Central Yambasa Survey Report

Douglas W. Boone, David P. Bradley, Caroline A. Grant

Summer Institute of Linguistics

Yaoundé, Cameroon

March 1992


  1. Introduction
    1. Background
    2. The Survey
    3. Purpose of the survey
  2. Procedures
  3. Results and Evaluation
    1. Dialect situation and linguistic relationship to other speech forms
      1. Intercomprehension among related speech forms
      2. Attitudes
    2. Bilingualism
      1. Knowledge of other languages
      2. Attitudes
    3. Viability of the Central Yambasa speech forms and the feasibility of codification
      1. Patterns of language use
      2. Attitudes
  4. Conclusions
    1. Summary
      1. Dialectology
      2. Bilingualism
      3. Prospects
    2. Recommendations
  5. References


1.1 Background

Elip, Mmala, and Yangben are speech forms spoken respectively in the cantons (traditional chiefdoms) of the same names in the Bokito Subdivision, Mbam Division, Centre Province of Cameroon. The populations of these and of the other two cantons in 1977 (the last year for which census figures were reported by canton) were as follows:

Elip 5.832
Mmahla 3.623
Yangben 5.296 several speech varieties
two others 16.244 (Gunu and Lemande)
Table 1 Canton populations, 1977

The Subdivisional office said that the population of each canton has increased in the last fifteen years. The population of the subdivision in 1988 is listed as approximately 35.000; a general estimate of the population by canton would therefore be 10-15% higher than the 1977 figures, and the population of residents of the non-"Yangben" speaking villages of the Yangben canton might be estimated at 2.500. The present number of speakers of these three speech forms, then, might be estimated at 6.500 Elip, 4.000 Mmala, and 3.500 speakers of Yangben (give or take 500 in each case).

The speech varieties of Elip, Mmala, and Yangben have a different status in each of three classifications found in the literature, i.e. Guthrie's and those of the Linguistic Atlas of Cameroon (ALCAM; Dieu 1983 ) and the Ethnologue ( Grimes 1988a,b ). In Guthrie's classification, they are some of the varieties of Yambasa (A.62) in the Sanaga group; in ALCAM they are the three varieties of "Central Yambasa"; and each has a separate entry in the Ethnologue.

All three sources agree that Gunu and Baca are closely related to Elip, Mmala, and Yangben. Two other speech varieties with demonstrated lexical similarity to these five (see Table 5 ) are Mbule and Bati. In the table, each is listed (followed in parentheses by the name of the central village), together with the codes given in the various sources:

Name Guthrie ALCAM Ethnologue Code
Gunu, or Nugunu A.62a 541 YAS (Nu Gunu)
Mmala (Begni) A.62b 542 MMU (Mmala)
Elip, or Libie A.62c 542 EKM
Yangben A.62d 542 YAV
Baca (Bongo) A.62e 543 BAF (Nu Baca)
Mbule (Mbola) --- 544 MLB (Dumbule)
Bati (Kelleng) A.65? 530 BTC
Table 2 Yambasa speech forms

Gunu is spoken not only in the Gunu-Sud canton of the Bokito Subdivision but also in the Gunu-Nord canton of the Ombessa Subdivision. Yangben village is the seat of the canton of the same name and can therefore be considered the central village for the Yangben speech form. The seat of the Elip canton is at Yambassa, but the most influential village, with the weekly market and the main dispensary, appears to be Balamba II.

For lack of a single name for the speech varieties subsumed in its number 542, ALCAM uses the term "Central Yambasa". This contrasts with Gunu, which is "Northern Yambasa" and Baca, which is "Southern Yambasa". Yambassa is the name of a village in the Elip canton, and the Ethnologue lists "Yambassa, Yambasa" as alternate names for Gunu.

There is no consensus on the spellings of Mmala (Mmala, Mmahla) and Yambasa (Yambassa); the use of the shorter variant spellings in this report does not consitute an authoritative declaration of standard spellings.

The other speech forms assigned to Guthrie's "Sanaga group" (A.60) are Tuki or Sanaga (Ngoro A.61 and Bacenga A.64 (?) correspond to two of what ALCAM lists as six dialects of Tuki [551]) and Leti (Mangisa A.63, ALCAM Leti [552]).

