About the language

Duala or Douala is a Bantu language spoken in Cameroon, Africa. To be more precise, it is spoken by the people from the coastal city of Douala, also known as the economy capital of Cameroon. However, the language can also be heard in the Democratic Republic of Congo spoken by a DRC tribe. It is also spoken in the Dikabo Island of Equatorial Guinea. It is one of a set of languages grouped under the Duala group which includes dialects such as Ewodi and Pongo.

The language is both spoken and written. The first writing was made for a translation of the Bible by the German in 1862. The lexicon uses an alphabet that was reformed in 1932 then in 1979. The language uses vowels, consonants and tones. The language also uses abbreviations as we will see later on in this article.

Duala Vowels

  • a [a] as in jabea (donation, gift)
  • e [e] as in ebolo (work, action)
  • e [ɛ] as for example in bato bese (everyone, litterally people all)
  • i [i] as in isadi (small)
  • o [o] as in oboso (before, beforehand, ahead)
  • o [ɔ] as in po la bwam (welcome, literally arrival that is good)
  • u [u] as in bulu (night)

Duala consonants

  • b pronounced [b] as in bato (people, humans)
  • mb written like that as in pembe (chalk)
  • d pronounced [d] as in dia (hand)
  • g pronounced [g] as in ngoa (pig) or ngingi (fly)
  • j pronounced [dʒ] as in janda (buy) or joa (maturity), also sometimes seen written more phonetically as djanda or djoa
  • k pronounced [k] as in kwala (say)
  • l pronounced [l] as in lambo (thing)
  • m pronounced [m] as in moto (person)
  • n pronounced [n] as in nanga (sleep)
  • ń pronounced [ɲ] sounding like French ‘gn’, or ny; as in ńasu (our, ours) and in ńolo (body) sometimes seen written as ny as in nyasu and in nyolo
  • ṅ pronounced [ŋ] like in so̱ṅtane̱ (understand)
  • p pronounced [p] as in ponda (time)
  • s pronounced [s] as in su (end)
  • t pronounced [t] as in tete (head, chef)
  • w pronounced [w] as in mwebe (the kitchen)
  • y pronounced [j] as in yen (this)

Duala Tones

This language from Cameroon has four tones often unwritten which might make it more difficult to know how to pronounce or to distinguish words unless you are a native or an expert This is also due to the orthography sometimes using the tonality accents to denotate a pronunciation rather than a tone. The tones tend to be marked on the vowel as the letter marking the end of the syllable which is one of the reason why the notation stopped using accentuation (marks above the letters) to define related letters so they are not confused with tones. So, special letters have marks at the bottom while tones are marked above the letters.

  • The high or rising tone can be marked by an acute accent, as in or íníṅga (how many)
  • The low tone which is unmarked
  • The failing tone is marked by a grave accent (è)
  • And a falling then rising tone (falling-rising) which marked by a caron (ˇ).

As an example, the following sentence uses three tones “é ma alā nɛ̀?” (how are you?)

There are examples where the tone makes a difference between words, for example with the nouns sisako (comb) and sísako (a type of tree and a toothbrush-stick that is created out of it). Examples may also be found in conjugated verbs.

Duala abbreviations

Duala often uses abbreviations which in writing appear in the form of the apostrophe. This is often seen in the denotation of possession.

References and further resources