1. General Introduction
The languages spoken on the Dogon Plateau and adjacent areas are generally known to outsiders as ‘Dogon’, but this term is not used by individual groups. For a long time, research on the Dogon was dominated by the work of Marcel Griaule and his successors, which focused on a very specific group, the Dogon of Sangha. Bertho published short comparative wordlists of some Dogon lects but these made little impression. Calame-Griaule (1956) published a dialect map of Dogon, the relationship between the named communities and the T¨r¨-S¨¨ represented in her dictionary remained unclear in the absence of data. Until recently, Dogon was treated in reference books as if it were a single language (e.g. Bendor-Samuel et al. 1989), but Hochstetler et al. (2004) estimated there are no less than 17 languages under the Dogon rubric and that the family is highly internally divided.
The classification of the Dogon languages is a matter of considerable dispute. They have always been considered part of Niger-Congo, but their place in that family is difficult to determine. Hochstetler et al. (2004) review the various theories that have been advanced, which are essentially either Gur, Mande or an independent branch. Conventional wisdom now treat Dogon as its own branch of Niger-Congo (Williamson & Blench 2000).
Another major question
is the place of Dogon within Niger-Congo. Dogon is both lexically and
structurally very different from most other families. It lacks the noun-classes
usually regarded as typical of Niger-Congo and has a word order (SOV) that
resembles Mande and Ịjọ, but not the other branches. The system of
verbal inflections, resembling French is quite unlike any surrounding
languages. As a consequence, the ancestor of Dogon is likely to have diverged
very early, although the present-day languages probably reflect an origin some
3-4000 years ago. Dogon languages are
territorially coherent, suggesting that, despite local migration histories, the
Dogon have been in this area of
One language in the
Dogon-speaking area is apparently not Dogon but which is difficult to classify,
This language contains some Niger-Congo roots but is lexically very remote from
all other languages in
In terms of data collection, the surveys in February and March 2005 focused strongly on;
a) collecting basic lexical data on so far undescribed varieties of Dogon (and other languages of the Dogon Plateau)
b) collecting terminology of cultural and historical significance, such names of crops, domestic animals, fauna and flora and blacksmithing terms
The results from historical linguistics are still being analysed, but preliminary findings suggest some rather surpising results. For example, speakers of the proto-Dogon language were already farmers, growing sorghum, millet and fonio, keping cattle but not sheep and goats. They did not use hoes, but planting sticks, and were experienced arboriculturalists. Further analysis will be reported here as it becoems available.
Linguistic materials were collected on and preliminary documents can be downloaded here;
Four languages, Ana, Bunoge, Tebul Ure and Walo, are reported here for the first time. A previously undocumented sign language was discovered among the Tebul people and a video record of sample sentences and narratives in sign language, Tebul Ure and French was made.
An introduction to the status of endangered languages was published in Ogmios, for April 2005. A PDF version is available at;
Small gourd drum
J., E. J. Olsen, and A. R. White, 1989. Dogon. In: Bendor-Samuel, J.
(ed). The Niger-Congo Languages—a classification and description of
Bertho, J. 1953. La place des dialectes dogon de la falaise de Bandiagara parmi les autres groupes linguistiques de la zone soudanaise. Bulletin de l’IFAN 15: 405-41.
G. 1956. Les dialectes Dogon.
Hochstetler, J. Lee, Durieux, J.A. & E.I.K. Durieux-Boon 2004. Sociolinguistic Survey of the Dogon Language Area. SIL International. Available at: http://www.sil.org/silesr/2004/silesr2004-004.pdf
Williamson, Kay & R.M. Blench 2000. Niger-Congo. In: African languages: an introduction. B.
Heine & D. Nurse eds. 11-42.