small vital languages

Jeff Good jcgood at BUFFALO.EDU
Fri Dec 24 17:16:13 UTC 2010

Hello Steven,

A region at the northwestern edge of the Cameroonian Grassfields known as Lower Fungom that I am working in now has a number of small but vital languages all packed into an area of around, maybe, 100 square kilometers. One of these, known in the Ethnologue as Mbu' [muc] has perhaps around 200-300 speakers in the village itself, with an unknown number working outside (probably not more than 100). (The Ethnologue's figure of 1000 seems to be rounding up from SIL's own report of 600 or so speakers, which I think is on the high side--certainly the 1000 figure is too high.)

There is also a variety of the dialect cluster listed as Mundabli [boe] in the Ethnologue spoken in the village of Buu which has, perhaps, 100-200 speakers and probably qualifies as a distinct language from the other varieties associated with this code. Similarly, the Missong variety of the language called Abar [mij] in the Ethnologue, with perhaps around 400 speakers, is also a good candidate for a distinct language. These both appear to vital varieties.

These are just the smallest ones in that one region. There are reports of similar small groups throughout the periphery of the Grassfields, but some need substantiation. It seems that, in at least some cases, there are small villages with distinct languages to be discovered which have not been noted yet because they politically affiliate with larger groups. And, in this region in general, vital languages of a few thousand speakers are not unusual.

Barring major external natural or man-made catastrophes, I'd say the survival prospects of at least some of these small languages are as good as they have been for hundreds of years, which is somewhere along the lines of "moderate". This is because processes of political change in the area are often associated with language loss/birth, and we cannot know in advance what the political dynamics might be in the near future. Importantly, though, the political changes I am referring to are not those of Cameroon, as a modern state, but rather more traditional ebbs and flows of village communities led by a chief, following patterns which appear to long predate modern trends of endangerment (and probably even the colonial era).


On Dec 23, 2010, at 1:05 AM, Steven Bird wrote:

> Can anyone suggest the names of languages having small speaker
> populations that still have a good level of intergenerational transfer
> and good survival prospects?
> Thanks,
> -Steven Bird

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