Celebrating 50 years of ACAL: Selected papers from the 50th Annual Conference on African Linguistics

Akinbiyi Akinlabi   Lee Bickmore   Michael Cahill   Michael Diercks   Laura J Downing   James Essegbey   Katie Franich   Laura McPherson   Sharon Rose  


The papers in this volume were presented at the 50th Annual Conference on African Linguistics held at the University of British Columbia in 2019. The contributions span a range of theoretical topics as well as topics in descriptive and applied linguistics. The papers reflect the typological and genetic diversity of languages in Africa and also represent the breadth of the ACAL community, with papers from both students and more senior scholars, based in North America and beyond. They thus provide a snapshot on current research in African linguistics, from multiple perspectives. To mark the 50th anniversary of the conference, the volume editors reminisce, in the introductory chapter, about their memorable ACALs.


  • Introduction
    Celebrating 50 years of ACAL
    Akinbiyi Akinlabi, Lee Bickmore, Michael Cahill, Michael Diercks, Laura J Downing, James Essegbey, Katie Franich, Laura McPherson, Sharon Rose
  • Morphologically conditioned phonological variation in Nobiin
    Maya Barzilai, Nubantood Khalil
  • Marking grammatical tone in orthographies
    Issues and challenges
    Michael Cahill
  • Subordinate clauses in Dadiya
    Field research on the use of enclitic -I
    Steve Dettweiler
  • A note on WH-questions in Avatime
    Kerri Devlin, Blake Lehman, Travis Major, Harold Torrence
  • Clitics or agreement markers
    A view from Tigrinya clausal possession and modal necessity
    Keffyalew Gebregziabher
  • Subject encoding in Limbum
    Pronouns, Resumption and Focus
    Johannes Hein
  • Differential marking in Kinande
    Monica Alexandrina Irimia, Patricia Schneider-Zioga
  • Gender and headedness in nominal compounds in Somali
    Nina Hagen Kaldhol
  • Artistic adaptation of Seenku tone
    Musical surrogates vs. vocal music
    Laura McPherson, Lucas James
  • vP infinitives in Wolof
    on Ā-movement to Spec vP
    Elise Newman
  • Asymmetries in vowel-pair frequencies and height harmony in Bantu
    Stephen Nichols
  • Acoustic correlates to contrastive tone heights in two African languages
    Madeleine Oakley
  • A diachronic analysis of the socio-semantic features of Igbo personal names
    Esther Oweleke
  • Object marking in Lubukusu
    Information structure in the verb phrase
    Justine Sikuku, Michael Diercks
  • Documenting praise names “Ahanoŋkɔ ” among Ewes
    A socio-semantic perspective
    Doreen Enyonam Esi Yegblemenawo, Stella Afi Makafui Yegblemenawo
  • The behaviour of the Bantu morpheme -ag- in East Ruvu
    Leora Bar-ela, Malin Petzell



Akinbiyi Akinlabi

Akinbiyi Akinlabi is Professor of Linguistics at Rutgers University, New Brunswick, where he was one of the three foundation members of the Linguistics Department. His research takes a hands-on approach to the phonologies of West African languages, going from documentation to theoretical proposals. The topics of his research have varied from tonal systems to vowel harmony. He co-founded the African Linguistics School (with Enoch Aboh, Chris Collins, and John Singler), a two-week institute that brings the latest work in the core areas of Linguistics to graduate students from all over Africa, in 2008. He has served as Chair of the Department of Linguistics at Rutgers 1998-2001, President of the World Congress of African Linguistics (WOCAL) 2009–2015, and as President of the Association for Contemporary African Linguistics (ACAL) 2017–2021.

Lee Bickmore

Lee Bickmore is Professor of Anthropology and Director of the Program in Linguistics & Cognitive Science at the University at Albany (SUNY). He is a phonologist whose research focuses on linguistic prosody—especially tone. His areal interests include the Bantu languages of Zambia, Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda and Malawi. His monograph, Cilungu Phonology , is a comprehensive study of the phonological and morphological patterns found in this under-studied Zambian Bantu language.

