Foundation for Endangered Languages

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2. Development of the Foundation

We are now in a position to publish the first result of the Foundation’s funding activity, namely a first brief trip report from Valentin Vydrine, who undertook an expedition to research the Kagoro language in Mali.

(Dr Vydrine will be publishing full results of this work in French, since Mali is a Francophone country.)

Kagoro: a language transforming into a dialect?

Kagoro is a West-Manding language (Manding branch of the Mande family, Niger-Congo) spoken in Mali to the North of the Niger river. Estimated number of ethnic Kagoro is about 30,000, but only about a half of them speak their language. To this day, there are only three publications concerning this language: short chapters in two dialectal surveys [Bird (ed.) 1982, 364-373; Dialectes... 1983, 325-334] and an article by Denis Creissels [1986]. They leave many questions concerning phonology, sociolinguistic status, etc., unresolved.

In March-April 1997, on a grant from the Foundation for Endangered Languages, I made a trip to the Kagoro area in Mali. During the first half of this trip (10 days), our team consisted of two linguists from Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL), Brad and Sue Smeltzers (both are Americans, specialists in the Soninke language), my student from St. Petersburg, Dmitry Idiatov, and myself. Our goals were:

1. Language mapping (on the base of 1:200 000 map) of all the Kagoro area.
2. Kagoro dialect survey: in each dialectal zone, we planned to collect a diagnostic wordlist.
3. Sociolinguistic study: attitude of the Kagoro people to their language, degree of bilingualism.

Kagoro villages are scattered in the strip of about 350 km. From publications of predecessors we had had a preliminary idea about the localization of the main clusters of these villages; to this was added information collected by ourselves in Bamako. Our trip allowed to localize Kagoro with much more precision. We have found out that there are seven Kagoro dialectal zones:

1. The Eastern zone (Mogola) includes at least seven villages, on the left bank of Niger in the Western part of the Segu province; in all these villages Kagoro live mixed with Bamana. Our informants indicated also three Kagoro villages on the right bank of the Niger, which should be verified. There are also some indications that there may be some Kagoro further to the East. In the Eastern zone, Kagoro language is more or less spoken in the Mogola village, and everywhere else it being actively ousted by Bamana.

Another interesting finding was the fact that many villages of that area are considered as Maninka villages (a short inquiry in one of them proved that local people effectively speak a variant of Maninka). In special literature there have never been any mention of the Maninka population that far to the East.

2. Kamiko-Wagato zone is localized to the North of Banamba, mainly in the Boro district. In this zone there are 5 or 6 homogenous Kagoro villages, quite on a distance from each other, surrounded by Soninke, Bamana and Bamana-Kagoro villages. People speak Kagoro at home, but in other situations they switch to Bamana.

3. Sebekoro-Missira zone in the Kolokani district includes 11 Kagoro villages on the right bank of the Baoule river (to the East of the Baoule Bend) and two villages on the left bank. This compact group of villages is surrounded by the Bamana population on the right (Eastern) bank, and by Maninka speakers (Fuladugu dialect) on the left bank. In this zone, positions of the Kagoro language seem to be the strongest; it is currently used on all levels of village life. In the meantime, even here, Kagoro-Bamana bilingualism is very high, and an attitude toward Bamana as a leading language is attested even among elders.

4. Jumara (Dyoumara) zone, to the North-East of the Baoule Bend, includes 6 or 7 Kagoro and 3 or 4 Kagoro-Bamana villages; it is surrounded by Bamana, Soninke and Maure (Hassaniya-speaking) villages. Local Kagoro are bilingual in Bamana and/or Soninke, but, according to what the elders say, Kagoro is currently used in all spheres of life.

5. Jema (Diema) zone to the North-West of Baoule Bend includes several dispersed villages where Kagoro live mixed with Bamana and Soninke. In spite of the fact that this zone is considered by other Kagoro as _central_, here Kagoro language seems to be much forsaken: so, in the Debo-Kagoro village, where the First All-Mali Kagoro Meeting took place one week before our arrival, even elders don_t speak Kagoro today.

6. Jemukuraba (Guemoukouraba)_Saghabara (Sarabala) zone is formed by about a dozen of villages adjoining the Baoule Bend in the West. Here the Kagoro language is well preserved.

7. The westernmost is the Sefeto zone covering the extreme North-Western part of the district of Kita. It includes more than 20 Kagoro villages mixed with Maninka-Bague, Bamana, and Soninke villages; in the West, it neighbours the Xasonka area. Maninka-Bague deserve special mentioning. Linguistically it is hardly distinguishable from the local Kagoro dialect.

In each zone, we collected a diagnostic 120 word list. These lists prove that the dialectal diversity within Kagoro is serious enough to make distinction between different zones clear, but it does not hinder mutual intelligibility between the zones.

During our trip, we also looked for the information on origin and ethnic history of the Kagoro people. We had had two preliminary hypotheses explaining this projection of West-Manding population far away to the East of the main group: either Kagoro represent remnants of autochthonous population of this vast area, of which the majority was assimilated by Bamana since the rise of the Segu Empire; or Kagoro are newcomers on this land. Interviews with village elders testify on behalf of the second hypothesis: according to what they say, Kagoro migrated from the Kaarta region to the East after Al-Hadj Umar’s wars, i.e., less than 150 years ago. That is why eastern Kagoro refer to the Kaarta Kagoro dialect as “Kagoroba”, i.e. “big, main Kagoro”.

