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Documentation of Ubang Gender Diglossia


Language Ubang
Depositor Ademola Lewis
Affiliation University of Ibadan
Location Nigeria
Collection ID 0492
Grant ID SG0483
Funding Body ELDP
Collection Status Collection online
Landing Page Handle


Summary of the collection

This collection is the outcome of a language documentation project on Ubang, a Cross River Bendi language spoken by 11,100 people in Obudu, Cross-River State, Nigeria (SIL, 2013). Ubang show gender-based diglossia whereby females and males use different words to refer to the same basic concept and thing.

Ubang is endangered because of the diminishing number of speakers due to occupational emigration and language contact and because of gender diglossia is not passed on to the next generation as vigorously as it used to be.

This collection aims to document Ubang’s disappearing natural diglossic conversations, folktales and cultural rites of passage.


Group represented

This collection represents members of the Ubang community, who live in Ofambe, Okiro and Okweriseng, three contiguous communities in Obudu Local Government Area of Cross River State, Nigeria. The Ubang speak a namesake language, Ubang, which shows gender-based diglossia whereby male and female members of the community refer to the same item or concept with different terms.

The main tourist attraction in Cross River State (The Obudu Cattle) is located where the Ubang live. This has brought rapid development to the area as well as an influx of cosmopolitan population and the adoption of Nigerian Pidgin (Naija) as language of wider communication, and English as language of prestige. At the market, in school, worship and other public spheres, the Ubang are forced to speak other languages. There is diminishing Ubang language intergenerational transfer, let alone the transfer of gender diglossia.


Language information

Ubang (ISO639-3: uba) is a Cross-River Bendi language spoken in Cross River State in south-eastern Nigeria. Ubang has a gender-based diglossia situation whereby male and female members of the community refer to the same item or concept with different terms. For example, an item as basic as jaw is a?ka? for females and b???ba? for males; the verb run is bu? (female) and t?? (male). Even for gender cognate words, there are consonant substitutions – males use [t?/?] while females use [s]. With respect to sound inventory, there are gaps in the male sound system which are attested to in the female. Sounds like labialised labial-velar plosive [gb?] and labial-alveolar nasal [n?m] present in female speech are absent in male speech. In addition, there are evidence of gender-based tonal polarity, prefixation and morphological clipping. Moreover, Ubang gender diglossia includes gender-based riddles and verbal inflections. These are pointers to the fact that Ubang gender diglossia permeates deeper levels of language structure than just sounds and lexicon.

Interesting as the phenomenon of gender-based language variety is, only scant academic attention has been paid to Ubang. The only PhD thesis on the language, Uchendu (2003), dwells on the sociological issues of gender, language and power. The rest of information about Ubang diglossia is largely through media commentaries and news pieces about its rare linguistic gender dichotomy, with the Ubang often mistakenly referred to as people whose male and female population speak separate languages.

On the basis of its 11,100 speakers, Ethnologue describes Ubang as vigorous. However, by field experience in 2015 and 2016 we have discovered that the language as a whole, and its marked diglossic feature in particular, are threatened on the one hand by language contact, and on the other hand by ceasing intergenerational transfer of gender diglossia. Of the three villages where Ubang is spoken, gender diglossia only subsists in degenerate form in Ofambe, while it is nearly extinct in Okiro and Okweriseng. If we consider the fact that Ofambe has the smallest population (2,900 speakers) of the three villages, the reality of the diglossia endangerment becomes more pronounced.


Collection contents

When completed, this collection will include the following outputs:

  • audiovisual recordings of folktales told by females and males
    • tales involving rituals and masquerades told by men
    • tales concerning food crop farming told by women
    • “unisex” tales of common grounds, which both genders tell
    • fieldnotes on gender diglossic differences
  • audiovisual recordings of diglossic Ubang natural discourse
    • mother-toddler conversations
    • father-toddler conversations
    • male-female conversations (youth and adult)
  • audiovisual recordings of Ubang naming, marriage and funeral rites as well as everyday activities
  • audiovisual recordings of interview and elicitations
  • time-aligned annotations of the recordings, giving
    • phonetic and orthographic transcriptions
    • morpheme break-up
    • word gloss
    • free translation
    • notes
  • an electronic dictionary of Ubang
  • a tonal grammar of Ubang, describing and analysing tonal processes in negation, question, possession, tense and aspects constructions
  • participant and session metadata
  • fieldnotes


Special characteristics

This collection focuses on gender diglossia, which in the extent attested in Ubang is a rare phenomenon cross-linguistically.


Collection history

In 2016, I won an African Humanities Program postdoctoral fellowship from the American Council of Learned Societies to investigate the genesis and intergenerational transfer of Ubang Gender Diglossia. Given the yet historical and sociolinguistic slant of my current work on the language and salient linguistic discoveries on the field, I became convinced about the imperative to give attention to the anthropological and linguistic documentation of Ubang gender diglossia.

In previous work, I acquired the following data on Ubang

  • 1,700 words of the SIL Comparative African Wordlist (nearly 400 of which are gender disaggregated)
  • Ibadan Syntactic Paradigm of 100 kernel sentences
  • six folktales (the same three stories, told by females and males)
  • six focus group discussions with male and female teenagers, middle-aged and aged
  • 3h of natural conversation (parent-child and female-male youth conversations)
  • nine in-depth-interviews with selected adult male and female respondents from the three Ubang settlements in Obudu (Ofambe, Okiro and Okweriseng)

However, due to lack of high resolution equipment and the emphasis on audio recording, only a minor portion of my data can be archived – largely the wordlists and limited number of folktales.

The materials for this collection were gathered and prepared between 2017 and 2018 during the research for the ELDP-funded Small Grant awarded to Ademola Lewis.


Other information

In addition to archiving at the Endangered Language Archive, copies of the materials will also be stored in the three Ubang communities and at the University of Ibadan.

Previous research on Ubang includes the following two works:

  • Uchendu C. 2003. Equal Encounter: A case of Gender, Language and Power in the Ubang Community of Obudu, Nigeria. PhD. Dissertation, University of Baltimore County.
  • Uzoma R. 2016. Ubang Gender Phyogenetics. A Bachelor of Arts long essay, University of Ibadan, Ibadan, Nigeria.


Acknowledgement and citation

To refer to any data from the collection, please cite as follows:

Lewis, Demola. 2020. Documentation of Ubang Gender Diglossia. Endangered Languages Archive. Handle: Accessed on [insert date here].

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