Archives for category: Central African Republic


The workshop participants always return home with their exercise books crammed full of notes which they took during the lectures.


In most African languages, tone plays an important role in verb conjugations (e.g. ‘you eat’ vs ‘he eats’; ‘you eat’ vs ‘you ate’; ‘you ate’ vs ‘you didn’t eat’ etc). That’s why the Yaoundé workshop participants spent a lot of time writing down lists of verbs in various tenses, and discovering for themselves the patterns in their own languages. That painstaking work lays the foundation for deciding whether and how to include tone in the writing system.


Analyzing a text in a Central African language (can’t remember which one – can anybody help?). The words circled in red are ones which have two or more meanings depending which tones you pronounce them with.


A whiteboard full of examples of tonal minimal triplets (groups of words that are distinguished from each other only by tone, not by consonants or vowels) in eight different Central African and Cameroonian languages.


In discussion with Connie KL about how to write tone in Central African languages.

Here in Cameroon, I’m having a noun class holiday.

I’m helping to staff a three week orthography seminar, and am working with participants from Kabba, a Central African language. To my delight, Kabba doesn’t have noun classes.

By way of contrast, Kabiye has ten. That means that every time you include a noun in a sentence (which is quite often, let’s face it…), you have to remember which class it belongs to, and that split second choice then has a knock-on effect through the rest of the sentence. Linguists call it Agreement. It’s a nightmare and should never have been invented. Ten classes makes mere masculine and feminine in French seem like child’s play.

Come to think of it, Kabba manages to express an awful lot with very little. It has no verbal inflection, no morphophonology, no tonal processes. All of these are rife in Kabiye. I had no idea I’d been working on a complex language all these years.