Mani Documentation Project (2004-2006)

Documenting the moribund language Mani, a Southern Atlantic language of Niger-Congo


~~ Tucker Childs, Principal Investigator

Portland State University, Department of Applied Lingiuistics



Mani paddler among the mangroves along the southwestern coast of Guinea

  1. Acknowledgements
  2. Photos from the Pilot Project

Project summary


This project will produce vital records of the dying language Mmani, spoken in the Samou region of Guinea ( Conakry) and belonging to the Atlantic Group of Niger-Congo. All of the less widely spoken languages of Atlantic are under threat; the disappearance of Mmani is virtually certain. This project intends to document the language before it disappears entirely.


Fieldwork on Mmani began during July of 2000, when I and several colleagues from the Centre d’Étude des Langues Guinéennes (CELG, University of Conakry ) spent a month in the field assessing the vitality of the language. This limited fieldwork, along with glum assessments in the literature, indicate that Mmani is virtually dead. The few fluent speakers we found were all over fifty, and there are no monolingual Mmani speakers.

Despite the dearth of speakers, we located two research sites (Níkompan and several towns in the district of Palatougou) and identified several sets of willing and cooperative speakers; unfortunately we had little time left to collect much in the way of language data. Nonetheless, the logistics of setting up a research site among the Mmani are understood, and we established good working relationships with a number of fluent speakers and government officials, whose help was invaluable.


Particular strengths of this proposal are the PIís background and his in-country collaboratorís experience working with him and with the Mmani people. The work will also be greatly facilitated by the PIís knowledge of Kisi , a language to which Mmani is closely related. Furthermore, Mamadou Camara, the dedicated head of CELG, is available and willing to head back into the field as Research Assistant. All of this augurs well for the project’s success.


Furthermore, in-country institutions support the initiative. The University established CELG in 1996 to perform linguistic research on minority languages. This is where the project will be housed in-country and where the output will be archived on the national level; suitable local archives (ones within the Mmani-speaking area) will also be sought. The project will thus contribute to raising the profile and status of the Center, as well as its material resources. Project materials, e.g., recording equipment, a solar power system, will revert to the Center at the end of the project, as allowed by the grant guidelines.


In addition, I will further train my colleague and initiate two students, one a Westerner and the other a Guinean, into the conduct of linguistic fieldwork. Both students will be actively involved in the research. In this way the documentation of Mmani could continue at the academic level. To encourage its continuation on the local level, a major goal of the project is to involve speakers and community leaders as much as possible.


Documents produced will follow the stipulated guidelines, with both English and French renderings. There will also be scholarly articles, as well as literacy materials similar to ones developed by CELG for other minority languages. We have already recorded and transcribed a few nursery songs and accumulated a word list. We intend to record additional, more naturalistic data as well as ritual events, audiovisually where possible. In general, we will try to produce visual, audio, and written materials representing a variety of contexts.


How exactly these materials will be disseminated will be determined by the wishes of the Mmani themselves, the conditions of the grant, and publishing restrictions. Certainly at least one set of all materials will remain in Guinea at CELG and with the Mmani themselves. Since all materials will also be in electronic form, making them accessible electronically to scholars and others should be straightforward. These materials could contribute crucially to the revitalization effort, should there be the political will.


Mani Documentation Project - Pilot  

Photos from the Pilot

N.B. These photographs are from the 2000 pilot study. Others from the fuller study will soon follow.


The pilot study in Matakan, the Isle of Kabak



Mani-speaking mother and son in Matakan



Prominent community member and Mani speaker Momo Seki Camara, Yankanya



Old Mani women refused permission to sing in Mani, Kigbali



Imam Mussah, his sisters, and other Mani speakers, N'kompan



The Mani Documentation Project would like to thank the following people and organizations:

Louise Bedichek
Deputy Director of Africa Regional Services, U.S. Embassy, Paris (1998-2002)
Public Affairs Officer, U.S. Embassy Conakry (1987-91, 2002-06)
Paulo Mattioli
African Percussion and Rhythm Journey
Paolo provided permission for the MDP to use recordings of Mani music.
The Mudskipper

In addition to the Mani Documentation Project, Professor Childs is also working on The Documenting Krim and Bom Project, in Sierra Leone until 2010.


Tucker Childs, Documentation of Mani, Kim and Bom Languages

updated: 26-Jul-2009