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Documentation of Kam: Natural interaction, multimodality, and community-driven ethnographic documentation

Landing page image for the collection 'Documention of Kam: Natural interaction, multimodality, and community-driven ethnographic documentation'

The Kamajim mountain. Photo by Jakob Lesage 2017. Click on image to access collection.


Language Kam (ISO639-3:kdx)
Depositor Jakob Lesage
Affiliation Humboldt Universität Berlin
Location Nigeria
Collection ID 0652
Grant ID IPF0314
Funding Body ELDP
Collection Status Collection online
Landing Page Handle


Blog post

ELDP Project Highlight: Remote documentation training for speakers of Kam (Nyingwom), a language of Taraba State, Nigeria


Summary of the collection

Kam is a high-level Niger-Congo isolate, spoken by a community of mountain dwelling farmer-fishermen in central-eastern Nigeria (ca. 8,000-12,000 speakers). This collection has two aims. The first is to establish a corpus of language use in natural interaction, including multimodal communication, while exploring the role the ground may play in speakers’ gesture space. The second is to document ethnographically interesting texts and performances, focusing on traditional knowledge speakers wish to preserve. Throughout, it relies on extensive collaboration with speakers from different generations, to strengthen the intergenerational transmission of such knowledge.


Group represented

Kam is spoken in the Benue valley, in Bali Local Government Area, Taraba State, Nigeria, by 8,000 to 12,000 speakers (estimated in 2023). The Kam people call themselves “Nyí Ngwòm” and their language and culture “Àngwòm”. Traditionally, the Kam were mountain dwellers who, according to oral tradition, settled in the mountains north of the Kam River more than one thousand years ago. Kamajim, the traditional capital of the Kam country, is located at the western feet of these mountains. This is still the place where the traditional king of the Kam resides. It is off-limits to outsiders and guarded by Sarkin Dawa, the political king of the Kam, who arranges political matters and settles issues with other ethnic groups. Many Kam are farmers and fishermen. Their most important crop is guinea corn, but rice, maize, beans and potatoes are also grown. The lion is an important symbol to the Kam, and lions are said to still dwell in the mountains, as guards to the Kam traditional king. The Kam claim close association with the Jukun (who speak a distantly related language) and the Jukun kingdom of Kororofa. The Kam kingdom has hosted many other ethnic groups over the centuries, who speak unrelated and distantly related languages. Mumuye people arrived to hunt; Hausa people came for trade; Fulbe entered the land in the early 19th century during the Fulani conquests, which play a large role in Kam oral tradition; Jirim people settled, intermarried, and now closely associate with the Kam. More recently, refugees from Boko Haram insurgencies further north settled around the Kam speaking area. Colonial and post-colonial power struggles, the promotion of Islam and Christianity, rapid urbanization, and security challenges have influenced the political, cultural and linguistic landscape of the area. In the face of these societal changes, the Kam community tries to preserve its heritage and lifestyle.


Language Information

Kam is a Niger-Congo language with no known close relatives – it could be considered a branch of Niger-Congo on its own or a high-level Niger-Congo isolate. It is spoken by 8,000 to 12,000 speakers (estimated in 2023), and surrounded by various unrelated (e.g. Chadic) and distantly related (e.g. Niger-Congo) languages, which likely arrived in the area much later. These languages include Hausa (which all Kam speakers also presumably speak), Fulfulde, Jirim (another undocumented minority language), Mumuye, Tiv, languages spoken by the Wurkun ethnic group, English, and more recently, Glavda. Kam speakers are usually multilingual, speaking their language and two or more of these surrounding languages.


Special characteristics

The depositor and community started this project during the COVID-19 pandemic. All of the documentation presented here is collected by speakers and annotated in close collaboration between the depositor and the community. As a remote collaboration project, the documentation process is adapted to the lifestyle and time schedule of the community and the consultants, and is independent of the physical presence of a researcher. This opens up a wide range of social situations and daily activities that can be recorded in their natural setting.