It should be made clear that the term "Central Yambasa" is not used by the people of the area. There was consensus among all the people interviewed on the subject during the survey that the "race" Yambasa includes the Gunu (in both the Bokito and Ombessa Subdivisions), and all the residents of the Elip, Mmala, and Yangben cantons (with the exception of one village). The only canton with more than one major speech variety is the Yangben canton, in which are spoken not only Yangben, but also Baca (in the village of Bongo), Mbule (in the village of Mbola), and Hijuk (in two quarters of the village of Batanga). The one possible non-Yambasa village in the Yangben canton is Nyamanga I, where Sanaga is reported to be spoken.

There is therefore a slight mismatch of ethnic perception and linguistic similarity. Hijuk and Mbule are seen to be Yambasa speech varieties, albeit influenced by Basaa. Not mentioned as a Yambasa speech variety was Bati, which is spoken in the Bati canton of the Ndom Subdivision, Sanaga-Maritime Division of the Littoral Province. Yet, nearly two-thirds of a recent sample of Bati vocabulary was similar to Central Yambasa vocabulary (see Table 5 ), while less than half of a recent Hijuk vocabulary sample was similar to Central Yambasa.

Rapid appraisal surveys were conducted in Bati and Baca in January 1992 ( Grant 1992 ; Boone 1992a ). Visits were made to the villages of Batanga and Mbola in conjunction with the present survey, and further survey in those villages has since been conducted ( Bradley 1992 ; Boone 1992b ).

The languages and dialects spoken in the neighbouring areas to Elip, Mmala, and Yangben are:

  1. Sanaga (Tuki) to the east of Elip and in the village of Nyamanga I on the road between Balamba (Elip canton) and Omende (Yangben canton);
  2. Leti and Njowi to the east of Elip;
  3. Gunu to the north of Elip and Mmala;
  4. Nomaandé‚ to the northwest of Mmala and Yangben;
  5. Basaa in the Littoral Province, to the west of the Yangben canton;
  6. Mbule, Hijuk, and Baca to the southwest of the Yangben speech form in the Yangben canton.

Six of these, then, are spoken in the Bokito Subdivision: four in the Yangben canton (Sanaga, Mbule, Hijuk, and Baca), and two in the other two cantons (Gunu in the Gunu-Sud canton and Nomaandé‚ in the Lemande canton).

A number of small-scale efforts have been made to codify some of the Central Yambasa speech forms and to translate Scripture and other religious materials into them. Apparently the only linguistic research on Central Yambasa which has been published is an article by Christiane Paulian on noun classes ( Paulian 1980 ). At least six unpublished word lists have been collected, of which five were available to the survey team (see below).

A survey of the languages of the Bokito Subdivision, including Bongo (=Baca), Mbola (=Mbule), Yangben, Elip, Mmala, and Gunu (southern dialect) was done in 1981 by Terri Scruggs and Carrie Taylor (linguistic report Scruggs 1982 , sociolinguistic report Taylor 1982 ). The northern dialect of Gunu, spoken in the Ombessa Subdivision, and Bati, in the Ndom Subdivision, were not included in their survey.

Map of the area

Click on the map for a larger version (108k)

Included in Scruggs' report are lexical data (approximately 175 items) and a lexicostatistical analysis of them. The table is an extract of the similarity matrix she presents, each figure based on between 146 and 185 comparisons (two of the percentages were not calculated). Using as a rule of thumb the notion that speech forms showing less than 80% similar lexicon are probably separate languages, she concludes that Elip, Mmala, and Yangben are "closely related but distinct languages" and that the varieties spoken at Mbola and at Bongo are "entirely distinct languages" as well ( Scruggs 1982 :17,18). Gunu is a sixth distinct language.

67 Elip
68 81 Mmala
60 73 72 Yangben
xx 67 65 73 Bongo
xx 51 51 56 62 Mbola

Table 3 Lexical similarity percentages for some Yambasa tongues
(after Scruggs 1982 )

Additional lexical data (approximately 120 items) had been collected in 1976-77 by Christiane Paulian for Nugunu (=Gunu) (northern dialect), Mmala, Yangben, Dumbule (=Mbule) and Nubaca (=Baca). Lexicostatistical analysis of these data yields the following matrix:

81 Mmala
75 83 Yangben
76 78 88 Nubaca
62 71 76 79 Dumbule

Table 4 Lexical similarity percentages for some Yambasa tongues
(data from Paulian)

Finally, an analysis by the author of a conflation of the eleven lists above and of a list taken in Bati in January 1992 (approximately 200 items) and using the inspection method to decide on plausible divisions into similarity classes yields the figures in table 4 (based on about 140 items). For comparison, a list of Standard Basaa and a conflation of two Hijuk wordlists were also included in the analysis. For more information on Hijuk, the reader is referred to Bradley 1992 .

