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The phonological systems of the Mbam languages of Cameroon with a focus on vowels and vowel harmony

The languages of the Mbam-et-Inoubou District of the Centre Region of Cameroon have a unique position in Bantu linguistics. Being in between "narrow" Bantu and "wide" Bantu, they sometimes pattern with the one and sometimes with the other, and as such are a rich motherlode for comparative and historical research. The Mbam languages have another point of interest as well. They have formerly been analysed as standard 7 vowel languages (/i, e, ɛ, a, ɔ, o, u/) with Advanced Tongue Root (ATR) harmony.

Virginia Lee (Ginger) Boyd
05 November 2015
Full text in Leiden University Repository

While vowel harmony in African languages has received a lot of notice and study, and the vowel-harmony systems of not a few of the Mbam languages  have been studied, most of the previous studies have been on individual languages. This study seeks to analyse and compare the vowel systems of ten Mbam languages (Nen, Maande, Yambeta, Tuki, Gunu, Elip, Mmala, Yangben, Baca and Mbure) as a group: both their vowel inventories and their vowel-harmony systems. Various issues in vowel harmony, such as neutral vowels, directionality in and domains of vowel harmony are also discussed. This study also proposes a phonological explanation for the workings of the complex vowel-harmony systems found in the Mbam languages

Finally this study considers the internal classification of the Mbam languages and their position in the wider linguistic context of the Bantu and Bantoid languages.


  • Prof.dr. Maarten Mous
  • Dr. Constance Kutsch Lojenga
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