some indication - Sandawe may be related to Khoe-Kwadi family, but the relationship remains speculative). </li></ul><ul><li>(4) Kwadi </li></ul><ul><li> † Kwadi (Extinct, Angola) </li></ul><ul><li>(5) Hadza </li></ul><ul><li> Hadza (200-800 speakers in Tanzania), isolate </li></ul><ul><li>(DC = dialect cluster; † = (presumably extinct) </li></ul>
  23. 23. Khoisan structures <ul><li>Sound system – unique and complex, click sounds </li></ul><ul><li>Non-Khoe </li></ul><ul><li>SVO – different from other Khoisan languages </li></ul><ul><li>Syntactic context determines meaning of a stem </li></ul><ul><li>Khoe </li></ul><ul><li>Rich morphology – inflection, derivation (suffixes) </li></ul><ul><li>Nouns – person, gender, number suffix </li></ul><ul><li>Grammatical agreement (adj, poss, dem, numerals, interrogatives) </li></ul><ul><li>Sandawe </li></ul><ul><li>Two genders (masc & fem), and two numbers (sing. & plural) </li></ul><ul><li>SOV </li></ul><ul><li>Kwadi (hardly any linguistic information) </li></ul><ul><li>SOV, frequent stem reduplication </li></ul><ul><li>Hadza </li></ul><ul><li>VSO, two genders (masc & fem) </li></ul>
  24. 24. Africanisms: special features of African languages <ul><li>*Heine, B. & Nurse, D. 2008. A Linguistic Geography of Africa. Cambridge [England]; New York: Cambridge University Press. </li></ul><ul><li>Quantitative survey of African languages of all major genetic groupings (99 languages: 55 Niger-Congo, 23 Afro-Asiatic, 15 Nilo-Saharan, 6 Khoisan) and major regions. </li></ul><ul><li>Properties chosen that are claimed by researchers to be wide spread in Africa but not elsewhere. </li></ul><ul><li>Catalogue drawn up of phonological, morphosyntactic and semantic properties that can help to define African languages. </li></ul><ul><li>Africa has average of 6.8 of 11 properties. </li></ul><ul><li>Outside Africa no language has more than 5 of the properties. </li></ul><ul><li>Sub-Saharan Africa stands out typologically with an average of 7.2 properties. </li></ul>
  25. 25. 50 11. Noun “child” used productively to express diminutive meaning 82 10. Comparative construction [X is big/defeats/ surpasses/ passes Y] 40 9. Semantic polysemy ‘animal/meat’ 72 8. Semantic polysemy ‘hear/see/understand’ 74 7. Semantic polysemy ‘drink/pull/smoke’ 89 6. Nominal modifiers follow noun 76 5. Verbal derivational suffixes (pass, caus, appl. etc.) 39 4. ATR-based vowel harmony 80 3. Lexical or grammatical tones 36 2. Implosive stops 39 1. Labial-velar stops No. of languages with that property (from total of 99) Property used as criteria *RELATIVE FREQUENCY OF OCCURRENCE OF 11 TYPOLOGICAL PROPERTIES IN AFRICAN LANGUAGES
  26. 26. Conclusion <ul><li>Language situation in Africa – language technology has important role to play. </li></ul><ul><li>Africa lagging far behind. </li></ul><ul><li>Pockets of expertise emerging. </li></ul><ul><li>Language resources – crucial building blocks for developing language technologies. </li></ul>
  27. 27. Recommended Reading Greenberg, J. H. The languages of Africa . Bloomington: Indiana University, 1963. Heine, B. & Nurse, D. 2000. African languages : an introduction. Cambridge [England]; New York: Cambridge University Press. Heine, B. & Nurse, D. 2008. A Linguistic Geography of Africa . Cambridge [England]; New York: Cambridge University Press.
  28. 28. <ul><li>Siyabonga! </li></ul><ul><li>Ke a leboga! </li></ul><ul><li>Nkosi! </li></ul><ul><li>Ndi a livhuwa ! </li></ul><ul><li>Thank you! </li></ul>
  29. 29. References <ul><li>African language families. 2008. [O] Available: http://encarta.msn.com/media_461520382_761565449_-1_1/African_Language_Families.html . Accessed on 30 March 2009. </li></ul><ul><li>Aikhenvald, Alexandra Y. / R. M. W. Dixon. 2001. Areal Diffusion and Genetic Inheritance: Problems in Comparative Linguistics . Oxford: Oxford University Press. </li></ul><ul><li>Alexandre, P. 1972. An Introduction to languages and Language in Africa. London, Ibadan, Nairobi: Heinemann. </li></ul><ul><li>Ethnologue. 2005. [O] Available: http://www.ethnologue.com/ethno_docs/distribution.asp?by=area#1 </li></ul><ul><li>Accessed on 30 March 2009. </li></ul><ul><li>Gourt the home of all knowledge. Sa. [O] Available: http://articles.gourt.com/en/language%20family </li></ul><ul><li>Accessed on 30 March 2009. </li></ul><ul><li>Greenberg, J. H.. The languages of Afric a. Bloomington: Indiana University, 1963. </li></ul><ul><li>Heine, B. & Nurse, D. 2000. African languages : an introduction. </li></ul><ul><li>Cambridge [England] ; New York : Cambridge University Press. </li></ul><ul><li>Heine, B. & Nurse, D. 2008. A Linguistic Geography of Africa . Cambridge [England] ; New York : Cambridge University Press. </li></ul><ul><li>Oppenheimer, S. 2003. Journey of Mankind. [O] Available: http:// www.bradshawfoundation.com /journey . Accessed on 30 March 2009. </li></ul>
  30. 30. Language endangerment in Africa <ul><li>Brenzinger, M. Language death: factual and theoretical explorations with special reference to East Africa. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 1992. </li></ul><ul><li>Brenzinger, M. Endangered languages in Africa. Köln: Köppe, 1998. </li></ul><ul><li>Mous, M. “Loss of linguistic diversity in Africa”. In: Janse, M. and S. Tol (eds.). Language Death and Language Maintenance. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2003. </li></ul><ul><li>Sommer, G. “A survey on language death in Africa”. In: M. Brenzinger (ed.). Language death: factual and theoretical explorations with special reference to East Africa. Berlin/New York: Mouton de Gruyter, 1992, 301-407. </li></ul><ul><li>Wurm, S. (ed.). Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger of Disappearing. Paris: UNESCO Publishing, 2001. </li></ul>

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