Gunu [two lists]
82 Elip
85 90 Mmala [two lists]
78 90 89 Yangben[two lists]
77 81 81 88 Baca [two lists]
66 72 72 77 78 Mbule [two lists]
58 63 64 66 70 69 Bati
42 41 42 42 42 46 45 Hijuk [two lists]
39 38 41 38 37 40 41 88 Basaa

Table 5 New lexical similarity percentages for Central Yambasa
and selected neighbouring tongues

Because these figures are based on a small sample (fewer than 150 items), the "true" proportion of similar lexicon for any pair of speech forms could be three to six percentage points higher or lower. As a relative measure, however, they confirm the classification of Gunu, Elip, Mmala, Yangben, Baca, Mbule, and Bati as part of a single cluster (corresponding to Guthrie's "Yambasa"), at least in the area of lexicon.

Elip, Mmala, and Yangben are the most closely related, with Baca, Gunu, Mbule, and Bati, in order, being the next most closely related.

One interesting aspect of this table is signs of the influence of geographical proximity and population on similarity figures. Elip, Mmala, and Yangben show the highest degree of similarity among them. They are spoken in the cantons of the same name, each of which borders the other two. Also, according to the Ethnologue ( Grimes 1988a ), there are at least two thousand speakers of each of these speech forms (Elip: 6000, Mmala: 5000, and Yangben: 2000). Yangben probably has a higher proportion of similar vocabulary with Baca, which is spoken in the Yangben canton, than do Mmala and Elip. Mmala and Elip, similarly, probably have a higher proportion of similar vocabulary with Gunu than Yangben does. The Gunu-speaking area borders on the Mmala and Elip cantons, but not the Yangben canton. The number of Nugunu speakers is listed at 35,000 speakers, but it appears that the centre is outside the Bokito subdivision. The other two speech forms (Bati and Mbule) are spoken to the west of Yangben, each by fewer than one thousand people. A slight "chaining" effect is also visible for Bati and Mbule: the similarity figures for each of these speech varieties with the other five seem to decrease slightly as the geographical distance increases.

In her survey report on the sociolinguistic situation in the Bokito Subdivision, Taylor lists "Bongo" and "Mbola" as dialects of "Yangben", but calls Mmala and Elip separate "languages". According to her interview data, however, "Mbola" is not well understood in three of the other four villages of the Yangben canton; also, only one of the six respondents from those villages said that people from Mbola could understand his speech. Furthermore, some of the responses from the two people from Bongo were so divergent from those of the others from the Yangben canton that these responses are presented separately ( Taylor 1982 :12). Taylor's use of "language" and "dialect", therefore, probably reflects administrative divisions rather than linguistic or even sociolinguistic considerations.


The Central Yambassa Rapid Appraisal Survey was carried out between 24 and 28 February 1992 by SIL members Douglas Boone, David Bradley and Caroline Grant. At least one working day (of data collection) was spent in each of the three cantons.


Elip, Mmala, and Yangben are listed in the Bible Translation Needs Bulletin 1 ( Grimes 1988b :56) as possible translation needs, which is to say, little or nothing was known about the need of the people in these three cantons for local-language Scriptures. Accordingly, the purpose of the present survey was to revise this status to either "probable translation need" or "unlikely translation need" by means of a rapid appraisal of the sociolinguistic situation in the area. Footnote 1

More broadly, the goal of the survey was to evaluate the need for codification (development of a standard written form) and Bible translation in some or all of these speech varieties (possibly with one standard form serving people in more than one canton). Because of the apparent linguistic similarity of Elip, Mmala, and Yangben, there was special interest in assessing in each canton the comprehension of and attitude toward the other Central Yambasa speech forms.

The linguistic similarity among Elip, Mmala, and Yangben was already established to the team's satisfaction, as was the lesser but still significant similarity of the three to Gunu, Baca, Mbola, and Bati. Therefore, linguistic research per se was limited to verifying the lexical differences between the three varieties of Central Yambasa, and in the cases of Mmala and Yangben, to reconciling the two existing wordlists for each canton. Each time, this was done only after sufficient sociolinguistic information had been collected.


The Central Yambasa survey was conducted using a recently developed approach known as "rapid appraisal". This approach is characterised by its limited goals (to gain a general overview of the sociolinguistic situation in a particular area) and specific, non-technical procedures (usually limited to conversations with politico-administrative authorities and church and mission leaders, informal interviews, and group and individual questionnaires Footnote 2 ). Other information, such as additional linguistic data (where this is lacking) or felt needs for development, may also be collected if time allows and as this information is seen to be helpful.

