Page images

sounds, methodical in all its grammatical forms, susceptible of great expansion, and withal very easy of acquisition.

The same correspondence might be pointed out between the Mandingo dialect and the people by whom it is spoken, but enough has been said already, to illustrate our general remark. Whether the disposition and habits of the natives have been modified by the character of their language; or whether, on the other hand, these dialects have been moulded so as to suit the disposition, character and pursuits of the people, are points that cannot easily be determined. Most probably they exert a recip. rocal influence upon each other. It must not be presumed, however, that the comparative perfection of these dialects is to be regarded as an infallible criterion of the relative improvement of the different tribes. This would bespeak for the Mpongwe tribe a degree of improvement and civilization far above the others, which the actual and known condition of that people does not authorize.

One general characteristic of the Grebo, and one which establishes at the outset an essential difference between it and the other dialects, is that it is made up in a great measure of monosyllabic words. It has a considerable number of dissyllabic words, a few trisyllables, and a very few words of four and five syllables. But a very cursory glance over a few printed pages of Grebo will show a vast disproportion of monosyllabic words. The names of most of the objects with which they are familiar belong to this class; for example, na, fire; ni, water; tu, tree; kai, house; ge, farm ; yau, sky; bro, earth; nu, rain ; twe, axe; fa, knife; kbi, fence; lu, head; kwa, hand; yi, eye; , tongue; kli, breast; kể, back; bo, leg; wěnh, sun; hni, fish; gi, leopard, , rum; and so also most of the verbs in common use; as, di, eat; na, drink; , sleep, lie down; na, walk; di, come; mu, go; hli, speak; la, kill; bi, beat; ya, bring; kba, carry; ni, do; wa, hear,' etc., all of which are not only monosyllables, but most of them may be spelled with two simple letters of the Roman alphabet.

Both the Mandingo and the Mpongwe have a goodly number of auxiliary and connecting particles; but they are not sufficiently numerous to constitute a striking feature in either. In the


We have adopted a more simple mode of orthography here than has been used in writing the Grebo; h final is used to distinguish words whose meanings are different, but whose orthography would be the same. So nh is used to indicate the nasal sound of the final vowel, but is omitted in the above examples, for the sake of simplicity.


Differences of the three Languages.


Mandingo, about one fifth of the verbs are monosyllabic words, but the nouns, with very few exceptions are words of two or more syllables.

In Mpongwe, there are not more than a dozen monosyllabic nouns, and perhaps not more than two or three monosyllabic verbs, in the entire language. In relation to those enumerated above, with the exception of a single noun and verb, they are all words of two, three or four syllables.

Another observation of importance is, that there is no one word that is common to the three, or any two of these dialects, except the letter m which is used as a contracted form of the personal pronoun I, in the Mpongwe and Mandingo, and the particle ne which is used in the sense of is in the Grebo and the Mpongwe, though in the latter, it is evidently a contraction of inle which does not always have the force of is. Even when some new object is presented to these people, and it is their evident intention to confer upon that object a name corresponding with the sound or some other attribute belonging to it, they do not always employ the same word; a bell in Grebo is bikri, in Mpongwe it is igalinga and in Mandingo talango; a saw in Mandingo is sero, in Grebo griká, and in Mpongwe gwigasa. When the foreign word is retained, it is differently modified to suit their dialects. A plate in Grebo is plědě, in Mandingo pělo, and in Mpongwe pěle. Tobacco in Grebo is tama, in Mpongwe tako, in Mandingo taba, and in some other dialects it is talakwa. This discrepancy shows that there is not only a material difference in the development of the organs of speech among these different tribes, but an equal difference in their powers of discriminating sounds.

The Grebo has sew or no contractions or coalescences, but the people speak with so much rapidity and their words are so completely jumbled together, that a whole clause may sometimes be mistaken for a single word, the phrase ě ya mu kra wudi, it has raised a bone in my breast (a figurative expression for great anger), is pronounced yamukroure.

The Mandingo and Mpongwe both abound with contractions, and they compound their words so as out of three or four to make but one; but in both cases, the elementary parts of each com

The writer is indebted to Mac Brair's Mandingo Grammar, for all the knowledge he possesses in relation to that language. The vocabulary embraced in that Grammar contains seven or eight hundred words, and it is upon these, and a few other specimens of Mandingo in the same volume, that his inferences and observations are drawn.

pound word or phrase, are preserved with so much distinctness, that they can always be easily analyzed. In Mandingo the word mbadingmuso, sister, is made up of mi, my, bado, mother, dingo, child, muso, female; i. e. “my mother's female child.” So in Mpongwe, the word onuangiwam, my brother, is made up of onwana, child, ngi, mother, wam, my; and so omantwè, his wife, is compounded of oma, person, anto, female, uě, his, i.e.“ his female person” for his wife ; so the phrase arombia is compounded of e, he (which disappears before a), are, is, oma, person, mbia, good. These combinations though frequent in the Mpongwe, and perhaps as much so in Mandingo, are not sufficiently numerous to constitute a leading feature in either, as they do in some of the Indian dialects of North America.

There are certain words and phrases in the Grebo dialect, which it is almost impossible for a foreigner ever to acquire, so as to be understood by the natives when he uses them. The phrase hani na nyene ne? What is your name? is one that is extremely difficult, and not less so is the phrase kbune-nyini-yidu, bad habit. The word hmu, five, and all the reduplicated forms into which it enters, are too completely nasal to be fairly represented by any combination of articulate sounds whatever.

