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Project Members

  • Tom Güldemann
  • Christfried Naumann
  • Robyn Loughnane
  • Anne-Maria Fehn

Inheritance and contact in a language complex: the case of Taa varieties (Tuu family)

Taa, the only surviving member of the Tuu family (formerly "Southern Khoisan") with a substantial number of speakers, is a large cluster of dialects spoken by small bands of former hunter-gatherers (commonly referred to as "San") and stretching geographically from east-central Namibia from the Nossob River over the former Aminuis reserve into the Ghanzi and Kgalagadi Districts of Botswana up to a line Okwa-Tsetseng-Dutlwe-Werda. Mutual intelligibility usually exists between neighboring varieties, but differences between geographically remote dialects can amount to a linguistic distance found between languages. However, the dialectal diversity of Taa is still hardly documented.

In its wide geographical range Taa speakers have been and still are in contact with a wide variety of different ethnolinguistic groups speaking languages belonging to five different language families: Tuu (other than Taa itself), Khoe, Ju-ǂHoan, Bantu, and Germanic. The great number of contact languages from different genealogical groups and the variety of contact situations (i.e. Taa in contact with languages of equal or higher social prestige) provide an ideal laboratory in which we could explore how a widespread language complex could diversify internally through differential language contact. Despite the still limited data on the Taa complex it can already be discerned that some of its internal diversity is due to the different contact situations the individual Taa dialects were in.

The geolinguistic setting of Taa provided the background for the following project goals:

  1. continued/first documentation and analysis of Taa dialects
  2. identification of the inter-dialectal divergence across the entire Taa cluster
  3. survey of the southern sphere of Taa searching for possibly surviving San contact languages
  4. systematization of non-Taa data on discourse, morphosyntax, lexicon, phonetics-phonology
  5. comparison of Taa and non-Taa data with respect to language contact

The documentation component was planned to involve local researchers and native speakers who were trained as far as possible in the necessary field work methods.