Using these procedures with a focused set of objectives, survey goals can be met in a short time, usually less than a week. Such was the case for the present survey, in which sufficient data were collected in less than one week.

An additional advantage of the rapid appraisal strategy is that because evaluation of the information can be done while still in the language area, the team is much less likely to return from the survey with gaps in the data or unanswered questions.

In some surveys, a number of people are present on the chief's compound at the time of the surveyors' visit, and the interview with the chief is conducted as a group interview, with several people taking part. This was usually not the case on the present survey. Individual interviews were conducted with people from three villages in each canton, a total of twenty-four individual interviews (including some with chiefs or their representatives). Some of the interviewees were leaders in their local church or members of village or cantonal development committees.

No claim is made that this is a representative sample of the population. However, in each canton at least seven people were interviewed, women as well as men, and older as well as younger people.

Canton Respondents, by sex and age
  Men Women  
Elip 32, 43, 45, 51, 60 22, 45 n=7
Mmala 26, 42, 43, 43, 62 20, 33 n=7
Yangben 23, 24, 33, 35, 43, 55, 59, 69 33, 38 n=10
Total eighteen men six women

Table 6 Summary of respondents to questionnaires (n=24).

The survey team pursued the research with three aspects of the sociolinguistic situation in mind. They are:

  1. the dialect situation, the level of comprehension of related speech forms and the reason for this comprehension, and the degree of feeling of solidarity with the people who speak them. (Solidarity is a factor in assessing the possibility that one of these speech forms could be used as the standard form for written materials, including Scripture).
  2. The extent of familiarity with languages of wider communication (LWCs), especially French, and the attitudes toward these LWCs.
  3. The feasibility of a language development project in the local language, as revealed in overall language attitudes and reported patterns of language use.

For determining how well related languages are understood and whether comprehension is based on inherent intelligibility (due to linguistic similarity) or to language learning (due to contact with speakers of the language), two diagnostic questions were used.

  • "If you are in that place, what language do you use, what language do they use, and how well do you understand each other?"
  • "Can even a young child from this place understand someone from that place? (If not,) How old must the child be?"
  • For the full set of questions used in individual interviews, consult the appendix.



    3.1.1. Intercomprehension among related speech forms

    Within the Elip and Yangben cantons of the Central Yambasa group, the (Yambasa) speech forms seem to be homogeneous. Within the Mmala canton, it is reported that there are two varieties. The differences seem to be fairly slight and were said to cause no problems for comprehension between the two varieties of Mmala. It also appears that there are no problems of intercomprehension between the three Central Yambasa groups. This refers to "practical" as opposed to "inherent" intercomprehension, which is to say that in each case a certain degree of acquisition is required. However, since contact between these people is quite common, a child of 10 or 12 years of age, generally speaking, is said to be able to understand speakers of the other speech forms. This depends, of course, on the amount of communication an individual has had with people from the other groups, as stated by several of the interviewees themselves. Some said that children as young as 6 or 7, given enough exposure, would have no difficulty understanding the other speech forms, while others said that it might take until a child was 15 or 20 years old to attain sufficient experience. In any case, it seems to be not a question of whether or not an individual would acquire comprehension of the other speech forms, but rather a question of how early in life this would occur.

    The information reported here comes from the group interviews, as well as from questions 2.9 and 2.10 of the questionnaire. (See appendix for a copy of the questionnaire in its entirety.)

    Elip speakers' use (with other C. Yambasa):

    In Elip canton, seven people were interviewed. They all said that they would speak Elip to a Yangben speaker, who would reply in Yangben, with no lack of comprehension by either party. When asked what language they would use with a Mmala speaker, 6 of the 7 replied that they would speak Elip. The Mmala speakers would respond in Mmala and there would be no difficulty in understanding each other. For some unspecified reason, one interviewee felt that he might need to speak French with the Mmala, who would then respond in French.

    Mmala speakers' use (with other C. Yambasa):

    In Mmala canton, of the 7 people interviewed, 4 reported the familiar pattern of each party using their own mother tongue. This was true with respect to both Elip and Yangben speakers. One person said he spoke both Elip and Yangben well and that he would use those forms when speaking with someone from those cantons. Another reported that he spoke Elip well and that he would use Elip with an Elip speaker, but that he could not speak Yangben and he would have to use French with a Yangben speaker. However, he would be able to understand if the other party responded in Yangben. The other respondent said she would use French with someone from either Elip or Yangben. They would respond in Elip or Yangben and she would have no trouble understanding. This might be partially explained by the fact that she has spent 5 of her 20 years in Bafia going to school and she prefers to use French, even when speaking with her hometown friends.

