Le samba leko, langue Adamawa du Cameroun: Cameroun du Nord, famille Adamawa

Le samba leko, langue Adamawa du Cameroun: Cameroun du Nord, famille Adamawa. By Anne Gwenaëlle Fabre. (LINCOM studies in African linguistics 56.) Munich: LINCOM Europa, 2003. Pp. 430. ISBN 3895867268. $121.80.

Reviewed by Benji Wald, Los Angeles, CA

This is an important book for its ample descriptive information about a previously undescribed language, (Samba) Leko. Leko is of uncommon interest for several reasons, including its historical implications for Niger-Congo, linguistic evolution, language contact, and grammatical typology. With regard to its historical implications for the uniquely complex Volta-Congo branch of Niger-Congo, the Leko homeland is situated in an East Nigeria–West Cameroon border area where the Adamawan and Benue-Kwa branches of Volta-Congo are in close proximity and frequent contact. Symptomatic of the prior lack of data, Leko, now classified as Adamawan, was within recent decades classified as Bantoid, a deep offshoot of Benue-Kwa, presumably because of Leko’s long-standing contact with Chamba Daka, of the Dakoid branch of Bantoid. Within Volta-Congo, Adamawan and Bantoid, or any other group within Benue-Kwa, have always been by one scheme or another considered to be maximally distant from each other. This issue is discussed only in passing in the introduction (9–13), but the data made available in the book will eventually be of great service to drawing more secure historical conclusions. Leko is also of great interest for its grammatical typology, both morphological and syntactic. Just where it stands in the grammatical diversity of the larger area in which it is situated remains to further research, and here again the data provided by the study will eventually be of great service.

The descriptive study, written in French, is quite detailed and extensive, or rather, intensive, since, as Fabre explains in the introduction, the syntactic description is based on an extended folktale fully reproduced in one of the appendices to the book (373–414). Examples from this folktale are cited throughout the work. Besides identifying many of the major syntactic patterns of the language, the folktale strategy facilitates discussion of such discourse-level issues as topic (303–21) and focus (321–37), among others. There are also some ancillary elicited data exploring certain points raised by analysis of the primary data. In numerous instances, however, F indicates limitations of her explorations and identifies problems that remain to be resolved by further investigation. The description itself is given in a relatively straightforward if complex item-and-arrangement framework, using terminology accessible to readers regardless of theoretical commitment, and conveniently cross-referenced in the ‘index des notions’ (457–58).

An initial summary (7) lists the major sections (unnumbered chapters) of the book: ‘Introduction’ (9–18), ‘Phonologie’ (19–72), ‘Catégories’ (73–134), ‘Dérivations et composition’ (135–82), ‘Le constituant nominal’ (183–224), ‘Le constituant verbale’ (225–66), ‘Les schèmes d’énoncé’ (267–362), ‘Conclusion’ (363–64), ‘Bibliographie’ (365–70), ‘Annexes’ (371–456), ‘Index des notions’ (457–58), ‘Table des matières’ (459–64). The last-mentioned table of contents gives a more detailed directory of the sections of each chapter. Section subdivisions often go to a depth of four, for example, ‘ La focalisation d’un terme antéposé’ (330–33). The ‘Annexes’ section centers around the folktale and includes a one-page table on the frequency of individual phonemes based on the lexicon of the folktale (371), a Samba-French lexicon (415–34), and a French-Samba Leko index (435–56).