Kabba: A Nilo-Saharan language of the Central African Republic

Kabba: A Nilo-Saharan language of the Central African Republic. By Rosmarie Moser. (LINCOM studies in African linguistics 63.) Munich: LINCOM Europa, 2004. Pp. 504. ISBN 3895868280. $104.40.

Reviewed by Harald Hammarström, Chalmers University

Rosemarie Moser has produced an excellent description of Kabba, a previously undescribed Nilo-Saharan (more precisely, Western Sara) language, spoken mainly in the Central African Republic (CAR). The work represents a major research contribution since, although there are several hard-to-find related French works, modern full-length descriptions of languages of this region are scarce. Language data was gathered through fieldwork from 1995 to1999 sponsored by La Trobe University in Melbourne.

The book starts off by introducing the Kabba speakers, who number some 80,000 in northwest CAR and adjacent Chad and Cameroon. The Kabba subsist by a mixed economy of hunting/gathering, agriculture, and cattle herding, and they integrate with the wider CAR society. Kabba speakers in CAR are bilingual in Sango and many also speak French very well, but (as of today) Kabba is not an endangered language. The introduction contains a useful summary of classification work on the Sara-Bongo-Baguirmi family (also known as Central Sudanic) and especially the Sara subfamily, but the issue of the often skeptically asserted wider affiliation to the Nilo-Saharan phylum is not elaborated.

The bulk of the book, the descriptive data, is very thorough and very comprehensive. Like all Sara-Bongo-Baguirmi languages, Kabba has lexical and grammatical tone, and some 100 pages are devoted to phonology and tonal morphophonology. Likewise, 100 pages cover nouns, pronouns (including 3rd person logophoricity), adjectives, determiners, numerals, conjunctions, prepositions, and a special chapter on case-marking strategies (on the verb or through auxiliaries). The verb-phrase and basic-clause structures are treated on the next 100 pages. There is no distinct passive verb stem and adverbs are frequently used to compensate for the absence of grammatical past-tense marking. A special section on complex predicates is much appreciated, since verb serialization and accompanying semantic bleaching are prominent in the Kabba language. Last, complex clauses, discourse patterns, and a fifteen-page glossed text are provided.

This grammar should be of interest to Africanists and typologists alike. For the typologically minded readership, Kabba, a dependent marking, SVO, N Rel language—although it appears not to exhibit any major typological oddities—will provide a rich source of data for the crosslinguistic study of a range of linguistic phenomena, especially grammaticalization of various categories. M is committed to a functional description style with interlinear examples for just about everything described.

There are more than a fair number of spelling, typesetting, and reference errors but nothing serious.