    Yangben speakers' use (with other C. Yambasa):

    For the corresponding question in Yangben canton, 9 of the 10 respondents reported that each party would use their own 'patois', with no reported difficulties in comprehension. One person from the Yangben speaking part of Batanga village said that he would use French with speakers of Elip and Mmala, who would respond in French. This respondent was 24 years of age and has lived outside the region for 8 of those years (6 years in Douala, one year in Yaoundé, and one year in Nyamanga). In each of these places he spoke mainly French. Particularly interesting is the fact that he also said he would even use French in Yangben which is the neighboring village, about 5 or 6 kilometers distant, and where the mother tongue is reportedly almost identical to his mother tongue in Batanga.

    (Central) Yambasa speakers' use (with Gunu speakers):

    Another related speech form of particular interest in this study is Gunu. Work is presently underway to standardise Gunu, and since it is related to those under consideration, the question whether Gunu would adequately serve these people as a written form must be addressed. Of the 18 people questioned about their speech patterns with respect to a Gunu speaker, only 7 said that they understood Gunu well enough for a Gunu speaker to maintain his speech form. There were 8 who said the conversation would be in French and 3 said there would be some mixture of French, Gunu, and their own speech form. It seems fairly clear that Gunu is not understood nearly as well as the Elip-Mmala-Yangben forms and would probably not serve well as a written form for these people.

    3.1.2. Attitudes

    The information given here comes from the group interviews as well as from questions 3.1-3.4, and 3.6 of the questionnaire.

    In each canton, the attitude expressed towards the other two speech forms was quite positive. Seventeen interviewees said they would be willing to learn to read one of the other forms if it were written instead of their own, while 6 said they would be unwilling to do so. (It was unclear whether the remaining respondent would be willing or not.) They were also asked which of the other forms they would prefer if given the choice to learn to read and write one or the other. Of the 18 people who responded to this question, 3 indicated no preference. The remaining 15 were equally split by canton of origin, five from each. Disregarding their own speech form and comparing only preferences concerning the other two forms relative to each other, Elip received 4 first place preferences and 6 second place. Mmala also received 4 first and 6 second place preferences, while Yangben received 7 first place and 3 second place preferences. In this small sample, there seems to be a slight preference for the Yangben form. The responses by canton are shown in the following table:

    Preference -> E M Y None Total
    Home Form          
    E - 1 4 2 7
    M 2 - 3 0 5
    Y 2 3 - 1 6
    Total 4 4 7 3 18

    Table 7 Attitudes to alternative speech forms

    It was also discovered that various efforts have been made to write in, or to translate materials into, these speech forms. For example, a booklet of songs written in Elip, Mmala, Yangben and Gunu is said to exist. One man from Elip canton and another from Mmala canton are each reportedly working on compiling a (bilingual?) dictionary of their respective speech forms. Another from Elip and at least two groups in Mmala canton are reported to be translating the Catholic lectionary as well as various song books, prayers, etc. As far as could be determined, these efforts are at the moment all independent of each other. It is reported that a book of prayers has been translated into the Yangben speech form, and that copies can probably be located in Yangben village and Omende. However, the man who did this work is now deceased. Apparently, then, all of the current efforts are focused on either the Elip or the Mmala speech form.


    It seems that all three speech communities could eventually be served by one written form. Which of the three would best serve the entire community is a decision probably best left to a group of representatives of all three cantons. It is hoped that the men mentioned in the preceding paragraph can be put into contact with each other to coordinate their efforts or to help form a committee that would interest itself in dealing with these issues.


    The information presented in this section comes mainly from responses to the Questionnaire (see Appendix), questions 1.7, 2.1 - 2.10, and also from responses given in group interviews.

    3.2.1. Knowledge of other languages

    The area where Central Yambasa speech forms are found is surrounded by above all the following related and non-related languages. They are: Nomaandé‚ to the west, Nugunu to the north, Tuki to the east, and Beti to the south.

    As well as these languages, several interviewees reported that they spoke other languages, mostly because of having lived in areas outside of the Central Yambasa area, and having learned them. These included Basaa, Bafia, Ewondo/Bulu, Pidgin and Fulfulde. However, the survey concentrated on the question of bilingualism as it related to the languages of wider communication (LWCs) including French (one of the two national languages) and Ewondo/Bulu. French is also the language of instruction in the region's primary schools, and Ewondo/Bulu was formerly promoted by the church for worship and for education.

