Defaka language

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Native to Nigeria
Region Rivers State, Bonny District
Ethnicity Defaka
Native speakers
200 (2001)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3 afn
Glottolog defa1248[2]
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters.

The Defaka language is an endangered and divergent Nigerian language of uncertain classification. It is generally classified in an Ijoid branch of the Niger–Congo family. However, the Ijoid proposal is problematic. Blench (2012) notes that "Defaka has numerous external cognates and might be an isolate or independent branch of Niger-Congo which has come under Ịjọ influence."[3]


Ethnically, the Defaka people are distinct from the Nkoroo, but they have assimilated to Nkoroo culture to such a degree that their language seems to be the only sign of a distinct Defaka identity. Use of the Defaka language however is quickly receding in favour of the language of the Nkoroo. Nowadays, most Defaka speakers are elderly people, and even among these, Defaka is rarely spoken — the total number of Defaka speakers is at most 200 nowadays (SIL/Ethnologue 15th ed.). The decrease in use of Defaka is stronger in Nkoroo town than in the Iwoma area. All children grow up speaking Nkoroo (an Ijo language) as a first language. The next most used language among the Defaka is Igbo, owing to the political influence of the Opobo since the days of the Oil Rivers Trade. Igbo has been a language of instruction in many schools in the region and still functions as a regional trade language.


The Defaka language shows many lexical similarities with Ijo, some shared regular sound correspondences and some typological similarities with proto-Ijo. For example, both languages have a subject–object–verb basic word order, which is otherwise extremely rare in the Niger–Congo language family, being found only in the Mande and Dogon branches.

  • a ebere ko̘ a okuna b̘ááma   (the dog SUBJECT the fowl kill:PAST)   The dog killed the fowl (Defaka)
  • obiri b̘é o̘b̘ó̘kō̘ b̘é b̘ám̄   (dog the fowl the kill:PAST)   The dog killed the fowl (I̘jo̘, Kalab̘ari̘ dialect)

Also, Defaka has a sex-gender system distinguishing between masculine, feminine, and neuter 3rd-person singular pronouns; this is once again a rarity among south-central Niger–Congo languages other than Ijoid and Defaka.

  • á tób̘o 'her head'
  • o tob̘o 'his head'
  • yé tób̘o 'its head'

While some of the lexical and maybe typological similarities can be attributed to borrowing (as Defaka has been in close contact with Ijo for more than 300 years), the sound correspondences point to a (somewhat distant) genealogical relationship.[citation needed]


Nearly all Defaka are bilingual in Nkọrọọ, and the phonology appears to be the same as that language.


Defaka has two tones, high and low. On long vowels and diphthongs, as well as disyllabic words, high–low and low–high contours occur. In addition, there is a downstep that may appear between high tones, and which is the remnant of an elided low tone. However, Shryock et al. were not able to measure significant differences in the pitch traces of high–low, low–low, and high–downstep–high, all of which have a falling pitch, suggesting that there may be fewer distinctive word tones than the combinations of syllable tones would suggest. However, these all clearly contrast with level-pitched high–high and rising-pitched low–high.


The Ijoid vowel-harmony has collapsed in Defaka, as it has in Nkọrọọ. There are seven oral vowels, /i ɪ e a ɔ o u/, though /e/ and /ɔ/ are uncommon. There are five nasal vowels, /ĩ ẽ ã õ ũ/. All may occur long. Long vowels are at least twice as long as short vowels.


Labial Alveolar Postalveolar
~ palatal
Velar Labial
Nasal m n (ŋ) (ŋ͡m)
Implosive ɓ
Plosive p b t d k ɡ k͡p ɡ͡b
Affricate d͡ʒ ~ z
Fricative f v s ~ ʃ
Tap ~ central
ɾ ~ ɹ j w

Most voiceless obstruents are tenuis. However, /k͡p/ has a slightly negative voice onset time. That is, voicing commences somewhat before the consonant is released, as in English "voiced" stops such as b. This is typical of labial-velar stops. /ɡ͡b/, on the other hand, is fully voiced, as are the other voiced obstruents. Shryock et al. analyze the prenasalized stops [mb nd ŋɡ ŋɡ͡b] as consonant clusters with /m/. [d͡ʒ] varies with [z], with some speakers using one, some the other, and some either, depending on the word.

/j/ and /w/ may be nasalized before nasal vowels.

The velar plosives /k/ & /ɡ/ may be lenited to /ɣ/ or /x/ between vowels.

The tap /ɾ/ is pronounced as an approximant, [ɹ], by some speakers. It only occurs between vowels and at the ends of words.


  1. ^ Defaka at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Defaka". Glottolog. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  3. ^ Roger Blench, Niger-Congo: an alternative view
  • Blench, Roger (2000, rev. 2003) 'Language Death in West Africa' (unpublished paper given at the Round Table on Language Endangerment, Bad Godesborg, February 12–17, 2000).
  • Jenewari, Charles E.W. (1983) 'Defaka, Ijo's Closest Linguistic Relative', in Dihoff, Ivan R. (ed.) Current Approaches to African Linguistics Vol 1, 85–111.
  • Shryock, A., Ladefoged, P., & Williamson, K. (1996/97) 'The phonetic structures of Defaka', Journal of West African Languages, 26, 2, 3–27.
  • Williamson, Kay. 1998. Defaka revisited. The multi-disciplinary approach to African history, edited by Nkparom C. Ejituwu, Chapter 9, 151-183. Port Harcourt: University of Port Harcourt Press.

External links[edit]