The second part of the trip (other 10 days), I stayed alone in one of Kagoro villages, namely Sebekoro (Kolokani district, to the East of the Baoule Bend). During this stay, I made:



- a comprehension test (Kagoro - Maninka of Kita, Kagoro - Xasonka) according to the techniques elaborated by SIL. It proved that Kagoro is mutually intelligible with the Kita Maninka variant, but not with Xasonka (because of the high degree of Kagoro-Bamana bilingualism, a mutual comprehension test for these languages did not make much sense, and it was not carried out).

- individual sociolinguistic interviews. Although carried out with a limited number of interviewees, they revealed some very interesting facts, namely, a much higher degree of knowledge of the main language of Mali, Bamana, and a lower prestige of Kagoro in the eyes of speakers if compared with what the elders, and especially the village head, used to say.

- observation of the everyday language practice. It turned out that Kagoro is currently used during the councils of village elders and in other situations where only representatives of the older generation participate, while youngsters speak Bamana much more than Kagoro. In the meantime, if necessary, even young children can speak Kagoro quite well and without too great admixture of Bamana forms.

- tape-recording of Kagoro texts (mainly popular tales), their transcribing and translation. Several dozens of tales were recorded, of these 6 tales (more than 30 pages) were transcribed and translated.

- collection of lexicographical data. First, I collected a standard SIL 333 word list; then, I used “Petit dictionnaire khassonke-français” by H. Tveit and G. Dansoko as a departure point for questioning my Kagoro informants. A special attention was paid to the collection of “negative information”, i.e., identification of stems attested in other Manding variants and not used in Kagoro. The result of this work is a more clear idea of the main layers of Kagoro vocabulary: words shared by Kagoro with other West-Manding languages; Kagoro innovations; a considerable number of Bamana loan-words.

In the further research, two main questions should be answered. The first question concerns the linguistic status of Kagoro. This is a question of linguistic technique; I don’t think it will create any special problem if compared with other languages.

The other question is its sociolinguistic status. On one hand, Western (and the most prestigious) Kagoro dialects are very close to (or even identical with) the Maninka dialects of the Kita cluster, , which rises a question: is the difference between Kagoro and Maninka of linguistic or rather ethno-identification nature? On the other hand, in the situation of predominance of another language of the Manding branch (Bamana) there is a strong tendency to consider all the Manding variants spoken in Mali as its dialects. This tendency weakened after the fall of the regime of Moussa Traore (e.g., Maninka and Xasonka were given recently an official status of “national languages”), but for languages like Kagoro it is still actual. So, in the population census which took place exactly during my stay in the Sebekoro village, Kagoro was not present in the list of Malian languages, and all those who said that their language is Kagoro were listed as Bamana (Bambara). Attitudes of Kagoro speakers is also dubious: in the group interviews, elders proclaim primacy of the Kagoro language, but when asked about the preferred language for literacy program, they often opt for Bamana, especially if the interview is individual. As for the younger population, they are even more open to Bamana.

Thus it cannot be excluded that soon enough Kagoro will be “swallowed” in the course of the progressive consolidation of the Bamana languages: first, it will be downgraded to the status of a Bamana dialect, and then, eliminated through growing scholarization and mass-media.

Bird, Ch. (editor). The Dialects of Mandekan. Indiana University, 1982, 423 p.
Creissels, D. Le système prédicatif du kagoro. // Mandenkan 11 (Paris), 1986, pp. 1-16
Dialectes manding du Mali. Bamako : DNAFLA - Paris : Agence de cooperation culturelle et technique, 1983, 409 p.

Valentin Vydrine, St. Petersburg (Russia)

FEL Executive Committee Meeting, Linacre College Oxford, 6 June 98, 3pm

It is too early to have the minutes of this meeting, but here are a few brief notes on what was reported, discussed and decided.

Present: Nicholas Ostler (President), Margaret Allen (Treasurer and Membership Secretary), Andrew Woodfield (Secretary), Christopher Moseley (Liaison Officer). (Apologies from other Committee members.)

Minutes of last meeting (3 Nov 97) approved
Matters arising: none
Financial matters
The Foundation’s credit balance had risen from £390.50 on 23 Feb. to £950 at end of May.
The credit card facility had been instated in March, and since then about 40% of subscribers had used it to pay.

4. Membership matters
The Treasurer noted that since the beginning of the year, the Foundation had received approximately the same in subscriptions from new members , as it had from renewing members. The membership role now stood at 104, of which 15 were new members in 1998. This represented a 63% increase in the rate of new joiners over 1997 (in which 22 members joined overall.)

It was decided that members who had not heeded the last renewal reminder would be reminded again, without an issue of Ogmios attached. Fund raising (all)

This was becoming the priority, now that other aspects of the Foundation were getting settled. Funds were of course necessary to provide grants. A meeting would be held specifically to generate ideas.

Schedule for future grants (NO/CM)

A new call for applications would be launched at the Conference at the end of September, with decisions to be announced by end of 1998.

Planning the Edinburgh Conference, Sept 25-27, 1998 (NO)

The budget was modified and approved.

Application for Charitable status (AW)
This had been submitted by the Secretary over a month ago. We now awaited results. FEL Website (AW/NO)

This is being maintained by the Secretary. It was desirable to find a full-time enthusiast to take it over.