A usage-based grammar of Cuvok with focus on documenting the endangered social role of blacksmiths of the Tchouvok community

A usage-based grammar of Cuvok with focus on documenting the endangered social role of blacksmiths of the Tchouvok community

Language: Cuvok (ISO639-3:cuv)
Depositor: Ndokobai Dadak
Location: Cameroon
Deposit Id: 0367
Grant id: IGS0267
Funding body: ELDP
Level: Deposit

Summary of deposit
Cuvok is a Central Chadic language spoken in the Far North Region of Cameroon. Tchouvok traditional society pivots around blacksmiths, who play a number of other key social roles: doctor, metalworker, mortician, mind-reader, and midwife. With the introduction of Islam, Christianity and modernism, the knowledge possessed by the blacksmith is no longer transmitted to the younger generation. This documentation project is integrated into my PhD research, which aims at a usage-based grammatical description of Cuvok. Much of my corpus is composed of video recordings. Ethnographic notes complement my annotated texts.

Group represented

Tchouvok speakers of Cameroon.

The Tchouvok society is patrilineal. Around 60% of the entire community still practices the traditional religion. Christianity is followed by about 30% and 10% of the population are Muslim. Culturally, the Tchouvok community has a great similarity with the Mofu-gudur community and lots of intermarriages do happen between the two communities.

Blacksmiths are special people in this community. Being a blacksmith in Tchouvok is a hereditary status, so it is transferred from fathers to children. They are considered as holders of magical and super natural powers. They play a key role in the development of their society in this sense that they are the ones involved in many spiritual activities. Because of their dexterity in working on metals, wood and clay, they manufacture hoes, knifes, axes, pots for cooking or drinking and fetching water. They are the ones who use the clay to represent the spirits of the deceased person for the next generations to give worships to their forefathers. There is no intermarriage between a blacksmith and a nonblacksmith family. The fact that they are playing some sort of spiritual roles gives them a status of supreme priest. It is evident that the maintenance of traditional Tchouvok culture (and, by consequence, of their language) is tightly linked with the fate of this social figure.

Administratively, Tchouvok is a village with 13 quarters but in terms of population more than 6 of these quarters are populated either by Mofu (Mederey, Mozday, Gagala quarters) or by Mafa people (Mendezhe, Zemndek, Wafango and Metergwed). At the moment, there are fewer than 40 blacksmith families in the whole Tchouvok area.

Language information
Cuvok (Cuv) is a Central Chadic language spoken by about 5000 people (source: Ethnologue) near Zamay in Tchouvok in Mokolo subdivision of Mayo Tsanaga, Far North Region of Cameroon. Dieu and Renaud (1983: 357) have assigned to this language the code number (181) and gave the following classification: Afro-asiatic, Chadic, Central-west, Wandala Mafa group, Mafa-South. Ethnologue (Grimes 1988b: 171) proposed a similar classification: Afro-asiatic, Chadic, Biu-mandara, A. Bura- Mandara, Mandara-Matakam, Matakam (Mafa). Cuvok speakers live in one small native community surrounded by big language communities like Mafa and Mofu-gudur. The language is being spoken in the following quarters of Tchouvok: Bulyak, Wisambak, Gàdáká, Mekélék, Mukshey, Wayam Tazay, Ndurey, Matarpas, Merew, Maram, Zemndék Metergwed, Medere, Mazday. There are some Tchouvok people scattered in Mbele near Garoua in the North region

Deposit history

During the last twelve years I have developed great relationships with Tchouvok at all levels. I am on good terms with traditional authorities of the village or with the Tchouvok of the diasporas (some Tchouvok people are found out of their native land). People from the community are eager to participate in the documentation project and support my work as a linguist. The headmasters and the teachers who are working in Tchouvok know my research and they are ready to facilitate the teaching of the language and culture in school to preserve them from disappearing. I am happy with this collaboration which is a conducive environment for a sustainable fieldwork and research. In the last years, I collaborated with the Department of Linguistics of the University of Yaoundé 1, SIL-Cameroon and CABTAL. In collaboration with those institutions I have given workshops to the Tchouvok community to promote the use of the alphabet and literacy in the community.

