Saturday, November 28, 2015

Dioula, Jula, Dyula, or Diula?

Hint: It's all the same language.

The New York Times recently featured an article on speakers of West African languages in the Bronx (a borough of New York City) that mentioned "Diula." From experience I realized that it probably is a less-often used spelling of the variety of Manding spoken mainly in Burkina Faso and northern Côte d'Ivoire, usually spelled Dioula (the French spelling), Jula (the usual spelling in the language itself as well as in English), or Dyula (also used in English and French). There are apparently other variant spellings such as Djula, Dyoula, Joula, and Juula (per various sources).

The number of spellings for this language therefore rivals the number for Temne, which I discussed in an earlier posting. However in the case of Jula/Dioula the existence of multiple spellings is partly related to French phonetics (French being used officially in almost all the areas where Jula is spoken, and the language of the first European descriptions of Julas and  Jula language). In French, the hard "j" sound in Manding (or English) requires using a "d," and the "u" sound corresponds to the French "ou," not the French "u."

So now it looks like all the permutations between "Jula" and "Dioula" have been covered. The "dy" digraph appears to have been introduced in the 1960s and was indeed preferred over "j" for Manding in the famous 1966 expert meeting in Bamako on unification of African alphabets. By the time of the 1978 expert meeting in Niamey, however, that was changing: Côte d'Ivoire retained "dy" while Burkina Faso (then Upper Volta) was using "j." I'm not sure that "dy" is still used in Julakan (the Jula language) in Côte d'Ivoire. Nevertheless, it still figures in the repertoire of alternate spellings used for the language name in English and French.

Unfortunately the multiple spellings probably lead to confusion, such as appears to be the case in the NY Times, which has in the past used Dioula, Dyula, Jula, and Diula. Also the use of French spellings in English can lead to mispronunciations by Anglophones - "dee-oo-la"  instead of "joo-la" (I've noticed this kind of thing on multiple occasions over the years).

And then there's Diola, Jola, or Joola

In any event, one should be clear that there is no relation between Jula/Dioula and the dialect cluster known as Jola, Diola, or Joola (pronounced more or less like "joe-la"). That is spoken in the Casamance, Senegal and neighboring areas of Gambia and Guinea-Bissau.


Coleman Donaldson said...

Thanks for the heads up on the NYtimes article. Curious how the reporter arrived at that spelling of all of them! I've done some Manding interpreting in both NYC and Philly but never anything steady since funds are so limited and ultimately they just want the job done which often means paying untrained community members $20. Made me also see how crucial the role of the interpreter as an advocate can be in the kind of administrative and bureaucratic situations in which they are required.

Don said...

Thanks Coleman, My guess is that "Diula" is a partial Anglicization of the French transcription "Dioula." An English-phonic reading of "Dioula" (dee-oo-la) could be revised to "Diula." The backwash of English pronunciation of French transcription of African words is a problem. Out of curiosity I checked the NYT archives and turned up a previous use of "Diula" in 1976 (several spellings have been used over the years).

Interesting re the interpreting - would like to read more on that.