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Review of  Die Bakokosprache

Reviewer: Franz Dotter
Book Title: Die Bakokosprache
Book Author: Chr. Gehr
Publisher: Lincom GmbH
Linguistic Field(s): General Linguistics
Language Documentation
Subject Language(s): Bakoko
Issue Number: 27.2003

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Reviews Editor: Helen Aristar-Dry


The publication reprints a German article from a Berlin journal (Mitteilungen des Seminars für Orientalische Sprachen 17/3 (1914), p. 118-133), probably the first ever notice about Bakoko. It contains a short preliminary notice on the speakers, followed by 4 pages concerning nouns which are subdivided into 6 classes. For every class it gives 12 nouns and an example sentence. The sentences are interlinearly translated, keeping the serialization of Bakoko. Two pages are devoted to lists of diverse pronouns (personal, possessive, demonstrative, indefinite, question, relative) also ordered into 6 classes. Cardinal numerals follow in the same form (half page). Three and a half pages offer information on verbs: the equivalents of ''be'', ''have'' and ''cook'' are conjugated for present, past and future (including all respective negative forms; for ''cook'' also a ''conditional'' is presented). About twenty verbs are listed with their first singular form for present, two past forms and imperative. A following page lists adverbs. Then two tales are reproduced in interlinear translation: ''The leopard and the turtle'' (2,5 pages) and ''The flying dog and the leopard'' (1 page).


The publishers did not add any information to the reprinted 16 pages. They could have added: Christian (Otto) Gehr belonged to the protestant Basel missionaries who started their work, specialized to health care, in the coast areas of Cameroon in 1886 (for the history, cf. Altena 2003: 39-44). Gehr has also published two fairy tales from Douala and appears 1915 as a witness concerning the warfare of the Germans in Cameroon during World War I (Schulte-Varendorff 2011: 181). A photograph of Gehr is available in the mission archive at , others show the missionary station and some events).

The locations for the Bakoko speakers which he reports, can be found as actual names (Edea, Douala and the Sanaga river), only the main location of his stay, ''Lobetal'', is an example for transferring German names to missionary locations in Africa. Very probably it is identical with contemporary ''Mouan(g)ko'' at Sanaga river.

Bakoko is a Bantu language spoken by 50-130.000 people (according to different sources); a detailed map can be obtained from Joshua Project (; the most comprehensive information can be found at OLAC (cf. also Njock no year: 36f, 40f).

The linguistic quality of the material is related to the author's historical and social context: It is a talented missionary's notebook for practical use, representing a language from the perspective of translation from German and the understanding of ''(Latin-oriented) grammar'' of this time. The text may serve as partially useful diachronic information about the language for typologists or Africanists.

Critique against the publishers: To sell 16 reprinted pages without any further information for 27,80 Euros is not fair and devalues the reputation of the LINCOM Gramatica series.


Altena, Thorsten. 2003. ''Ein Häuflein Christen mitten in der Heidenwelt des dunklen Erdteils''. Münster etc.: Waxmann

Joshuaproject: Bakoko, Basoo in Cameroon. Available in the internet under

Njock, Pierre-Emmanuel. no year. L'univers familier de l'enfant africain. Quebec (available in the internet under

OLAC resources in and about the Bakoko language. Available in the internet under

Schulte-Varendorff, Uwe. 2011. Krieg in Kamerun: Die deutsche Kolonie im Ersten Weltkrieg. Berlin: Links