    Nugunu, Ewondo and Nomaandé were the languages most referred to apart from French in this context. Every interview conducted indicated that comprehension of these languages is learned after considerable exposure and contact with speakers of these languages after the age of between fifteen and twenty.

    Speakers of which
    speech form:
    Elip Yangben Mmala TOTAL
    No. interviewed: 7 10 7 24
    Able to speak:
    French 6 10 7 23
    Ewondo/Bulu 7 2 2 11
    Gunu 3 1 2 6
    Able to understand:
    Nomaandé 1 2 3 6

    Table 8 Knowledge of other languages

    From the table, it can be seen that of the twenty-four respondents interviewed, all but one (a lady who was virtually monolingual) said that they could speak and understand French. Far fewer said that they could communicate either in Ewondo/Bulu, Gunu, or Nomaandé. For the purposes of this table, a person is counted as "able to speak" a language if the respondent reported being able to speak it at all.

    According to group interviews, it seems that French is the language which is learned most often in childhood, after the speaker's mother tongue. This is not surprising, since children are exposed to French from an early age, in some cases even before beginning their formal education in French, at the age of six, and it is also the language of instruction in the secondary schools outside the Yambasa-speaking area where the children continue their secondary education.

    3.2.2. Attitudes

    In general, respondents' attitudes to French seemed to be positive, and gave the impression that they considered speaking French to be an essential and inevitable part of modern-day living in Cameroon.

    Two questions on the questionnaire were intended to shed light on attitudes to French:

    Question 2.3: Can you always understand people who speak French?

    Question 2.5: Are you always able to say everything you want in French?

    The following table summarises the responses to each question:

    Speakers of which speech form: Elip Yangben Mmala TOTAL
    No. of respondents: 6 10 7 23
    Q. 2.3 Yes: 6 9 7 22
    No : 0 1 0 1
    Q. 2.5 Yes: 6 9 7 22
    No : 0 1 0 1

    Table 9 Knowledge of French

    The total number of interviewees was 24. The total number of those who indicated they spoke French was 23 respondents.

    Although the responses to these questions are very much subjective, and cannot give precise information on the true linguistic ability of the interviewees, the information gathered does indicate that there is a positive attitude overall to speaking and understanding French.


    While the viability of a language is certainly very difficult to assess, the responses to certain questions asked in the individual interviews as well as information gained from group interviews can shed some light on this issue and give a certain feeling for the actual situation. In the questionnaire, questions 2.7 and 2.8 elicit language use patterns in various domains, while questions 3.1 and 3.2 are designed to uncover attitudes toward use of the vernacular in school and as a written form. Question 3.6 gives insight into the perceived health of the language with respect to other languages which are also used by the people.

    3.3.1. Patterns of language use

    The following patterns were discovered with respect to language use in the respective domains:


    French is used in the schools throughout the Yambasa region. Many children are exposed to French for the first time when they go to school, but there are also those whose families use some French at home to prepare them for school.

    Official business:

    French is used in the subdivisional government offices as reported by all the respondents. (One also mentioned that there are several languages represented and that the local language might also be used.) One elderly woman questioned did not speak French and said she would go with her (French-speaking) husband if she had any official business to conduct.


    The local speech forms are used very commonly in the services of the Catholic church. When the priest is conducting the service, the preaching and Bible readings are done in French first and then interpreted by one of the local people. When the priest is not there, the catechist directs the services and everything is done in the local speech form, including the preaching, singing, announcements, etc. Of course, the Bible readings are first read in French and then interpreted. Sometimes the translation has been done previously and written down for use in the services, while other times the passage is interpreted on the spot.


    Patterns of language use in the marketplace seem to be quite varied. One person mentioned only the use of the local speech form while 3 mentioned only the use of French. The great majority, 20 of 24, said that several languages would be used. A typical comment was "ça dépend de la personne" or "ce qu'il faut" ("that differs from person to person" or "whatever it takes"). The general pattern seems to be that in the local markets or with other inhabitants of the region one would use his own speech form. In the larger markets, with people from outside the region, one would use French or another mutually understood language. (Other possibilities mentioned were Gunu, Bafia, and Pidgin.) One person also mentioned that French would be used more commonly by the young and 'patois' by the older people.


