Tula-Waja Group

(Ulrich Kleinewillinghöfer 2012)

The languages of the Tula-Waja Group are mainly spoken in and around the mountainous west of the lower Gongola north of the Benue, in the south of Gombe State extending into Taraba and Adamawa State, Nigeria. The Waja Group is comparatively heterogeneous comprising of eight discrete languages, of which the larger ones possess distinct dialect areas. Typologically most of the languages are noun class languages, showing various stages of reduction. Three, Dadiya, Maa and Yebu have almost completely lost their noun class morphology. Most complex are the class systems of Waja and Tula: Waja in respect of the number of concords and Tula in respect of the diversity of the nominal affixes. In Tula, particularly in the main dialect area of Kutule, the singular and plural forms of a number of nouns are marked simultaneously by class prefixes and suffixes. This is a unique feature of Tula and uncommon in other class languages of Tula-Waja and Adamawa as a whole, with the exception of Mboi in the Ɓəna-Mboi (Yungur) group, where we find several nouns with prefixes and suffixes in two genders (Kleinewillinghöfer 1993), as well as a few peculiar cases in Tso and Waja. Otherwise, simultaneous prefixing and suffixing of class morphemes occurs in Tula – Waja only with pronominal stems. The morphological complexity of Tula is the more amazing when we compare it to its closest relations which are - based on the number of cognates - Dadiya and Yebu. There the class morphology is almost completely lost.

Even though a comparison of basic wordlists show somewhat higher numbers of cognates shared by individual languages, a sound sub-classification of the languages of Tula-Waja has to take more distinctive features into consideration than a mere count of the number of cognates. The reason is that two peculiar sociolinguistic scenarios have significantly modified the basic vocabularies of several Tula - Waja languages.

The first is a peculiar custom followed by at least two members of the Tula-Waja group, namely the Tsobo (speaking Tso) and the Cham, as well as the Longuda people their eastern neighbours and probably sections of other groups speaking Tula –Waja languages. The custom is that people avoid(ed) calling the name of a deceased in the presence of his/her relatives and in his/her former locality. Before the advent of Islam and Christianity names were generally composed from the general lexicon. Thus the need to replace certain lexical items which were used as (part of) a name for someone recurrently arose in the various settlements. Consequently this custom has created considerable diversity in the lexicons of some of the languages. In the case of the Tso dialect areas, where supposedly for many generations a completely different language served as one of the sources to replace tabooed vocabulary, almost 40% of the nouns in the Swadesh-100-wordlist have entirely different roots in at least one of the 3 (or 4?) dialect areas. Comparable but not as intense, is the diversity in the basic lexicon within Cham between the Dijim and Bwilim dialects (Kleinewillinghöfer 1995, 2001, (2011)).

The other peculiarity affected mainly the northern languages of the Tula-Waja Group: Yebu, Maa, Waja, and to a lesser extent Tula. There is sufficient evidence to assume that earlier forms of these languages were part of a linguistic area, possibly a Sprachbund, which included also a number of Chadic languages (members of the Bole-Tangale Group and Tera), and in addition probably also (a) Jukun language(s), as well as Kanuri (Kleinewillinghöfer (2002)). As a result, a number of items from the basic vocabulary, which generally serves as a first parameter to measure linguistic proximity, are seemingly common vocabulary of that Sprachbund: examples are: 'bird', 'dog', 'louse', 'heart', 'blood', 'cold', 'hot', 'moon', 'two', 'three' (see also Kleinewillinghöfer 1996a and b).

Tentatively, I assume a Tula (core) group consisting of Tula, Dadiya, and Bangwinji. Ma and Yebu possibly form their own branch to it. Tso on the one hand and Cham, on the other hand appear to be earlier off-shoots from the main group. Unclear is the position of Waja, it seems to be the only member of a distinct branch.

 Tula-Waja Languages



In Greenberg (1963) Tula-Waja is listed as Group 1 within the Adamawa Branch of Adamawa-Ubangi, a sub-group of Niger-Congo.

Bennett (1983) in a lexicostatistical study focusing on the unity of Adamawa-Eastern combines Tula-Waja and Longuda as 'Tula-Longuda'. Based on meagre lexical data Bennett (1983:41) further assumes that Tula-Longuda "constitute[s] a unit" with Bikwin-Jen and Ɓəna-Mboi (= Yungur) which ought to be separated from the remaining Adamawa groups. He labels this unit 'Trans-Benue' and regards it as a link between Gur and the remainder of Adamawa-Ubangi.

Boyd (1989:180) comments that (Tula-)Waja and the other groups combined by Bennett under "Trans-Benue" "might be posited" as one of the three core groups of Adamawa, though he regardes this unit as less clear as compared to the other two core groups.

Williamson & Blench 2000 and the Ehnologue (all latest editions) both list Longuda as a separate language group in one of the three major branches of Adamawa. While Williamson & Blench 2000 do not offer a specific name for the branch, its identical equivalent is oddly labelled 'Waja-Jen' in the Ethnologue, although it contains the same language groups as Bennett's 'Trans-Benue'. Both classifications apparently follow on the one hand Bennett's (1983) assumption that these groups constitute a unit (as against other Adamawa groups), while on the other hand they follow Greenberg (1963) and maintain that this unit is part of Adamawa.

It should be noted that Bennett's 'Trans-Benue' hypothesis (of 1983) which forms the basis of the current Adamawa subgroup "Waja-Jen" is based on very meagre lexical data. No one else ever presented any convincing evidence showing that the lexically and morphologically very distinct groups: Bikwin-Jen, Tula-Waja, Longuda, and Ɓəna-Mboi form indeed a valid genetic unit as against other Adamawa groups like Ba (= Kwa), Yandang, Mumuye, Samba-Duru and/or Central Gur language groups.

Kleinewillinghöfer (1996b, 2006 and 2009/forthcoming) upholds that the relation of Tula-Waja with other Adamawa groups remains an open question. Yet, the application of the decisive criteria for the classification of the Gur languages by Manessy - which are above all the morphology (i.e. the noun class system) coupled with a common lexicon, rather than a mere count of lexical cognates – links Tula-Waja also with Proto-Central Gur. Tula-Waja appears to be one of the core groups of a still hypothetical Central Adamawa – Gur.


National Archives Kaduna (NAK): Files:

- SNP 10 - 263P/1913, Central Province - Gombe Division, Pagan tribes, Report by Mr. T.F.Carlyle on his visit to.
- SNP 10 - 715P/1913, Central Province, Gombe Emirate, Ako District, Waja Sub-District, Assessment Report on by Mr. T.F. Carlyle (1914)
- SNP 10 - 445P/1914, Central Province, Gombe Emirate, History of  by T.F. Carlyle. The Districts of Gombe Emirate.
- SNP 10 - 297P/1916, Yola Province, Patrols to Lala, Longuda and Yungeru tribes, sanction for
- SNP 10 - 374P/1917 Yola Province, Numan Division, Pire Sub-District, Assessment Report by Capt. E.A. Brackenbury
- SNP 17 - 9150 Ethnological Notes on Cham Tribe, by D.O. S.W. Walker, 1929
- Bau Prof 231F Pagan Administration Tangale-Waja District, Report on Tangale-Waja-Districts by Mr. A.B. Mathews D.O., 1934

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