MABIA Languages

MABIA: Outdooring and Adoring

a West African Linguistic Group


Prof. Dr. Adams Bodomo

Department of African Studies

University of Vienna


Papers are invited for a workshop on the linguistics and literature of the MABIA languages of West Africa. The MABIA languages, numbering about 80, are spoken as first languages by more than 30 million people who live mostly in the Savanna grasslands of West Africa, the middle belt between the forest to the South and the Sahara desert to the North in present-day northern Ghana, northern Cote d’Ivoire, northern Togo, northern Benin, northwest Nigeria, Burkina Faso and Mali. The major Mabia languages include (top-20 in order of number of speakers): Moore (nine million), Dagaare (two million), Senari (1.2 million), Gurene (one million), Gurma (one million), Dagbane (900 000), Kabye (900 000), Baatonun (800 000), Mamara (800 000), Lobi (600 000), Konkomba (600 000), Kusaal (500 000), Kasem (400 000), Supyire (400 000), Mampruli (300 000), Moba (300 000), Sisaala (300 000), Koromfe (250 000, Buamu (200 000), and Buli (200 000). While these languages have rightly been identified and classified as a linguistic group because of their genetic linguistic similarities (vowel harmony, syllabic nasality, tonal polarity, suffixal noun classes, time-depth particles, SVOV serializing syntax, etc), some early European missionary and neo-colonial African linguists decided to give this group of languages two highly inappropriate names – “Gur languages” (for English-speaking linguists) and “Langues Voltaiques” (for French-speaking linguists). In the 1980s, revolutionary leader, Thomas Sankara of Burkina Faso, asked that his country (where the largest Mabia language, Moore, is spoken) not be named using a weird Portuguese name, Rio Volta meaning “twist”, “spin”, “change course” or whatever). With this great help from Sankara, the term “Langues Voltaiques” appears to have died a natural death. But the term “Gur” has recalcitrantly endured to this day, licensed by the fallacy that most of these languages have names and syllables beginning with “gur”.


At the workshop we will critically examine this terminology and hopefully abandon it in favour of outdooring a new, authentic name, MABIA which etymologically derives from the words ma “mother” and bie/bia/biiga “child” in most of these sister languages. The workshop will hopefully comprise a select list of eight to 10 papers that cover not only aspects of the phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, and sociolinguistics of Mabia, but also those that outline, appreciate, and even show how speakers adore the literary aesthetics of Mabia folklore (including folktales, proverbs, riddles, ideophones, and various kinds of verbal indirection).


This is a two part workshop. Part one, to be held in Winneba as part of the 30th West African Linguistics Conference (WALC 2017) from July 31 to August 5, will be followed up with part two, to be held at the University of Vienna, Austria, in October 2017. Papers from these workshops will be evaluated for publication (most likely with CSLI press, Stanford University) as an edited volume on the Mabia languages.


Abstracts of not more than 400 words each in word format should be sent to: Ms Caroline Pajancic at before 28th February, 2017.