    Language use in the home is also somewhat varied. When asked what language(s) they used with their spouse and children, 9 people said they use exclusively their own speech form and 12 said they use both 'patois' and French. One, an unemployed school teacher, reported that he uses only French at home. For the remaining two there was no response, since it was felt that the question was not applicable because they are not yet married. In response to the question of what language(s) children use at play, one person mentioned only the local language and one mentioned only the use of French. This latter response is not being interpreted to mean that they use only French, but rather that French is included when children are at play. The remaining 22 said that both the local speech form and French are used, in varying degrees. The use of French reportedly increases with age and level of schooling: the more schooling a child has received, the greater his exposure to French and the more he uses it in everyday situations with his friends.

    3.3.2. Attitudes

    The general attitude towards the local speech form seems to be very positive. All 24 respondents said they would be interested in learning to read and write in the 'patois', and 22 of them would like to see it used as the medium of instruction during the first few years of school. One wasn't sure if that would be a good idea or not, and the other said that it would be better to use French right from the start as is done at present. When asked whether another language was replacing their mother tongue, 7 of the 24 said French was doing so. Two of these thought this was a good thing because French is the national language and it is good for (inter-group) communication. Five people saw this as a bad trend because they feared they would lose their traditions along with their language. The remaining 17 did not think their speech form was being replaced.


    The Central Yambasa people seem to have a very positive attitude towards their own speech forms, as well as a very strong ethnic identity. Their ethnic boundaries include inhabitants of the Ombessa Subdivision, who are Gunu speakers, as well as the inhabitants of four of the five cantons of the Bokito Subdivision: Gunu-Sud, Elip, Mmala and Yangben. The results of this survey would indicate that the Central Yambasa speech forms are vital, and it is expected that they will remain in use for years to come.

    There also seems to be a positive attitude towards the use of French, particularly among the younger generation who have lived outside the region for some time. While the use of French seems to be increasing, a large majority of the people questioned do not perceive it to be a threat to replace the local speech forms. 'Yambasa' appears to be used quite vigorously, particularly within the context of the church as well as in the home and village, and appears to fill the role of language of identity.


    4.1. SUMMARY

    4.1.1. Dialectology

    The present survey confirmed that there are three similar but distinct speech forms called Elip, Mmala, and Yangben in the cantons of the same names. There is no dialectal variation within the Elip speech form; the small amount of differences said to exist between the speech of the Mmala villages apparently do not interfere with comprehension. There is also no dialectal variation within Yangben, the speech of the villages of Yangben and Omende and part of Batanga village; however, other speech forms are found elsewhere in the Yangben canton, and these are not considered "dialects of Yangben".

    It is agreed that Elip, Mmala, and Yangben are related speech varieties; however, none is inherently intelligible to speakers of either of the other two. A speaker of one variety is only able to understand something said in another variety once he has heard it over a period of time. Given the amount of contact among the people in this area, it is usual for a person to have acquired the ability to understand the other speech forms before adulthood, at least if he or she has not lived outside the area as a child.

    In contrast, many people from Elip, Mmala, and Yangben do not understand Gunu, which is also a related language and which is spoken in the canton immediately to the north of two of them. For this reason, it is unlikely that written materials in Gunu could be used widely in the Central Yambasa area.

    The term "Yambasa" is used as an ethnic term which includes speakers of a number of speech forms. The invented term "Central Yambasa" seems useful as a middle-level grouping of Elip, Mmala, and Yangben which identifies them with other people who live in the Yangben, Gunu-Sud, and Gunu-Nord cantons while showing the closer relationship they have with each other.

    Speakers of Central Yambasa varieties appear to feel a solidarity with the speakers of other varieties, and this extends in many cases to an expressed willingness to learn to read another variety should their own not be written. There is no clear picture of the relative acceptability of each variety, however. There were reports of several independent language development efforts, including at least one book of songs written in the speech forms of each of the three cantons and in Gunu, but apparently there has not yet been any consideration of the possible choice of a standard written form to serve more than one canton.

    4.1.2. Bilingualism

    Apart from the other Central Yambasa speech forms and Gunu, the language which the greatest number of interviewees said they could speak or understand was French. There was no striking pattern of many people learning another neighbouring language, and those who knew languages of wider communication (other than French) tended to have had need of learning them when they were outside the Bokito Subdivision. The only exceptions were the cases of people who learned Ewondo/Bulu in primary school or for worship when these were the languages used in those situations (as they no longer are).

    Although many Central Yambasa people know French and apparently they agree that it has an important place in their community, nearly all those interviewed had a strong desire to maintain the local language. A clear majority did not believe that their language was being replaced by another language. There is good reason to believe that the local language will continue to be spoken for a long time.

