Marba language

  (Redirected from Kulung language (Chad))

Marba is an Afro-Asiatic language spoken by the Azumeina peoples of Chad as their first language. It is also the name of one of the Azumeina peoples.

Native toChad
Native speakers
150,000 (2006)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3mpg


The Marba language is indigenous primarily to:

Alternate non-preferred spellings include Maraba. Historically the language has sometimes been called Azumeina. Banana, Bananna and Ho Ho were sometimes used during the time of the French administration but have fallen into disuse.

The Marba of this article is a different topic from Marfa [mvu] and Maba [mde] which are Nilo-Saharan languages spoken in the Ouaddaï and Wadi Fira regions of Chad.


Marba [mpg][2] is classified in the Masa languages (fr)[3] subgroup of the Chadic languages (fr)[4] branch of the Afro-Asiatic language (fr) family.[5][6][7][8]

Geographic distribution and variationsEdit

The following people groups speak Marba and are therefore called Azumeina:

  • Marba
  • Kolon (Koloŋ, Kolong)
  • Leou (also spelled Léo).

Each of these people groups comprises several clans. The name of a clan is often the same as the name of the clan’s home village or township as noted in the following tables. On the internet Kolon is sometimes misspelled Kulung.

Many Azumeina now live outside their traditional area. For example, there is a significant community of Marba-speaking people in N’Djaména and around Kouroup north of Koyom in the Mayo Boneye (fr) department of Mayo-Kebbi Est (fr).

The Marba clans
Name of clan Location (sous-préfecture)
Gogor ( comprising the Damndou, Gandron and the Kakraou sub-clans ) Baktchoro
Tchiré ( including the Tchiré Orgui and the Tchiré Magoumei ) Baktchoro
Kolbeye (Kolobeye) Baktchoro
Méguiné Bagaye and Mésmé
Monogoye Mésmé
Koureye Baktchoro
Dih (Dí) Baktchoro
Bagaye Bagaye
Kandja Baktchoro
The Kolon (Koloŋ) clans
Name of clan Location (sous-préfecture)
tba The sous-préfecture of Kolon: west of Dadji and Massang and north of the Kelo-Béré road
The Leou clans
Name of clan Location (sous-préfecture)
tba The region of Mayo-Kebbi Est:
  • The department of Kabbia (in the Leou-Mbassa sous-préfecture)
  • The south west part of the department of Mont D’Illi
Some Musey clans use Marba

The following Musey (also spelt Moussey) clans speak Marba but often as a subsequent language:

Name of clan Location (sous-préfecture)
Domo The sous-préfecture of Leou-Mbassa in the région of Mayo-Kebbi Est
Geographical variations

Spoken Marba is often mixed with some Hausa and Chadian Arabic words. However, geographical variations of Marba itself are barely significant enough to be called dialects if a dialect is defined as distinguished by its vocabulary, grammar and pronunciation. Where a distinction can be made only in terms of pronunciation, the term accent may be preferred over dialect. There is little difference in the Marba spoken by the Marba and Kolon peoples. The differences in speech between the Marba and Kolon tribes on the one hand and the Leou tribe on the other hand are more related to pronunciation than to grammar or vocabulary. This difference affects mainly some vowels.

People who live at the periphery of the Marba-speaking area mix Marba words with words from neighbouring languages. This occurs for example in the Musey area increasingly as one travels from Leou towards Pala, Gounou Gaya and Fianga.

The various names of the languageEdit

Azumeina versus MarbaEdit

The Azumeina peoples now prefer to call their language Marba.

However, when their language began to be written down in the 1950s and 1960s, the language was sometimes called Azumeina. The Kolon and Leou clans do not see themselves as ethnically Marba i.e. they are not part of the Marba people group even though they share a common language. This approach had the advantage of avoiding ambiguity between the Marba people group and the wider group of speakers of the common language.

Marba is now generally accepted by the Azumeina peoples as the name of their common language. This approach simplifies discussion about language variations in border regions because differences can be explained more easily in terms of mixing of languages. A disadvantage of this approach is the potential ambiguity of the term Marba between the Marba people group and the wider group of Marba-speaking Azumeina peoples.

