Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences - Department of African Studies

Bakola documentation project

Prof. Dr. Tom Gueldemann


Nadine Borchardt

e-mail :

Invalidenstr. 110
Room: 146
Tel. +49 30 2093-7317

Bakola documentation project


The Bakola documentation project is funded by the Volkswagen Foundation within the DoBeS (Dokumentation bedrohter Sprachen) program. The project team comprises so far six members: Prof. Maarten Mous (Leiden University), Prof. Raimund Kastenholz (University of Mainz), Emmanuel Ngue Um (Université de Provence, Aix-en-Provence), Daniel Duke (University of Leiden) , Nadine Borchardt (Humboldt-University, Berlin) and Christopher Lorenz (Filmakademie Ludwigsburg).

Bakola is a language spoken in Southern Cameroon for which there is little documentation or description. It is spoken by marginalized communities of forest foragers (commonly called "Pygmies"). Their traditional lifestyle consists of exploiting the forest and trading with the farmer communities. However, the forests of the Bakola region have been highly compromised over the years. Even though they continue to live in camps far off the roads and accessible only by foot paths, the Bakola are increasingly sedentary and are beginning the process of assimilation with the farming communities. As a result of this situation, the Bakola language is fragmenting as various communities of Bakola speakers experience partial or complete language shift to the languages of their neighbors: Bassa, Kwasio, Bulu, Fang, and Yassa. Another result of the deforestation is reduced contact among the various Bakola communities, which in turn re-enforces the language shift process which has started.

The goals of this project are to document the Bakola language and culture. We aim at an extensive multimedia dictionary and a representative text (video/audio) collection of language use (linked to the dictionary). A first step involves the collection of material and initial analysis of this material; setting up the frame work of the dictionary and the archiving. Audio recordings will attempt to sample many different genres of speech events. Video recordings will sample cultural events of many kinds, include performances and rituals. Specialized vocabulary will focus on the relationship with their environment and also special terms for music, ritual, and other cultural aspects which will have been recorded on audio or video.

The data collected will have utility for many future research operations in various disciplines. Good documentation opens the path for in-depth further linguistic description. The data selected will also be relevant for studies in various fields such as cultural anthropology, social anthropology, ethnomusicology, and ethnobotany.

The data will be made available for both the academic world and the present and future Bakola speakers by archiving it with the DoBeS project at the Max Planck Institute In Nijmegen. The data will also be made accessible to the Bakola-speaking communities to serve in their revitalization efforts. This will include printed materials such as a story book, multi-media, and direct listening or viewing sessions.