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

29.11. Colloquium on African linguistics: Nominal classification in Ngəmba (Mekamgoum)

“Nominal classification in Ngəmba (Eastern Grassfields Bamileke)” - Talk by Solange Mekamgoum (Universität Hamburg) given within the colloquium of African linguistics and languages
  • When Nov 29, 2022 from 04:15 to 05:45
  • Where Institut für Asien- und Afrikawissenschaften, Invalidenstr. 118, room 410 & via Zoom
  • Contact Name Christfried Naumann (christfried.naumann (AT) hu-berlin.de, please contact for Zoom access information)
  • iCal

The nominal grammar of Ngəmba, an underresearched Ghomala’ variety of Bamileke Eastern Grassfields spoken in the West region of Cameroon, is characterised by the concurrency of two distinct systems of nominal classification: a full-fledged gender system of the Eastern Grassfields Bantoid type and a newly emerging numeral classfier system. The foremost aim of the present contribution is to provide an analytical account of the interaction of both systems. The Ngəmba gender system operates eight noun classes that pair across number to form nine genders, i.e. 1/2, 1/6, 1/10, 3/6, 5/6, 5/10, 7/6, 7/10, 9/6 by Bantoid standards. Among these, gender 1/2 is restricted to nouns for humans, while nouns for non-humans distribute across the other genders in semantically intransparent ways. The definition of classes is based on consistent patterns of concordial prefixes in two morphosyntactic agreement targets, i.e. numerals and pronominal possessives, and will be presented following Güldemann & Fiedler 2019. When it comes to counting objects, Ngəmba nouns fall into two distinct categories, i.e. those that index their noun class directly on the numeral via the appropriate concordial marker vs. those that do not. Instead, they require a numeral classifier that categorizes the counted items for their shape and texture (saliently one-dimensional long and rigid vs. two-dimensional flat shape vs. three-dimensional globular), their partition (morsel vs. lump vs. slice) and their arrangement or aggregation (pile vs. bunch vs. tuft), as elaborated in more detail in Mekamgoum & Kießling 2022. Indeed, it seems that the numeral classifier slips into the role of the numeral concord here, illustrating a development by which the inherited Ngəmba noun class system is partially undermined and replaced by an incipient classifier construction for nominal modification by numerals.

Tom Güldemann & Ines Fiedler. 2019. Niger-Congo “noun classes” conflate gender with deriflection. In Francesca Di Garbo, Bruno Olsson & Bernhard Wälchli (eds.), Grammatical gender and linguistic complexity: Volume I: General issues and specific studies, 95–145. Berlin: Language Science Press.

Kießling, Roland. 2018. Niger-Congo numeral classifiers in a diachronic perspective. In: McGregor, W. B. & Wichmann, S. (eds.), The diachrony of classification systems. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 33–76.

Mekamgoum, Solange & Roland Kießling. 2022. Numeral classifiers in Ngəmba (Eastern Grassfields). Paper presented at the 1st Conference on Bantoid languages and linguistics (Banto1d), Hamburg, 23-25th March 2022.