The transition to the new approach is illustrated in the following timeline:

  • A lexicon published by Colin Price in 1968 was titled Azumeina—English Dictionary[9]
  • The Holy Bible published by the Alliance Biblique du Tchad (Chadian Bible Society (UBS)) in 1999 carried the French subtitle La Sainte Bible en langue Azumeina (The Holy Bible in the Azumeina language)[10]
  • The sixth edition of the Azumeina hymn book published in December 2014 by the Marba-language translation committee carried the French subtitle Cantiques en langue Marba (Songs in the Marba language).[11]

Origin of the MarbaEdit

The origin of Marba is historically unknown: no ancient document explains its origin. However Christian Seignobos recorded that the Marba migrated across the Logone River at the beginning of the 20th century:

Les migrations gumay ont été, en revanche, quelque peu bousculées par le passage du Logone, au Sud, de colonies marba et musey, toujours plus nombreuses. Au début de la période coloniale, les Marba Gogor, aprés leurs démêlés avec le chef Azina Kolon, ont en effet traversé le Logone et les Musey les ont suivis. Faisant irruption dans le no man’s land dégagé par les Kwang, alors en repli devant les Masa à Vabolo et Kunsul, Marba et Musey ont agrandi le passage entre Kwang et Masa, allant jusqu’à coloniser les abords de la piste Bongor-Gelendeng. Les fronts pionniers masa avancent moins vite que les colonies marba-musey, disposant du poney. De tradition guerrière, Marba et Musey suscitent encore la crainte. Aussi les Kwang lâchent-ils pied devant eux et gagnent de leur côté le Chari, alors que les Masa ne progressent plus dans cette région. L’interférence marba-musey avec la remontée masa a fait s’infléchir le couloir de migration de ces derniers en direction des Munjuk, au Nord, ce qui complique encore une carte ethnique déjà passablement bigarrée dans cette région de l’interfluve Chari-Logone.[12]

An English translation is as follows:

The Gumay migrations were, however, somewhat diverted by the passage of Logone, in the South, of Marba and Musey colonies, ever more numerous. At the beginning of the colonial period, the Marba Gogor, after their separation from the chief Azina Kolon, crossed the Logone and the Musey followed them. Bursting into the no man's land cleared by the Kwang, then retreating before the Masa to Vabolo and Kunsul, the Marba and Musey expanded the gap between the Kwang and the Masa, colonising as far as the area around the Bongor-Gelendeng track. The pioneer Masa fronts advanced more slowly than Marba-Musey colonies, with the pony. Of a warrior heritage, the Marba and Musey are still feared. Also the Kwang let them walk in front of them and gained their side of the Chari, while the Masa no longer advanced in this region. The Marba-Musey interference of the rise of the Masa curbed the migration corridor of the latter in the direction of the Munjuk, to the North, further complicating an already quite patchy ethnic map in this region between the Logone and Chari rivers.

Current legends explain the etymology of Marba in various ways as follows:

  • A man went out hunting and caught some game. He shared the meat with his brothers but not his father. The father complained that he had been left out i.e. “Mar-ba” where mar means forget and ba means father
  • Marba was the ancestor of the Marba people group. The names of the Marba clans come from the names of his sons.

Given the practice of naming people after events, these two legends are not necessarily mutually exclusive. On the other hand, they may be more myth than legend.

Origin of the name AzumeinaEdit

The etymology of Azumeina is historically unknown.

In 1969, Robert Price wrote, “The French know this tribe as the Bananas or the Banana Marba, but the people call themselves the Azumeina. In Azumeina, Banana means ‘my male friend’, and Marba is a clan of the Azumeina! Naturally, the people want to be called by their correct name.”[13]

Origin of colloquial names Banana and Ho HoEdit


The term Banana was sometimes used during the time of the French administration to refer to the Marba people group. It is derived from the Marba phrase ‘my male friend’.

Legend has it that a French official asked someone what language his friend spoke. The reply, “My friend is Marba” (Banana Marba) was misunderstood to be the name of the people group.

The name Banana is not preferred.[13]

Ho Ho

‘Ho Ho’ refers to the traditional practice of communicating over distances by shouting the sound ‘ho’ in the tone of the relevant words. The Marba language has three tones.


Historical survey of linguistic workEdit

Marba was put into writing during the 20th century by representatives of the Azumeina peoples with the support of the Assemblées Chrétiennes au Tchad, the Roman Catholic Church, the United Bible Societies, SIL and other organisations. This was seen as a means to improve life, preserve Azumeina culture and facilitate education and prosperity.

