Jabo language

Jabo language

Infobox Language
pronunciation= [ ɟʱɑ₂bo₂]

The Jabo language is a Kru language spoken by the Jabo people of Liberia. They have also been known in the past as the Gweabo.


In the draft classification proposal ISO 639-3, Jabo is assigned to the "Grebo macrolanguage" [The neologism "macrolanguage" is defined at [http://www.sil.org/iso639-3/scope.asp#M] . Note that this construct is a sociolinguistic term, rather than a strictly genetic one] (code [http://www.sil.org/iso639-3/documentation.asp?id=grb grb] ), and further sub-classified as a "dialect" of the "Southern Grebo language" (code [http://www.sil.org/iso639-3/documentation.asp?id=grj grj] ).It is interesting to observe that in a working-group draft of ISO-639-3 written in 2001 (URL accessed 2006-4-24 [http://xml.coverpages.org/ISO-WG1-N074R.html] ), the code GRJ was assigned to the "Jabo language", while the code GEU was applied to the coordinate taxon "Glebo".]

Despite the currently proposed classification, Jabo satisfies the criteria for an "individual language" stated in ISO 639-3 [ISO 639-3 "Scope of denotation for language identifiers" [http://www.sil.org/iso639-3/scope.asp#I] .] , among other criteria:
*The shared core-vocabulary score for Jabo and Seaside Grebo is reported as being as low as 75%. [Ingemann & Duitsmann, 1976. Quoted in Hasselbring & Johnson, 2002, p. 14. This last source made its own determination of 85%, (p. 45) but acknowledged methodologically dubious techniques—such as coaching for cognates in multilingual groups. This number is probably the main basis of the current proposed ISO 639-3 classification. The mutual intelligibility scores reported are difficult to interpret, since even Jabo-Jabo scores considerably less than 100%]
*The Jabo and Grebo political territories have been distinct at least since the time of the founding of "Maryland in Africa." ["Map of Liberia / compiled from data on file in the office of the American Colonization Society, under the direction of the Revd. W. McLain, secy., by R. Coyle." 1845. Library of Congress, URL accessed on 2006-04-24 at [http://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/map_item.pl?data=/home/www/data/gmd/gmd8/g8880/g8880/lm000010.sid&style=lmmap&itemLink=D?gmd:11:./temp/~ammem_6ZSB::&title=] .] The two peoples are currently in different counties (Grand Kru County and Maryland County), and the Jabo claim a greater affinity for the Kru (Krao) than for the Grebo.Ethnologue.]
*The physical separation of the Jabo and Grebo areas by the Deeah (Decoris) river is also an effective barrier to social intercourse and commerce.
*The Jabo and the Grebo have different origin legends, and thus have no shared identity. [Jabo origins as related by Blooah to a WPA interviewer. See Bibliography.] [Grebo origins as related by 19th century Reverend John Payne, quoted in Hasselbring & Johnson, p. 8.]
*The Jabo are highly ethnocentric, and consider themeselves to be a tribe with its own language.

On the other hand, it is quite possible to adopt the point of view that the entire "Grebo macrolanguage" constitutes a single language continuum in which the varieties (such as Jabo) are but dialects. The commercial interaction of the groups, together with their exogamy also produces widespread multilingualism, magnifying the impression of homogeneity. Additionally, the goal of literacy is facilitated by a unificationalist approach to the classification question.


The Jabo language is known to scientific linguistics in some level of detail because it was analysed by the respected linguist Edward Sapir,Sapir, 1929; 1931.] and extensively transcribed by his doctoral student George Herzog.Herzog & Blooah, 1936; Herzog, 1945.] Both Sapir and Herzog relied upon the cooperation of Charles G. Blooah as their native informant. Most of the material was recorded on site in Liberia by Herzog, who was primarily a folklorist and ethnomusicologist. His interest in the Jabo language centered on its use in the oral literature of proverbs and sayings, and also in the Jabo drum-signalling system. This became focus of the corpus he collected. There is a natural overlap between these areas, since many of the drum signals are formulaic in nature and are based on elements of the oral literature.

This may also have entailed that much of the material recorded was originally uttered in a declamatory, rhetorical, or performance style. It has not been established the degree to which such style might depart from more informal styles of Jabo speech. However, this material is the basis of what is presented below.



As analyzed by Sapir, Jabo was represented as possessing four phonemically distinct pitch levels (or registers), [Not to be confused with social speech "registers."] independent of phonation type or supraglottal articulation. Furthermore, mono-moraic (short syllable) glides from any register to any other register were phonotactically possible. This meant that there could possibly be sixteen distinct, segmentally-identical short monosyllables with significative pitch contours--more if long syllables were admitted. The not-uncommon word types CV: (CVV) and CVCV could potentially have 256 possible prosodic contours, each with a different dictionary meaning for the same three or four segments.