Michael Cahill

Michael Cahill is Orthography Services Coordinator for SIL International. Trained as a phonologist, with a dissertation on Konni phonology, and an interest in other Gur family languages, he has expanded his interests recently into all the factors that affect orthographies for newly-written languages. This includes phonology, but much more, as documented in Developing Orthographies for Unwritten Languages, which he co-edited. He still has a keen interest in tone issues, and continues his global information gathering on labial-velar obstruents.

Michael Diercks

Michael Diercks is Associate Professor of Linguistics and Cognitive Science at Pomona College. His research focuses on the morphosyntax of East African languages. He is part of an ongoing project documenting four Luyia languages spoken in Western Kenya, and works on syntactic theory having to do with licensing of noun phrases, agreement, and the intersection of information structure and syntax.

Laura J Downing

Laura J. Downing is the Professor of African Languages at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden. Her research focuses on the phonology of African languages, in particular issues (theoretical and typological) related to tone and intonation, laryngeal contrasts and alternations, prosodic morphology, the phonology-syntax interface and the expression of focus. She has conducted fieldwork and data collection on a number of languages, most recently Chichewa, Somali, Tumbuka and Zulu.

James Essegbey

James Essegbey is Professor of African Languages and Linguistics at the University of Florida, Gainesville. His research interests include the description and documentation of endangered languages, particularly the Ghana-Togo Mountain (GTM-Kwa) languages, that are spoken in Ghana, Togo and Benin. He focuses on Nyangbo and Animere, both spoken in Ghana. Essegbey also investigates the syntax and semantics of verbs in the Gbe languages of West Africa which are said to lack meaning without a complement.

Katie Franich

Katie Franich is an Assistant Professor of Linguistics and Cognitive Science at The University of Delaware. Her research focuses on phonetics and phonology, drawing on experimental methods in speech acoustics, articulation, and perception to inform our understanding of language structure. Much of her work draws on data from Medʉmba, a Grassfields Bantu language spoken in Cameroon, on which she has been conducting fieldwork since 2010. She is currently focused on issues of timing in speech, and how various aspects of communicative timing (e.g. co-speech gesture and conversational turn-taking) vary across languages and cultures.

Laura McPherson

Laura McPherson is Associate Professor of Linguistics at Dartmouth College. Her research is driven by primary fieldwork and in-depth description of tonal languages, primarily in West Africa. She has written two reference grammars of African languages, A Grammar of Tommo So (2013) and A Grammar of Seenku (2020). From a theoretical perspective, her work focuses on diverse aspects of tone, including its phonetics, its phonological representation, its interfaces with morphology and syntax. She is currently conducting a cross-linguistic study of musical surrogate languages to document these endangered traditions and analyze their phonetic and phonological underpinnings.

Sharon Rose

Sharon Rose is Professor in the Linguistics Department at the University of California San Diego. Her research addresses the phonology of African languages, with a focus on Semitic languages of Ethiopia and Eritrea and Kordofanian languages of Sudan. Within Semitic, she has investigated long distance palatalization in the Gurage languages and Harari, the phonetics and phonology of ejectives, and consonant harmony. Her work on Moro, a Heiban language, has examined voicing dissimilation, tone and its relationship with affix order, and intonation. She is currently working on two other Heiban languages of Sudan, Tira and Rere.

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November 16, 2021
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Cite as
Akinlabi, Akinbiyi, Bickmore, Lee, Cahill, Michael, Diercks, Michael, Downing, Laura J, Essegbey, James, Franich, Katie & McPherson, Laura (eds.). 2021. Celebrating 50 years of ACAL: Selected papers from the 50th Annual Conference on African Linguistics. (Contemporary African Linguistics 7). Berlin: Language Science Press. DOI: 10.5281/zenodo.5578772


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