The Language of the Mumuye people

When Peter and Ruth Krusi started 1967 language work in Lankaviri they were confronted with an almost monolingual situation. The Krusis knew some Ibo, but no Hausa, and the people did not understand English, except some school boys who knew a few words. Their translation efforts were not very reliable.

So there was no other way but to stay with the people and listen to them. When the meaning of a word or phrase was clear, it was written down in phonological writing. A sort of breakthrough occurred when we found out the phrase "what is this?" In Mumuye: "We vi ya".

Now Ruth started to point to all kinds of objects, eliciting their names. Once she was able to pronounce them correctly she wrote them down in her book. The best way to do this was when the women sat together, opening peanuts and talking with each other.


Learning the language in a monolingual situation  

The next step is to analyze the gathered material. We found some very interesting features in the Mumuye language. Some also occur in many other African languages, and some were unique to Mumuye.

Sanvo, our first
language helper
For some time we had difficulties to distinguish between the different kinds of bs. Very soon it was clear to us that beside the normal p and b this language owns some double stops, such as kp and gb. But what about the third kind? We listened to the people and tried to say bari, the word for "small cooking pot". For days the people said that we did not pronounce it correctly. Finally I had an idea. I called Sanvo, our language helper, and asked him to say the word bono (barn). While he said it, I was holding a straw with a match in it between his lips. The match shot out of the straw. That was the proof that bono is pronounced with an explosive b. Without further warning I asked him to do the same thing, but this time he shell say bari (small cooking pot). The result was dramatic. Sanvo started to cough and choke, trying to get the match out of his throat. Very clear: bari is pronounced with an implosive b.

Other features of the Mumuye language:

Stories by a gifted story teller are recorded on tape
1973: First test class. Men and women start to read and write their own language

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Transscribing the recorded stories with language helpers
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