Jenaama Bozo language                                     back to home page

Jenaama Bozo is the currently accepted name for a language with multiple dialects, belonging to the Bozo subfamily of the large Mande language family. All of the Bozo languages are spoken in Mali, West Africa. Traditionally, most Bozo communities are fishing villages along the Niger River. Since Mali has a well-defined rainy season June-September when the river rises and associated floodplains are inundated, followed by a long dry season that reverses the process, Bozo fishers spend part of the year drying and smoking fish for sale, sometimes in different locations.

The current classification of Bozo languages (Glottolog website, viewed 2017) recognizes four languages:

1. Tiéyaxo ( ~ Tigemaxo ~ Tiéyaho)
2. Hainyaxo (Hainyaho) ~ Kelenga
3. Tièma Cièwè (various spellings)
4. Jenaama ~ Sorogaama (Sorogama)                       jena1242

Revisions to this will undoubtedly be made as grammars and lexicons become available. There is no full grammar (i.e. including tonology) of any Bozo variety. The Blecke’s wonder whether all four, perhaps minus Hainyaxo, might be considered dialects of a single Bozo language:

Jenaama was previously known in the linguistic literature as Sorogaama ~ Sorogama. The latter name is related to the term Sorko which is widely applied in the zone to ethnic Bozo fishers (including those speaking Songhay farther north) or a “caste” thereof. Jenaama is derived from the name of the city Djenné. Some Jenaama-speaking subgroups, especially those in farming villages east of the Niger River, object to being classified as Sorko.

Jenaama is currently subdivided into “dialects” as follows:

Débo (in the Lac Débo area)
Korondougou ~ Korondugu (north of Mopti)
Kotya (west of Mopti)

See the SIL map :

While each of the first three Jenaama dialects is spoken in its own compact area along the Niger river or beside adjacent floodplains and seasonal lakes, “Pondori” is spoken in multiple, geographically separated zones: a long stretch on the Niger River (with one interruption) southwest of Mopti, a separate zone just south(west) of Djenné, and a few small pockets elsewhere in the region.

I have begun (2017) fieldwork on what I call the “cliffs” dialect, which is spoken in several villages including Namagué and Kargué, which occupy the lower slopes of the western cliffs of the Dogon (Bandiagara) plateau. These villages are not shown on the SIL map, and their dialect has not been previously surveyed. Given the four-dialect classification shown above, it might provisionally be considered the easternmost extension of Korondougou dialect, as spoken in Konna (~ Kona). However, it may turn out to be a distinct dialect, or even a distinct language. Christiane Lauschitzky has produced an MA dissertation and a few papers that add up to a partial grammar of Korondougou. My preliminary data from cliffs Jenaama differ fairly sharply from Lauschitzky’s. For example, there are clearly three tone levels in my cliffs data, while Lauschitzky reports two levels. My cliffs informants interact with speakers of other varieties, for example in the market town Konna, and they report significant differences, though with a little practice they can make themselves understood. The dialect/language issue will have to be revisited when more descriptive data are available.

I am currently (2017) beginning a draft of what will eventually be a grammar, using the same organization as in my Dogon and other grammars. A fragmentary draft limited to an intro and a few morphology chapters will be posted on a page that can be linked to from the home page of the Dogon site (

[last update Nov 2017]

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