The tone of a syllable is specified by (small) sub- or superscript numerals following the vowel, with 1 denoting the highest register. As an example, take the word [IPA|ɟʱɑ₂bo₂] "Jabo people". Glides on a single syllable are connected by a hyphen. Sapir devised a system of "tone letters" for specifying tone, but they are inconvenient to typeset and not included in the Unicode inventory. For literacy purposes some system of diacritics would likely be preferable.

The forms enclosed in brackets show the orthography used by Sapir/Herzog; other forms are the same.

Segments IPA| [ʃ] , [ʒ] , [l] and IPA| [n̪] probably have only allophonic status. Word initial IPA| [l] occurs only in loans from English. The fronted or "dental" nasal occurs in only a single word, but that word IPA| [n̪a] meaning "possessive" is very common.

Consonants here called "breathy" are those termed "emphatic" by Sapir. The plosives are here marked with a superscript hooked h (IPA| [ʱ] ), while the continuants are marked with a subscript diaeresis. The contrastive use of this feature defines a major isogloss separating Jabo from Glebo. [Hasselbring & Johnson, p. 52.]

Implications of the Jabo evidence for linguistic theory

The metalinguistic import of the Jabo tonemic repertory becomes apparent when the attempt is made to select phonological distinctive features to represent the tonemes, whether binary or "n"-ary features. This in turn has implications for linguistic universals. However, the possibility exists that Sapir's analysis is overdifferentiated (i.e., the transcription is too "narrow" to claim tonemic status).

This tonal system implies an extremely high level of significative functional load to borne by pitch in the language. As such it has been cited over the years by a number influential theorists in the phonological field, such as Trubetskoy [Trubetzkoy, 1939.] and others.

A similar situation exists in the vowel space postulated by the Sapirean analysis. Since tongue and jaw position, nasalization and pharyngealization are all significative in this model, the vowel space is crowded indeed, with from 19 to 22 possible vowels, not counting diphthongs or long vowels. [Hasselbring and Johnson claim nine vowels for most "Kru" languages (p. 48).]

The emphatic consonants of Jabo were once thought to be an example of the emergence of an implosive consonant series. There currently does not seem to be any evidence to suggest this.

Literacy and educational proposals

Glebo (Seaside Grebo) had possibly the earliest literary history of any speech variety in the Cape Palmas area, dating to the time of the missionary efforts associated with Maryland in Africa. Nonetheless, it is interesting to note that Jabo, rather than Glebo, has been proposed by the SIL survey [Hasselbring and Johnson, p.64.] as the basis of a unification orthography or Ausbausprache for the speech varieties of the Southern Grebo group, despite the prestige and precedence of Glebo.

This choice may be due to Jabo's preserving a number of "archaic" features from the proto-language, if it is indeed the case that its highly-differentiated phonology reflects a common stage of development. The pedagogic principle would be that it is easier to teach across heterogeneous groups from a differentiated writing system (to a variety in which the contrast has been merged), than the reverse. Students speaking the less differentiated variety need only learn to ignore the "superfluous" distinctions as heterographic homonyms, rather than memorizing numerous, seemingly random heterophonic homographs.



*Herzog, George. "Drum Signaling in a West African Tribe," "Word" 1:217-38, 1945. Reprinted in: "Language in Culture and Society", pp. 312-23. Ed. Dell Hymes. New York, 1964.
*Herzog, George, and Charles G. Blooah. "Jabo Proverbs from Liberia: Maxims in the Life of a Native Tribe". London, Pub. for the International Institute of African Languages & Cultures by Oxford University Press, H. Milford, 1936.
*Gordon, Raymond G., Jr., editor. "Ethnologue: Languages of the World, Fifteenth edition". Dallas, Tex.: SIL International, 2005. Online version: [http://www.ethnologue.com/] .
*Ingemann, Frances, and John Duitsman. "A Survey of Grebo Dialects in Liberia," "Liberian Studies Journal", 7(2):121–131, 1976.
*Joseph Greenberg, "The Languages of Africa". Indiana Univ. Press, 1966).
*Hasselbring, Sue and Eric Johnson. "A sociolinguistic survey of the Grebo language area of Liberia. SIL Electronic Survey Reports 2002-074", 2002. Online version: [http://www.sil.org/silesr/abstract.asp?ref=2002-074] .
*Sapir, Edward. "Notes on the Gweabo Language of Liberia," "Language", 7:30-41, 1931.
*Sapir, Edward, With Charles G. Blooah. "Some Gweabo Proverbs," "Africa", 2:183-185, 1929.
*Trubetskoy, Nikolai S.."Grundzüge der Phonologie". ["Principles of Phonology"] . "Travaux du Cercle Linguistique de Prague", 7. Prague, 1939.
*WPA Federal Writers' Project, "Life History Manuscripts from the Folklore Project", 1936-1940. Online version: Library of Congress "American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936 - 1940", Item 27 of 312 (Nebraska), "Charles Blooah" [http://rs6.loc.gov/ammem/wpaintro/wpahome.html] .

External links

* [http://www.ethnologue.com/show_language.asp?code=grj Ethnologue report for "Southern Grebo"]

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