Understanding and misunderstanding grammar (UMIG). The perception of grammatical categories in the languages of the Lake Chad area

Principal investigator: emer. o. Univ.-Prof. Dr. Norbert Cyffer
In collaboration with: Prof. Shettima Umara Bulakarima und Prof. Andrew Haruna (University of Maiduguri)
Project team member: Mag. Akin Wewe
Duration: 01.12.2012–30.11.2015
Funding: FWF
Granted sum: EUR 173.355,–

In close collaboration with linguists from the University of Maiduguri it will be examined, how in the languages of the region the grammatical change proceeded and new grammatical categories evolved. As there are text documents up to 400 years old, it is possible to document the recent changes. As the processes of change differed according to the respective region and period of time, it may be possible to make statements about the ways of distribution.
In a first step, the causes of different interpretations of grammar will be examined. In a second step the question will be treated, whether we are ever able to describe a language adequately. First, it will be examined, how the innovative categories in terms of their grammatical classification are perceived. Then, the question will be, whether and how the newly created categories have an impact on the contact languages in the region.
In the 19th and the first half of the 20th Century grammar descriptions often followed the categories of European languages. Later, more ‘objective’ methods were applied, but there were ongoing misjudgments about the languages of Africa. Until the first half of the 20th Century, sometimes languages were even labelled ‘primitive’. For example, the Hamitic theory ‘scientifically’ supported such unsustainable allegations.
Even modern grammars may differ from each other in their descriptions. Grammatical rules are interpreted by the individual speakers differently. Linguists may also reach different analyses. Processes of grammaticalization are contributed to the ongoing change. Speakers’ perception of these new categories may vary, depending on their age, sociolinguistic environment, multilingual competence, etc.
In the west of Lake Chad in Nigeria, an enormous dynamism of language change could be observed. The political upheavals and the spread of the Hausa contributed to these changes. Thus, the Kanuri language being a language of wider communication was replaced by Hausa from the 20th century.

Homepage: http://umig.univie.ac.at/