Areal Phenomena in
Northern Sub-Saharan Africa

August 23-24, 2015, WOCAL 8, Kyoto, Japan



Dmitry Idiatov (CNRS-LLACAN, Paris)

Mark Van de Velde (CNRS-LLACAN, Paris)


Languages spoken within a large belt of northern sub-Saharan Africa from the Atlantic Ocean in the west to the Ethiopian plateau in the east have long been known to share important structural similarities (cf. Westermann 1911, Greenberg 1959). The relevant linguistic features crisscross genetic borders and are not found in the genetically related languages outside of this region, which suggests an important role of language contact in the evolution of the currently observed pattern. The two recent areality hypotheses involving the languages of northern sub-Saharan Africa, Güldemann’s (2008) Macro-Sudan belt and Clements & Rialland’s (2008) Sudanic belt, focus on a number of structural features that have been proposed in the literature to be particularly representative of the languages spoken in the region, such as labial-velar stops, labial flaps, implosives and other “nonobstruent” stops, nasal vowels and lack of contrastive nasal consonants, ATR vowel harmony, tone, “lax” polar question markers, logophoricity markers, S-(Aux)-O-V-X and V-O-Neg order patterns.

The proposed workshop aims to expand our understanding of the areal phenomena in the languages of northern Sub-Saharan Africa. Submissions are expected to critically reassess the criteria already proposed in the literature or propose new criteria. Studies covering large parts of the region with languages of different genetic origins are particularly welcome. We also invite studies focusing on smaller zones within the bounds of the region which contribute to the big picture of language contact phenomena in the region. We would particularly encourage papers that not only provide a thorough synchronic description of a certain linguistic property whose distribution is argued to be areal, but that equally aim at working out plausible diachronic mechanisms which could account for the observed geographic and genetic distribution of such a linguistic property.

Clements, G. N. & Annie Rialland. 2008. Africa as a phonological area. In Bernd Heine & Derek Nurse (eds.), A linguistic geography of Africa, 36–85. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Greenberg, Joseph H. 1959. Africa as a linguistic area. In William R. Bascom & Melville J. Herskovits (eds.), Continuity and change in African cultures, 15-27. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Güldemann, Tom. 2008. The Macro-Sudan belt: towards identifying a linguistic area in northern sub-Saharan Africa. In Bernd Heine & Derek Nurse (eds.), A linguistic geography of Africa. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Westermann, Dietrich. 1911. Die Sudansprachen: eine sprachvergleichende Studie. Abhandlungen des Hamburgischen Kolonialinstituts, 3. Hamburg: L. Friederichsen.


Dmitry Idiatov & Mark Van de Velde
Areal features in northern sub-Saharan Africa: introduction
[abstract] [slides]

Guillaume Segerer
How databases shape research: labial-velars distribution in Africa
[abstract] [slides]

Michael Cahill
(SIL International)
Labial-velars — a questionable diagnostic for a linguistic area
[abstract] [handout]

Nicholas Rolle
(University of California, Berkeley)
An areal typology of nasal vowel systems in West Africa
[abstract] [slides] [handout]

Matthew Faytak
(University of California, Berkeley)
High vowel fricativization as an areal feature of the northern Cameroon Grassfields
[abstract] [slides] [soundfiles]

Annie Rialland
(LPP-CNRS, Paris)
The African "lax" question prosody: a follow up
[abstract] [slides]

Spencer Lamoureux & Florian Lionnet
(University of California, Berkeley)
Constraints on prosodic constituent structure: uncovering areal tendencies in Northern Sub-Saharan Africa
[abstract] [slides]

Tatiana Nikitina
The role of discourse practice in the spread of linguistic features: The case of logophoricity
[abstract] [handout]

Larry M. Hyman, Peter Jenks, Geoffrey Bacon, Nicolas Baier, Emily Clem, Matthew Faytak, Spencer Lamoureux, Florian Lionnet, John Merrill, Nicholas Rolle & Hannah Sande
(University of California, Berkeley)
Areal features and linguistic reconstruction in Africa
[abstract] [slides]

Tom Güldemann (Humboldt University of Berlin)
Tjerk Hagemeijer (University of Lisbon)
The Gulf of Guinea creoles from a Macro-Sudan belt perspective
[abstract] [handout]

Kofi Yakpo
(University of Hong Kong)
Archetypal areal features in the African English-lexifier creoles
[abstract] [slides] [handout]

Georg Ziegelmeyer
(University of Vienna)
Areal diffusion in the Chadic-Kanuri contact zone
[abstract] [slides]