Towards the documentation of communicative practices in Buu: a pilot project

Towards the documentation of communicative practices in Buu: a pilot project

Language: Buu (ISO639-3:boe)
Depositor: Rachel Ojong Diba
Location: Cameroon
Deposit Id: 0564
Grant id: SG0517
Funding body: ELDP
Level: Deposit

Summary of deposit

I (Rachel Ojong, PI) plan to do recordings of naturally occurring conversations of individuals in Buu (audio and video) and, because the project is ethnographic in nature, I will also do a lot of systematic observation. For example, I will devote about four hours in the morning and four hours in the evening to just observe how people interact in public (e.g. on the road or in the chief's palace) and private contexts (e.g. in the fields or in the home). I also plan to do ethnographic interviews using a very comprehensive interview guide that elicits the biographical information of the respondent. Ideally, my aim here is to get all the relevant ethnographic and biographical details for all the speakers present in my recordings. I will select three contexts for my documentation: (i) a mixed household (see community contexts), (i) a half-day in the life of a (normally multilingual) speaker, and (iii) a half-day in the life of a traditional healer. These three contexts differ because the first one (i.e. the mixed household) will provide access to daily interactions in the home among family members and between these and possible guests; the second will allow me to document interactions between an individual and other (normally multilingual) individuals outside of the home; the third represents an opportunity to document the linguistic behavior of an individual – a traditional healer – who will most likely be more conservative in his language choices.

At the end of the recordings that will be done (video and audio), I will sit down with some of the consultants and listen/watch the recording and do annotations on ELAN files. By default, the ELAN files will comprise tiers displaying: the speakers, the context, the language(s) used, the topic being discussed, and a free translation in English.

Group represented
Communities in Lower Fungom including Buu are hardly self-encapsulated; there is a lot of interaction going on between them with reciprocal actions and influence. This is reflected in their communicative practices, too. This has built their character towards accepting others into their midst, including researchers. The community can thus be said to be very accommodating for research, which is a factor needed for the success of any research endeavour. Most importantly, senior researchers like Jeff Good, Pierpaolo Di Carlo and Rebecca Voll who have made a noble mark in this region make further research in this area less complex. 7/18 Buu is one of the smallest villages in Lower Fungom currently without a village head (commonly referred to as a Fon) but with a regent.

Language information
Buu is currently found in ethnologue under another language name, i.e. Mundabli with ISO code [boe]. However, recent research is indicating that Buu is different from Mundabli and cannot be held as one of its varieties, whereas Buu and Mundabli (the other two lects included under [boe]) should be considered as varieties of the same language. Buu is spoken in Lower Fungom, a region of North West Cameroon which is one of the linguistically most diverse parts of the Cameroonian Grassfields: eight languages, or small language clusters, are spoken in Lower Fungom’s thirteen recognized villages, meaning there is about one language per thirty-four square kilometers. Speaker populations range from 150 to 3,000 with an average of about 1,200 speakers per language. Buu lies at the lower end of this range (population less than 200). Buu (sometimes spelled Bu) appears to be under Mundabli in Ethnologue forming, together with Mufu, what Good et al (2011) refer to as the Ji group of languages. The earliest work mentioning any language of the Ji group is the information on the noun class system of Buu found in Hombert (1980). Of the three varieties in the Ji group, Good et al (2011) assert that only Mundabli has been subject to extensive investigation (by Rebecca Voll). They also state that the work that has been done on Mufu and Buu indicates that the varieties Mufu and Mundabli can probably be considered dialects of the same language, while Buu is probably best considered a distinct language (see also map in Di Carlo 2016). One of the key features of the Lower Fungom language context is the high degree of multilingual competences found among speakers. Esene Agwara (2013) has found that there are virtually no monolinguals in the area: Pidgin English is the default second language but most people speak also a number of local languages. As an average, women speak 4 languages and men speak 5 languages. Also worth noting is the degree of endangerment of the language in question. Buu is a very small village comprising no more than 200 people so exposing this language to high risk of being lost (it is one of the closest to Lake Nyos where, in 1986, a limnic eruption killed about 2,000 people).

Special characteristics

This deposit will reveal ways to deal with multilingualism in a documentary project. I envisage that the deposit will reveal outcomes that are in line with both the ancestral-language and the non-ancestral language modes of documentation. The ancestral-language mode will be exemplified by the collection of Buu oral history in Buu and by the phonological and morphological annotations of select chunks of monolingual behaviors in the audio and video recordings from the three target contexts.

By contrast, the non-ancestral language mode will be exemplified by the strong ethnographic component of this project (i.e. observation, interviews, biographical details for all the speakers recorded). The deposit will also comprise a booklet and a CD or DVD which I plan to offer to the community.

Deposit contents

  • At least 8 hours of video recordings of naturally-occurring communicative practices (contexts: mixed household and traditional healer).
  • At least 4 hours of audio recordings of naturally-occurring communicative practices (context: half-day with a multilingual speaker).
  • 100 percent of these will be processed into ELAN and provided with an initial annotation which will include: who is speaking, what language they are using, to whom they are speaking, what topic is being discussed, contextual remarks, ethnographic notes, and free translation in English.
  • About 10 percent of these will be provided with phonological and morphological annotations (Buu portions only).
  • At least 1 hour of audio and video recordings about the oral history of Buu (in Buu).
  • 100 percent will be processed into ELAN and provided with free translation in English./li>
  • At least 20 percent will be provided with phonological and morphological annotations.
  • At least 16 ethnographic and biographical interviews audio recorded (in Pidgin English).
  • Notes for at least 40 hours of ethnographic observation.
  • Notes will be produced and organized in a way to facilitate retrieval of individual- or context-specific information. This is a key aspect of the project as I aim to make all this contextual and speaker-based information readily available to integrate (and make sense of) the ELAN annotations at any time.
  • One or two articles for presentation at a conference.
  • All the recordings in all the contexts will be provided with metadata, including all the speakers' metadata (i.e. biographical details).

Items to be distributed to the community:

  • A CD or DVD including the oral history of Buu.
  • A booklet summarizing the main results of the project, especially: (i) some select events in the history of Buu (in Buu and English) and (ii) photos and names of healing herbs in all the languages of Lower Fungom.

Deposit history
Data for this work will be collected in sessions. The first one will be in September 2018 while the second will be in January 2019. The data is part of a postdoctoral research of Rachel Ojong Diba, the principal investigator.

Other information

Acknowledgement and citation

Users of the collection should acknowledge Rachel Ojong Diba as the PI and data collector. The Endangered Languages Documentation Project should be acknowledged as the funding body of the pilot study. For the overall supervision, Pierpaolo Di Carlo should be acknowledged. Information on every other contributor will be available in the metadata.

To refer to any part of the data, please use:

Ojong, Diba. 2019. Towards the documentation of communicative practices in Buu: a pilot project. London: SOAS, Endangered Languages Archive. URL: [insert URL here]. Accessed on [insert date here].


Resources yet to be deposited


Rachel Ojong Diba
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Affiliation: University of Buea

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Data from 2018 December 18 to 2018 December 18
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