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The strange case of Ganang

From:Benct Philip Jonsson <conlang@...>
Date:Wednesday, September 26, 2007, 11:57

Three African Field-Reports from Roger Blench: Ganang, Sambe
and Tchumbula

Roger Blench, Overseas Development Institute 111,
Westminster Bridge Road London, SE1 7JD, United Kingdom ODI Web page: Own Web Page:

The strange case of Ganang

Languages become threatened in different ways and
occasionally gender rather than generation and ethnicity
form part of the nexus. Ganang seems to represent a rather
extreme case of gender differentiation in the process of
language loss. Ganang or Gashish is often listed as one of
the dialects of Izere, a significant Plateau language spoken
north of Jos in Central Nigeria. No data on this language
has ever been published and no Izere informants in Jos could
tell us about the language. As a consequence I decided to go
to try and resolve its status.

As we approached the Ganang-speaking area, we found that the
Ganang, locally known as Gashish, are considered to be
Berom, and indeed culturally they share much in common with
their Berom neighbours. The Ganang language is spoken in
Gashish Kuk village in Plateau State, Nigeria. Gashish Kuk
is one hour's drive southeast of Jos, beyond Kura falls.

We encountered an old man sitting under a tree and requested
him to help us fill in a wordlist. He readily agreed, but it
very soon became clear that he did not speak the language,
although he claimed to be Ganang. However, a group of women
had gathered around us and began answering the questions in
his stead. I soon switched to using them as the principal
informants and Mrs. Cundung Bulus and Mrs. Cingun Mandong
were able to help me complete a basic 400-word list on the
18th of January 2001.

Despite gathering quite a crowd it became clear that none of
the men present could speak Ganang, despite the linguistic
competence of their wives. However, the women were unable to
produce vocabulary from the male world, particularly in
relation to hunting, and so I was not able to elicit words
for 'arrow' or for large mammals. The men speak principally
Berom, and increasingly Ron, a Chadic language of recent
migrants, as well as Hausa, the lingua franca of the area.
The men said that these other languages were 'better' or
'more prestigious' than Ganang, while the women said they
would continue to speak Ganang with their children. Indeed,
young male children were heard speaking Ganang, so they must
stop speaking it at a certain age. Husbands and wives
communicate with each other in Berom, or increasingly in
Hausa. Long-term bilingualism in Berom was later confirmed
by the data analysis which indicated high levels of
interference between the two languages. Linguistically,
Ganang turns out to be a form of Izere that has been
Beromised. The phonology and noun-class system have taken on
features of Berom and it is for practical purposes
unintelligible to mainstream Izere.

It turned out to be very hard to gauge the number of
competent Ganang speakers, as most individuals are multi-
lingual, also speaking Ron, Hausa and Berom. Almost all
settlements are mixed, with Ron and other outsiders. The
nearby settlements of Hye and I˜yø were reported to be
principally Ganang but the same gender division of
linguistic competence applies. Overall there are unlikely
to be more than 3000 ethnic Ganang, but many fewer
speakers. This unusual gender division makes it hard to
predict the future of Ganang but it should definitely be
regarded as threatened. A definite case for intensive
sociolinguistic research.