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The main goal of the Afranaph Project, as it is presently constituted, is to develop rich descriptions of a wide range of African languages in order to serve the interests of linguistic research into the nature and distribution of empirical patterns in natural language. The first project of our website, and still the one that is the mainstay of our research, has been to explore the distribution of anaphoric morphology and interpretation, but recent initiatives to expand the role of our empirical investigations to other sorts of linguistic phenomena will soon result in sister projects, autonomous, but linked to Afranaph in spirit, by infrastructure, and with respect to a common database (see Afranaph Sisters).

Although our project is informed specifically by the research goals of generative grammar, it is our intention to make the data we collect as accessible as possible to any linguist with an interest in these languages or more general issues in crosslinguistic comparison. The data we present is collected on the basis of complex and comprehensive questionnaires that are to be filled out by native speaker linguist consultants, and are designed to elicit data that can bear on research questions of interest to a particular Afranaph Sister Project. Subsequent follow-up work between the consultants and project investigators explores interesting details and patterns that appear to be comparatively or theoretically significant. This project has become more feasible at this point in history not only because there are an unprecedented number of trained African linguists who are potential participants in our project, but also because the resources of the web and the internet make it possible for more efficient remote participation.

We hope and anticipate that our website will also attract the participation of otherwise isolated scholars who have much to offer, while providing useful training for our interns and graduate assistants who help to run the site (see Staff). In the course of our operations, we hope that the network of consultants and researchers our project brings together will make it possible to explore other areas of grammar (outside anaphora) by the same means and with the same network, creating, in effect, a community space for research into African languages.

This website was initiated with support of NSF grants BCS 0303447, BCS 0523102 and is currently supported by NSF BCS 0919086, Ken Safir, Principal Investigator

More on the organization of our site



We are pleased to announce that the Kinande Dictionary Fund has achieved its goal! In December, 2011, 550 copies of the  Kinande/Konzo-English Dictionary were shipped to Kampala, Uganda by the Africa World Press and eventually reached the hands of our distributors there. We would like to thank everyone involved for their assistance, including the Endangered Language Fund, which handled our donations.

We have designed the database to provide the optimal access to the data we have collected, and so that interested linguists could pursue research agendas that use our database as a testing ground for theories and, more specifically, the analytic generalizations that theories generate. In order to provide optimal access to the data we have elicited, the Afranaph Database was designed to permit online search and manipulation of the data stored in the extensive responses to our various questionnaires and the additional data elicited in follow-up inquiries. In those domains and for those languages for which we have complete data sets, the database permits fine-grained searches to aid in the analysis of both language-internal and crosslinguistic generalizations. Since we are constantly entering new data, our database is dynamic, not only insofar as our search results expand where the data is new, but new forms of data are also added, and thus different sorts of searches become possible as the database design evolves. 

Although Afranaph researchers for the various projects have strong theoretical commitments, we have tried to remain as theory neutral as our own generative grammar-oriented prejudices permit when it comes to presentation of the data. We recognize that our neutrality should be suspect. In fact, this is one reason that we provide pdf.s of the questionnaire responses, where possible, in addition to the database resources, so that database property attributions that some may find suspect, or errors that we make even in applying our own system, can be checked, discovered, refuted or improved by those who are willing to delve closely into the data we have collected. Hopefully, we have managed to remain consistent enough in our glossing and property attributions so that search and comparison functions that the database permits will provide pointed and accurate information. We are counting on our users to tell us when we fail.

The 2016 redesign of our database inaugurated the multiportal design, whereby the same database of glossed, translated sentences, the cumulative result of elicitations of all of our projects, can be viewed through portals designed to meet specific needs of one of our research groups. Although all the same sentence-based information is available to all the portals, e.g., one can search for sentences of a certain type or languages of a certain type, it is also possible to search for ‘analytic entities’ which differ in the different portals. More on the multi-portal design.

All of the portals have the same basic design, though the sets of analytic entities differ. At this writing, there are three portals: The Anaphora Portal, the Clausal Complementation Portal and the Generic Portal. The Generic Portal only permits searches for sentences and languages, but the browse page for any language will display all of the analytic entities that are otherwise unique to other portals. Anyone with an interest in languages for which we have data can search our basic sentence data using the Generic Portal with their own agenda in mind, ignoring any categorizations of the specific projects beyond our basic conventions of glossing and morpheme breakdown.

The Clausal Complementation portal has different analytic entities than the Anaphora Portal and thus permits searches that the other portals do not. Thus while research groups can organize data as they see fit, and design properties for entities that help them in their research, all of the sentence data collected for any project expands what is available in all the portals.

The software for this database server was created by Floris van Vugt (programmer) and Alexis Dimitriadis, for the Berlin-Utrecht Reciprocals Survey [LINK?]. The system is designed to house information about languages in a flexible and highly configurable fashion, which has allowed it to be adapted to the needs of multiple Afranaph Projects.

The system is unusual, among databases of this type, in that most questions are not hard-coded into the definition of the database: they are maintained as a separate set of tables that list the questions applying to each entity, and the type of answer(s) that will be accepted. This is what allows the database to be reconfigured for different research projects without much programming. There are no facilities for summarizing or statistics at this time. You can find a presentation of the design principles of the software here:  http://languagelink.let.uu.nl/burs/docs/burs-design.pdf

It is normally the case that we only enter data into the database when a questionnaire response is complete or close enough to complete such that we do not expect the data to change radically on the basis of further elicitations in the near future.  Whenever there is a significant change in what is in the database, that is, when the data of a language is updated or changed in some way, we will announce changes or work in progress on the case file page for the language in question. If you have used the database to establish a generalization and you are returning to it after a period of time to explore a related question, we recommend checking the case files involved to see if there have been revisions since your last visit.

View:  How to Use the Database | Database Property Attributions

For each language we have studied we have established a case file that contains the research products of the Afranaph Sister Projects and other features of interest to linguists studying that particular language. Thus in addition to static (.pdf) versions of the questionnaire responses, and sketches related to the projects (e.g., anaphora sketches), we also include, as often as possible (or in the future) a select bibliography, a grammar sketch,  a translated narrative and a consultant profile.

Every case file also includes a feature, ‘About This Case File,’ which should be read before any material in that file is cited or treated as raw data. ‘About This Case File’ includes information about the completeness of the questionnaire response data, the completeness of data entry into the database, the completeness of other features in the file, any orthographic issues that need to be taken account of, or any other issue about the structure of the data, the elicitation, or the analysis that needs to be taken into consideration by users. Sometimes there is also information about when we anticipate that additional features will be added to the case file.

The static questionnaire responses are stored in our case files as .pdfs. Since we provide the data we draw our conclusions from, we hope we are providing enough information so that those with different interests can pursue them, or those who think we have got it wrong can make the case that we have erred. The static questionnaires include much of our native speaker consultant commentary in the context of the section where it is introduced, and so sometimes more of this useful commentary is to be found in the static questionnaire response than in the database. It is usually the case that if there is, for any sentence, any discrepancy of form between the static questionnaire response sentence and the corresponding sentence in the database, it is the database form that is generally correct (or at least most carefully vetted). For this reason, we recommend that if you choose to reproduce examples that you use the database for this purpose. Make sure, however, that you have the right character representation, which you will be alerted to in ‘About this Case File.’

The Grammar Sketch is a short document that acts as a guide to major constructions and paradigms that will be useful background for anyone interested in the data that we have collected in more detail. The anaphora sketch is our analysis of the patterns of anaphora that emerge from the data we present and is usually a collaboration between the PI of the African Anaphora Project and the consultant for the file in question.