The Nigerian Middle Belt remains vastly understudied from a linguistic point of view. Dozens of languages are not or hardly documented, new languages are still being “discovered” and the genealogical classification of several groups of Niger-Congo languages has not been established. Together with Dmitry Idiatov, I have started working on the languages currently classified as Adamawa, in the AdaGram project. We have made progress in the documentation, description and internal reconstruction of Bena-Yungur [yun]. We are also gathering primary data on the closely related languages Mboi [moi] and Roba [lla].
Funding from the Emergences programme of the city of Paris and from the LabEx Empirical Foundations of Linguistics (EFL) enabled us to hire four PhD students who are each working on one previously undescribed Adamawa language: Mirjam Möller on Baa [kwb], Jakob Lesage on Kam [kdx], Eveling Villa on Nyesam [pbn] and Lora Litvinova on Wam [kow]. In November 2020, Chika Ajede will start work on the Bwilim language [cfa], with a PhD contract funded by CNRS.
One of the questions we wish to answer is how the different low level subgroups of Adamawa languages are related to each other, and to which larger linguistic family each of them belongs. We believe that there is no good evidence for classifying the Bena-Mboi languages in the Gur family. Our current working hypothesis is that they are part of Benue-Congo.
Another group of understudied languages spoken in the same area are the Jarawan Bantu languages. In 2019 we have started gathering lexical and grammatical data on the Mbula language [mbu].
Historical morphology and syntax
Comparing the numerous closely related and morphologically rich Bantu languages allows us to identify the diachronic scenarios that shaped the gramatical patterns found in contemporary languages. One such scenario is the Bantu Relative Agreement cycle, which makes sense of the different types of indexation found in relative verb forms in the Bantu languages, among many other things. Another such scenario is the AMAR mechanism, short for Adnominal Modifier Apposition-Reintegration. According to this scenario, the typologically unusal word order patterns, the many paradigms of agreement markers, the strong prosodic boundaries and the many cases of semantic agreement found in nominal expressions in the Bantu languages are all due to a tendency for adnominal modifiers to be nominalised (often by means of a so-called augment) and put in apposition to the noun. Such apposed modifiers are subsequently reintegrated in a more integral nominal constituent.