Between 1920 and 1950, several individuals had compiled word lists. For example, Johannes Lukas published information about Marba in 1937 including a list of words.[14]

In 1959, representatives of the Assemblées Chrétiennes au Tchad published and printed the first book in the Marba language. This contained 25 hymns and some passages from the Holy Bible, namely the Lord’s Prayer, the Ten Commandments, John 3:16 and Romans 3:23.[15] The hymn book was expanded over time with several reprints.

In the mid-1960s the team for promotion and translation of the Marba language finalised an orthography based on a questionnaire that was sent to nearly 500 Marba readers. This orthography was used for the first complete books of the Holy Bible, namely Mark and Ephesians. These were published by the American Bible Society in 1967.[9][15]

Colin Price captured his learning in his 500-page “Azumeina-English” lexicon published in 1968.[9] Working separately, Franco Nicola published a lexicon in 1970.[16]

The first edition of the complete New Testament was published in England by the Bible Society (UBS) in 1978, with the support of the Assemblées Chrétiennes au Tchad and the Roman Catholic Church. The Holy Bible, both Old and New Testaments, was initially prepared by the UBS Bible Society in Cameroon (Alliance Biblique du Cameroun) in 1994,[17] but was published by the UBS Bible Society in Chad (Alliance Biblique du Tchad) in 1999.[10][18]

Orthography and phoneticsEdit


Orthographic principles

The orthographic principles finalised in the 1960s[9] remained generally the same up to AD 2000. They were as follows:

  • Must be able to be typed on a French typewriter
  • Letters (graphemes) should be written in a similar manner to French to minimise additional learning with the exception that ‘ou’ was written ‘u’ in Marba to simplify vowel clusters. This was because French is one of the two official national languages of Chad and was the written language of the milieu.
  • Tones should be indicated only to avoid ambiguity with another word because first-language speakers know the tones.

This orthography may be seen online.[9][10]

Vowel phonemes and tones

Marba has three tones. Subject to the orthographic principles above, vowels a, e, i, o and u were annotated as follows in order of precedence: dieresis ̈ for long vowels, circumflex ̂ for nasal vowels, acute ́ for high tones, grave ̀ for low tones, mid tones unmarked.[9]

The apostrophe ' indicated:

  • Two adjacent vowels pronounced as separate phonemes (i.e. not diphthongs)
  • Implosive consonants, as explained below.
Consonant phonemes

Consonants were written as noted in Table 1.


Quotation marks were not used. Speech was reported; direct speech was not used. For example, He said, “I ate the rice.” was written He said that he ate the rice.

Full stops, question marks, colons and semi colons were used in a similar manner to French (and English).

Stress, rhythm and intonation

To be completed

Current developments in orthographyEdit

Implementation of Unicode in a wider range of computer software in the early 2000s facilitated use of a wider range of letters (graphemes).

In 2009 the government of Chad specified the character set for use for Chadian languages (fr).

In addition to the letters previously used, the sixth edition of the Marba hymn book[11] published in 2014:

  • Simplified the orthography of some consonant phonemes by adding new letters (refer Table 2)
  • Included additional vowel letters Ə ə (U+018A, 0259) and Ɨ ɨ (U+0197, 0268)
  • Used the tilde to indicate nasal vowels instead of the circumflex, which is the preferred linguistic notation for nasalisation.

Table 1 Orthography of consonants used prior to AD 2000 compared with the 2014 edition of the Marba song book.[9][10][11]

Category Type Voiceless Voiced Implosive
Aspirated stops Bilabial p b b’→Ɓ ɓ

(U+0181, U+0253)

Dental t d d’→Ɗ ɗ

(U+018A, U+0257)

Velar k g ’V→Ɦ, ɦ

(U+A7AA, U+0266)


Fricatives Labio-dental f v -
Tongue blade on alveoli (i.e. laminar) s z -
Spread alveolar-dental tch→c dj -
Spread dental hl zl -
Lateral aspirate h - -
Liquids Alveolar lateral - l -
Alveolar flapped vibrant r r -
Semi-vowels w y -
Nasals Bilabial m mb -
Alveolar/dental n nb -
Velar (before AD 2000)



ng (n)


ngV (ng)


Velar (current) ng→Ŋ ŋ

(U+014A, U+014B)


The following tables indicate the characters known to be in use:

  • Table 2 Consonant letters
  • Table 3 Vowel letters
  • Table 4 Vowel tonal and pronunciation marks
  • Table 5 Punctuation marks.