In Mpongwe, on the other hand, there are not more than three or four words that are at all difficult of utterance; and there is scarcely a sentence in the language, which a foreigner may not, with very little care, speak at the first trial, so as to be universally understood by the natives. It is probable that the Mandingo, in this respect, partakes of the character of the Mpongwe and not of the Grebo.

In the Grebo and Mpongwe there is a large number of words whose significations, though entirely different, have an orthography very nearly the same. In all such cases, the Grebo distin. guishes between them: first, when they are monosyllables, by a certain pitch of the voice or accent; it is thus that the first and second persons of the personal pronoun md and mah are distinguished from each other; and so also the first and second per. sons plural a and ah.

When cases of this kind occur in dissyllabic words, the accent rests on one or the other syllable as a mark of distinction, as in the words nyina, day, and nyina, woman. The Mpongwe, on the contrary, never uses the accent, as a means of distinguishing words whose orthography is very nearly the same, but relies wholly upon the clear and distinct sounds of its vowels.

1847.) Orthography.

753 In all three dialects, almost every word terminates in a vowel sound. In Grebo nh final is employed to designate the nasal sound of the vowel; and it is possible that ng final in Mac Brair's Mandingo grammar may serve the same purpose. M final occurs in a very few Grebo words; and the vowel sound after m in certain Mpongwe words is scarcely audible. In relation to the incipient syllable, the usage is variable. In Grebo with the exception of a few of the personal pronouns, which are simple vowels, as is the case in both of the other dialects, every word commences with one or more consonants. In Mandingo, perhaps one fifth of the verbs and nouns commence with vowels; whereas in Mpongwe, at least one half of the nouns and verbs, if we take into the account the derivative parts of the verb, have vowels for their initial letters. Almost every noun in the Mandingo terminates in o; in the other two languages the final termination is variable. The prevalence of initial vowels in Mpongwe, accounts for the great number of contractions and coalescences which are to be met with in that language.


The same alphabet of simple sounds has been employed in writing all three of these dialects, but it must not be inferred that the same system is equally adapted to each. The sounds in the Mandingo and Mpongwe are generally easy and natural, and are accurately represented by Mr. Pickering's system of orthography. The Grebo, on the contrary, has a great many difficult sounds that cannot accurately be represented by any combination of articulate sounds. Each vowel in this language has, besides its natural power, a corresponding long and short as well as nasal sound. The vowels in Mpongwe and Mandingo have none but their natural sounds, and such variations as are common to most European languages. The letters v and z are entirely wanting in the Mandingo and Grebo dialects, but are of more frequent use in the Mpongwe than almost any other consonants.)

There are a good many consonant combinations, chiefly at the beginning of words, that deserve to be noticed. Some of these are common to all three of these dialects; some are peculiar to



It may be remarked that although v is but once used in Grebo and z never, yet both of these letters are freely used in the Basa dialect which is closely allied to the Grebo.

The following are common to all three, viz. ny and ng; ny is a natural and easy sound and commences a large number of words in all three dialects; ng is found at the beginning of a good many words, especially in the Grebo and Mandingo, and in this position is very difficult of pronunciation; but in the middle of a word the letters have their natural sounds, but are never separ. ated. Mw, bw and ty are common to the Grebo and Mpongwe, though the two former occur but seldom in the Mpongwe, and the first not often in the Grebo. None (of a peculiar or unusual character) are common to the Grebo and Mpongwe. The following are so common, as the incipient letters of Mpongwe words, that they mark this dialect most decidedly; and, although they seldom or never occur at the commencement of Mandingo words, they are common in the middle syllables, viz. mb, as in the words mboa, dog; mboni, goat; mp as in mpolu, large; nd as in ndondwi, high; nk as in nkala, town; nj as in njònga, the name of a man; nt as in ntondo, basket; nty as in ntyäni, shame; ngw as in ngwe, mother; gw as in gwi, where; fw and vw representing sounds intermediate to these component letters; zy as in cyele, is not; nl which represents a mixed sound of these two letters as in ininla, spirit. Ng in the middle of words is a favorite combination both with the Mandingo and Mpongwe. The following are peculiar to the Grebo and are found at the beginning of words, viz. ml as in mlëně, to swallow; hl as hla, to strike; hli, to speak; hy as in hya and hyširu, child, children: kh as khimi, small; kb as in kbrúně, fashion, habit, etc. When kb is preceded by a vowel, the k unites itself with that and b has its natural sound, but when united at the beginning of a word, is very difficult of enunciation.


Neither of these dialects has an article, definite or indefinite; the place of the indefinite article in the Mpongwe and Grebo, and probably in the Mandingo also, being supplied by the numeral for one.

Thus, in Grebo, gnebwi du â nede, man one lived there, for a man lived there; and in the Mpongwe oma mâri, person one, for a person. The want of a definite article in Grebo is

sapplied by the personal pronoun for he, thus gnebwi na, “ person he," for the person, and by the demonstrative pronouns něnu, this, and nâná, that. In Mpongwe this deficiency is variously supplied by the definite pronoun yi, and more frequently by the demonstrative pronoun for this and that, as oma yinâ, this man, or oma yâná, that

« PreviousContinue »