One of the priorities of the collection was to include examples of natural interaction, which are represented in the lively discussions that speakers engaged in on contemporary topics. We also wish to include more videos that help investigate how speakers use their gesture space while sitting on the ground and in the sand, since this is a potentially endangered aspect of the Kam communication system as this area of Nigeria is currently undergoing rapid urbanization.

The collection intends to show each village where Kam is spoken, and documents the oral history of each village as told by elders that live there. The videos that show each village are recorded by the speakers themselves, walking around and explaining the environment.


Collection contents

This project aims to collect 50 hours of recorded speech, performance, and interaction. 4 hours will be transcribed and translated into English by consultants, and 2 hours will contain interlinear glosses (word-by-word translations).

Currently, the collection contains 20 hours of video recordings and 4 hours of consultant-transcribed and translated recordings. These videos include recordings and discussions of:

  • Oral tradition, including narratives about how other ethnic groups arrived in the area, and the history of individual Kam villages.
  • Contemporary topics, recordings that give a voice to members of the Kam community on global and local issues, such as environmental damage, security, and urbanization. These recordings also serve as examples of spontaneous interaction.
  • Villages and their surroundings, including visual village tours accompanied by narration by speakers.
  • Cultural practices, such as wrestling, traditional dances, games, etc.
  • Subsistence activities, such as farming different crops, cooking, hunting, fishing, and beekeeping.
  • Traditional songs and stories.

The collection also contains a dictionary of Kam. A grammar of Kam is available here.


Collection history

The project currently contains 20 hours of video (see above for a more detailed description). More data is being processed and the project is on track to archive 50 hours of data by the end of the funding period. Approximately 4 hours have been transcribed and translated by consultants.

The project started in 2021, during the COVID-19 pandemic. Data has been collected in intervals, but quite steadily, throughout 2021 to 2023. The data collection takes place in the Kam community, by Kam speakers, and does not depend on fieldwork.



Lesage, Jakob. 2020. A grammar and lexicon of Kam (àŋwɔ̀m), a Niger-Congo language of central eastern Nigeria. Paris: INALCO PhD Thesis.

Lesage, Jakob. 2021a. Kam (Àngwɔ̀m) dictionary (March 2021 draft). Sarkin Dawa, Nigeria: Nyí Ngwɔ̀m Publishing House.

Lesage, Jakob. 2021b. Kam dictionary. Android 4.0 and up.

Lesage, Jakob. 2022a. Remote fieldwork two years on: what does a distant field yield? Talk presented at the FAL: Fieldwork in Anthropology and Linguistics, 10-05-2022, Uppsala University.

Lesage, Jakob. 2022b. ELDP Project Highlight: Remote documentation training for speakers of Kam (Nyingwom), a language of Taraba State, Nigeria. Endangered Languages Archive Blog.

Lesage, Jakob & Elisha Yunana. 2022. Kam documentation training: syllabus sketch. Syllabus outline.


Acknowledgement and citation

Jakob Lesage is the principal investigator of this project. The speakers who recorded most of the data are Solomon Ahmadu, Babangida Audu, Ezekiel Audu, Nakan S. Baka, Lazarus Bako, Danjuma Bello, Lucy Gabriel, Rahab Precious Garba, Safiya Hamidu, Samuel Jatau, David Mamuda, Gambo Musa, and Ezra Nechung. Isa Sarkin Dawa, the political king of Kam, has played an important role in raising interest in this project in the Kam community. Elisha Yuhana taught the consultants to use recording equipment. Bitrus Andrew provided computer training. Babangida Audu and Rahab Precious Garba did most of the consultant transcription and translation. The project team is grateful to the Kam community for their cooperation and willingness to participate. Corpus users should acknowledge the data collector and the individuals whose speech or image is used. Their names can be found in the metadata. When using any data from the collection, please cite the collection as follows:

Lesage, Jakob. 2023. Documentation of Kam: Natural interaction, multimodality, and community-driven ethnographic documentation. Endangered Languages Archive. Handle: Accessed on [insert data here].

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