Table 2 Consonant characters in use, with their Unicode numbers (U+0000)

B Ɓ C D Ɗ F G H * J K
181 18A A7AA
b ɓ c d ɗ f g h ɦ j k
253 257 266
L M N * P R S T V W Z
l m n ŋ p r s t v w z

Table 3 Vowel characters is use, with their Unicode numbers (U+0000)

A Ã * E * * I * Ï Ɨ O * U *
C3 C4 1EBC 18F 128 CF 197 D5 168
a ã ä e ə i ĩ ï ɨ o õ u ũ
E3 E4 1EBD 259 129 EF 268 F5 169

Table 4 Vowel tonal and pronunciation marks in use, with their Unicode numbers U+0000

Á * * *
á à ì ú ʼ


  • ʼ (U+02BC) indicates that the two adjacent vowels are pronounced as separate sounds with a slight pause between them.
  • Although not found in the texts surveyed, capitals marked * would be used for writing in all-caps, for example in document headings.

Table 5 Punctuation marks in use, with their Unicode numbers U+0000

! , . ?
21 2C 2E 3A 3F


In the introduction to his lexicon, Colin Price stated that it has 3,405 entries.


To be completed

See alsoEdit

Masa languages

Masa (Ethnologue)

Musey language

Musey (Ethnologue)

Ajello, Roberto, M. Karyo, Antonio Melis et O. Dobio. 2001. Lexique comparatif de six langues du Tchadique central. 73. Pisa : Ed. Plus, Università di Pisa.


  1. ^ Marba at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015) (subscription required)
  2. ^ "Marba". Ethnologue. Retrieved 2015-10-17.
  3. ^ "Masa". Ethnologue. Archived from the original on 2015-11-17. Retrieved 2015-10-17.
  4. ^ "Chadic". Ethnologue. Retrieved 2015-10-17.
  5. ^ Newman, Paul (1977). "Chadic classification and reconstructions". Afroasiatic Linguistics. 5: 1–42.
  6. ^ Blench, Roger (14 November 2006). "The Afro-Asiatic Languages: Classification and Reference List" (PDF). Retrieved 15 October 2015.
  7. ^ "Tchad - Carte linguistique". Retrieved 4 December 2014.
  8. ^ "Glottolog 2.6 - Marba". Retrieved 15 October 2015.
  9. ^ a b c d e f g Price; Colin H (1968). Azumeina - English Dictionary. 481 pages. London: self published. pp. I, IV–VI. Lay summary.
  10. ^ a b c d Comité de Traduction en Langue Marba (1999). Mbaktumba Halonid’a: La Sainte Bible en langue Azumeina. N'Djaména: Alliance biblique du Tchad (UBS). ISBN 9966-40-628-X. OCLC 41639371.
  11. ^ a b c Comité de Traduction en Langue Marba (Marba language translation committee) (2014). Sawal la gile Alona – Cantiques en langue Marba (6 ed.). Baktchoro: self published.
  12. ^ Tourneux, Henry; Seignobos, Christian; Lafarge, Francine (1986). Les Mbara et leur langue (Tchad) (in French). Peeters Publishers. p. 72. ISBN 9782852971882. Retrieved 2015-10-15.
  13. ^ a b Price, Robert (1969). 'An Article'. reproduced in Price, Colin (1994). The Work of Christian Brethren Missionaries to Chad. Sydney: Colin Price. pp. 208800 words.
  14. ^ Lukas, Johannes (1937). Zentralsudanische Studien. Hansische Universität: Abhandlungen aus dem Gebiet der Auslandskunde Nr 45. 45. Hamburg: Friederichsen, de Gruyter. p. 204.
  15. ^ a b Price, Colin H (1994). The Work of Christian Brethren Missionaries to Chad. Sydney: self-published. 209000 words.
  16. ^ Nicola, Franco (1970). Vocabulaire Marba. Montréal. p. 214.
  17. ^ "". Retrieved 2014-12-04.
  18. ^ "Marba Genesis Translation - Alliance Biblique du Tchad". Retrieved 2014-12-04.