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Borrowings But No Diffusion: A Case of Language Contact in the Lake Chad Basin

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Makary Kotoko, a Chadic language spoken in the flood plain directly south of Lake Chad in Cameroon, has an estimated 16,000 speakers. An analysis of a lexical database for the language shows that of the 3000 or so distinct lexical entries in the database, almost 1/3 (916 items) have been identified as borrowed from other languages in the region. The majority of the borrowings come from Kanuri, a Nilo-Saharan language of Nigeria, with an estimated number of speakers ranging from 1 to 4 million. In this article I first present the number of borrowings specifically from Kanuri relative to the total number of borrowed items in Makary Kotoko, and the lexical/grammatical categories in Makary Kotoko that have incorporated Kanuri borrowings. I follow this by presenting the linguistic evidence which not only suggests a possible time frame for when the borrowings from Kanuri came into Makary Kotoko, but also supports the idea that this is essentially a case of completed language contact. After discussing the lexical and grammatical borrowings from Kanuri into Makary Kotoko in detail, I explore the limited evidence in Makary Kotoko for lexical and grammatical ‘calquing’ from Kanuri, resulting in almost no structural diffusion from Kanuri into Makary Kotoko. I finish with a few proposals as to why this is the case in this instance of language contact in the Lake Chad basin.

Affiliations: 1: Trinity Western University (Canada),


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