    4.1.3. Prospects

    The fact that there is interpretation when Scripture is read in church suggests that there is a need for Bible translation in Central Yambasa. It seems, however, that Elip, Mmala, and Yangben need not represent three separate translation needs; the need for a written form may be met by codifying one of them. Since people normally acquire the ability to understand the spoken form of the neighbouring cantons before attaining adulthood, it is possible that they can learn to read a standard written form if they are taught to do so.


    It was not within the scope of the present survey to gather sufficient data to propose a reference dialect. Various factors would need to be taken into consideration; we recommend that the people from each canton who are interested in the codification of Central Yambasa join to discuss this fundamental question. It is possible that a careful study of the ability to understand the different varieties would need to be undertaken before a potential language committee can come to a decision.

    We further recommend that once such a committee has formed, it should contact other people from the Yangben canton, that is, speakers of Baca, Mbule, and possibly even Hijuk, to inform them of the project and invite them to serve on the oversight committee should they be interested (though the language development team itself should be composed of mother-tongue speakers of Central Yambasa).

    The committee should be made aware of how SIL can help them in their task, by explaining some of the criteria for the choice of a "reference dialect" and keeping them informed of courses on the analysis and development of local languages, such as the "Discover Your Language" course and seminars in translation.

    It seems, then that each of the three Central Yambasa speech forms demonstrates a "probable translation need". Based on the language use patterns in church (use of and interpretation into the local speech) and on the number of small-scale codification and translation efforts that have already been undertaken in the churches, there is clearly a felt need for mother-tongue use in the religious domain.

    However, because of the similarity of these speech forms and the apparent level of intercomprehension (not immediate but normally acquired by adulthood), it is probable that a translation into one of the three could also serve the other two cantons. Our recommended wording for "translation need status" for these three Ethnologue entries, therefore, would take the following form:

    ELIP. Probable translation need. Is intelligible (acquired intelligibility) with Mmala and Yangben. Could probably be served by same translation as for these two speech forms.

    The entries for MMALA and YANGBEN would read similarly.


    Boone, Douglas W. 1992a. "Baca (Bongo) Survey Report." SIL, Yaoundé.

    Boone, Douglas W. 1992b. "A Sociolinguistic Survey in Mbola." SIL, Yaoundé.

    Bradley, David. 1992. "Hijuk Survey Report." SIL, Yaoundé.

    Dieu, Michel (director). 1983. Atlas Linguistique de l'Afrique Centrale. Atlas Linguistique du Cameroun: Inventaire préliminaire. CERDOTOLA, Délégation Générale à la Recherche Scientifique et Technique, Yaoundé.

    Grant, Caroline. 1992. "Bati Survey Report." SIL, Yaoundé.

    Grimes, Barbara F. (ed.). 1988a. Ethnologue: Languages of the World, 11th Edition. SIL, Dallas.

    Grimes, Barbara F. (ed.). 1988b. Bible Translation Needs: Bulletin 1. WBTI, Dallas.

    Paulian, Christiane. 1980. "Les classes nominales dans les parlers yambassa." LACITO-informations, Bull. liaison 11. 11:63-66. Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), Ivry.

    Scruggs, Terri. 1982. "Rapport linguistique de l'enquête menée à Bokito." 72 pp. incl. appendices. SIL, Yaoundé.

    Taylor, Carrie. 1982. "Les langues de l'Arrondissement de Bokito." 19 pp. + ii. SIL, Yaoundé.


    1. Scruggs' and Taylor's survey data are not sufficient basis for a revision of this status. Although they touch on questions of intelligibility (Taylor 1982) as well as presenting linguistic data (Scruggs 1982), information on language use and attitudes is sketchy. Also, Taylor's report does not distinguish between immediate comprehension (based on inherent intelligibility) and acquired comprehension (based on having learned the speech form, at least passively), so that the question of inherent intelligibility among Yambasa speech forms is not answered.

    Taylor's report does suggest reference dialects for each canton, but her recommendations are based on interviews in which "language" was apparently defined as "varieties of speech in a single canton". Thus the possibility of one standard form serving more than one canton is not considered. She does raise the possibility that more than one standard written language might be needed for the Yangben canton: while the speech of Yangben village is the recommended reference dialect, she indicates that "the dialects of Mbola and Bongo" might also be codified. As intelligibility was the main focus of study, this could be interpreted as a readiness to classify Mbule and Baca as separate languages.

    2. Usually the surveyor poses the questions orally, reading from the form, and then notes the responses. Strictly speaking, the survey instrument so used is not a questionnaire but an interview schedule, since the term "questionnaire" is often reserved for a form submitted to the respondent to read and to complete in writing.