Other information
The main outcome of this project is video recordings in natural settings as much as possible of scenes where the social roles of blacksmiths are clearly stated out, transcribed and annotated using tools like ELAN, FLEX accompanied with metadata recorded using Arbil. All these materials should be archived with open access. We will have a total of 40 hours of recordings. The analysis of this body of narration, description, presentation and conversation about the various activities of blacksmiths and of recordings of day to day spoken Cuvok will be the source for my dissertation PhD on a usage-based grammar description. As mentioned above, my thesis will not be an old-fashioned grammar, but a usage-based one informed by a lot of texts collected in natural settings. I also plan to make a contrastive analysis of the blacksmiths’ “code” as they appear in their social activities and the non-blacksmiths’ code. This analysis may reveal not only a lexical discrepancy but may indicate the difference in the perception of the world.

Acknowledgement and citation

To refer to any data from the corpus, please cite the corpus in this way:

Dadak, Ndokobai. 2016. A usage-based grammar of Cuvok with focus on documenting the endangered social role of blacksmiths of the Tchouvok community. URL: https://elar.soas.ac.uk/Collection/MPI663110. London: SOAS, Endangered Languages Archive. Accessed on [insert date here].


Collection online
Resources online and curated


Ndokobai Dadak
Affiliation: The University of Maroua, Cameroon

Deposit Statistics

Data from 2020 May 30 to 2020 May 30
Deposit hits:2
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Showing 1 - 10 of 56 Items

Cette vidéo presente Demgədar Slamdzarma l' une des dernières femmes forgerons qui jouent le rôle de sage femme et fait accoucher la plus part des femmes dans le village. Nous l'avons rencontrée juste quelques minutes après qu'elle a fait accoucher une femme dans son quartier. elle essaie d'expliquer dans la vidéo comment elle fait ce travail et son désir de laisser sa connaissance à d'autres femmes forgerons.

Recorded on: 2015-10-28

the video shows the mourning daughter of the deceased person. she is called meslpeney in cuvok and she is the one chosen to lead the funeral ceremony. here in this vidoe she is wearing the clothes of the late father and she touching the recovered dead to say goodbye

Recorded on: 2015-11-28

the video shows the smiths searching and digging the clay to be used.

Recorded on: 2016-02-15

the video shows Hitchwe and the other smiths interrogating the spirits about the death

Recorded on: 2015-11-28

the video shows a conversation bewteen Amtsabay and a young blacksmith, Tahbai Esaie. the woman of 50 years tries to give the information about the clans of the smiths.

Recorded on: 2015-10-28

women are touring the compound of the deceased to say goobye

Recorded on: 2015-11-28

The video shows a scene of fortunetelling. Very early in the morning we visited Mtsila the spritual master of the blacksmith in Tchouvok. We walked from his house to his "office". His office is a space that he has prepared under a small tree. The spirits are represented by stones which are kept and protected. the first thing he did was to remove his shoes in respect of the spirits. Then, he will unveil the stones which are covered by big stones. He started by counting all the stones and he asked for libations pouring before doing his work. He is assisted by his son who is learning the work of his father.

Recorded on: 2015-01-06

Dans cette vidéo, le forgeron commence son travail par mettre en place le monde qui lui permet de prend chaque element dans son environnement immediat pour bien comprendre les forces naturelles et surnaturelles. Le monde qu'il met en place s'appelle "Palah"en Cuvok. La representation du monde se fait à l'aide des pierres auxquelles il attribue des noms selon l'environnement de la personne qui sollicite la divination pour un problème particulier.

Recorded on: 2015-11-08

this video shows Hitchwe using the stone divination

Recorded on: 2016-12-14