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Becky and I are linguists, we use these skills in Language Development. This mean we work with minority language speakers to develop writing systems for their language and reading materials in their language. This way they can record their language in a written way, text message, write e-mail, read, go to school and learn in the language they speak at home. This summer we have an exciting opportunity.

u̱t-Maꞌin speakers from northwestern Nigeria have invited us to work with them to linguistically look at some critical aspects of their language.

About 6 years ago Becky was there and worked with several speakers to describe the u̱t-Maꞌin noun class system. In the English language we don’t quite have this grammatical concept. But in a way it might be similar to how English speakers might think about calling a boat – “she”. To most English speakers calling a boat – “he” would just be wrong, or ungrammatical. In English this grammar feature is rarely used. However, languages like German and Spanish, have more examples because every noun in these languages has a grammatical gender. In German there is der, die, and das and in Spanish, there is el and la. The grammatical gender of a noun in one language is not necessarily the same as the word for the same object in other languages. For example the word ‘moon’ in Spanish is feminine la luna but in German is masculine der Mond. Another example is the word for ‘key’ in German it is masculine der Sculüssel but in Spanish it is feminine with la llave. Grammatical gender is a type of noun-class system. It is where the language groups nouns into different categories.

u̱t-Maꞌin has 13 different noun classes. Becky learned some fascinating things about u̱t-Maꞌin nouns, and if you are inclined you can read about them in her thesis.

Verbs are a part of u̱t-Maꞌin which we still don’t understand really well. One reason is that u̱t-Maꞌin is a tone language, and like many tone languages tones can shift left or right or go from high to low to indicate grammatical changes. Before we can look at verbs and other parts of speech, we need to have an understanding of what the base line tone melodies are for individual words.

Understanding tone and its interactions with the grammar and words in a language are important as we consider viable writing systems. We want the writing system to be able to communicate clearly and still be usable.

To have the impact we hope to have and collect the information need in three short weeks in Nigeria we need your help.

The cost for us to prepare for Nigeria, and travel to Nigeria and back and work with the U̱t-Ma’in speakers, living there for three weeks is about the same as 2750 grande caramel macchiatos.

If you would like to partner with us and the u̱t-Maꞌin language speakers we work with to impact their community, please consider donating several latte’s worth. For more information visit our website at