Ega, spoken in east central Côte d'Ivoire is the westernmost Kwa-related language (Niger-Congo phylum), an isolate within the Dida (Kru) speaking area, with no known closely related languages. The classification is tentative and somewhat controversial. The influence of Kru (Bete and Godie) is strong, and minority opinion suggests that Ega is not Kwa but a true Niger-Congo isolate, a remnant language. Ega has more complex phonetics, phonology and morphology than other Kwa languages, indicating, at least, the presence of reflexes of archaic stages of Kwa language development.
Several social and political factors contribute to the endangerment of Ega. The most salient factors which make Ega a prime candidate as the focal point of a model documentation project, are the following:
- Small number of speakers; estimates vary wildly from several thousand two decades ago (Bolé-Richard 1982) to currently less than 300 (Ethnologue); preliminary field investigations indicate that there is a small group of non-proximate Ega villages, with a total but rapidly decreasing population of no more than 1000.
- Enclaved in the Dida (Kru) speech community.
- Speakers perfectly fluent in Dida, which they use as a public language.
- Perception of enclaving Dida community as stronger, dominant, efficient, high prestige.
- Submissive behaviour with respect to the enclaving Dida community.
- Traditional ethnic history relates to the westward Kwa migrations through other Kwa areas (e.g. Abbey) as well as Kru areas, and emphasises status of the Ega community as guests in foreign territories.
- Supposition of a centuries-old non-aggression, tolerance pact with the dominant Dida community.
- Use of Ega deprecated among Ega speakers; self-characterisation as Dida speakers to outsiders.
- Preference for exogenous marriage among Ega men, invariably with Dida women.
- Use of French in education official communications and recent introduction of major Ivorian languages to schools e.g. Baule (Kwa), Bété (Kru), effectively requiring Ega speakers to be trilingual or quadrilingual.
Preliminary investigations indicated that Ega has the following known linguistic properties which in themselves justify careful and systematic documentation before the language becomes extinct:
- The most complete and still active series of contrastive voiced implosive consonants, including palatal, labio-velar implosives in contrast with non-implosives. Mbatto (Kwa) has similar features, but is in the process of losing the contrast.
- The most complete nine vowel ATR harmony that consistently operates in prosodic words.
- Complex vowel hiatus, described in a recent MA thesis (Dago 1999).
- The most complete system of nominal and gender class prefixes (Bolé-Richard 1983), which have already been widely attested in Benue-Congo languages, suggesting that the nominal classes have been almost been entirely lost in other Kwa languages. This leads to the hypothesis that documentation of Ega has the potential to make a significant contribution to the understanding of the unity of the Niger-Congo language family.
- A complex conjugation with an intricate tense/aspect system rarely documented among Kwa languages (Bolé-Richard 1982).
- Get Started: Summary of the Ega conversion
- Build a Lexicon: Lexicons page (Classroom)
- Encode Characters: Unicode pages (Classroom)
- Create an IGT: IGT pages (Classroom)
- Convert Audio Data: Audio pages (Classroom)
- Convert Video Data: Video pages (Classroom)
- Utilize an Ontology: Ontology pages (Classroom)
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