2024 Undergraduate Research Showcase

Exploring the Ebembe Language Through Proverbs

Document Type

Student Presentation

Presentation Date


Faculty Sponsor

Dr. Tim Thornes


Our poster presentation provides a preliminary description of the linguistic features of Ebembe, a minority language of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Ebembe is characterized as an Atlantic-Congo, Narrow Bantu language (D54) within the Niger-Congo language family, spoken by around 250,000 people. The diaspora is largely a result of civil unrest and war in the eastern region of the country. French is widely used in education and government, though Ebembe’s primary linguistic influence comes from Swahili, the regional lingua franca.

Unlike Swahili, but like most other Bantu languages, Ebembe demonstrates contrastive tone, as evidenced by minimal pairs. Word order within a noun phrase demonstrates flexibility, however, sentence structure tends to follow an SVO (Subject, Verb, Object) pattern. In Ebembe, grammatical gender does not follow from biological gender. Nouns sort grammatically into different noun classes (i.e., genders), however, the noun classes are not semantically motivated.

In our project, we are exploring the grammar of proverbs (wise sayings) in Ebembe for the cultural value they hold. We are also using proverbs as a source for creating a living, online dictionary and as materials for Ebembe learners. Through the documentation of proverbs in Ebembe and the development of data for a living dictionary, we hope to help Boise Babembe maintain a connection to their culture for future generations.

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