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Abstract Gottschligg

Attribute Listing Tasks in the Northeastern Nigerian field

Attribute Listings Tasks (ALT) with lexemes from various lexical fields were conducted in North-eastern Nigeria with speakers of Fulfulde, one of the major languages of the region. The lexical fields chosen contain expressions for items e.g. of clothing, furniture, food, medicine, disease, vehicles, animals and relationship terms. The ALT have produced a relatively narrow spectrum of attributes, as compared to the much more complex concepts that can be elicited in free interviews conducted on the speakers’ encyclopedic knowledge of the same topics.

Many of the attribute structures seem to be banal at first glance since they focus on the obvious, such as: the horse is said to be a mount with four legs and a tail, a woman is said not to be a man, the maternal uncle to be one’s mother’s brother, locust bean cake (a local sort of flavouring concentrate made from the fermented seeds of Parkia biglobosa) to be something black that is put into the sauce.

However, the banality seems to be systematic and produced by the method of elicitation itself. The listings of individual respondents definitely have an internal structure that is worth further investigation in addition to the statistics of individual attribute recurrences across the responses, as is the classical way of analysing data from ALT. In this study the respondents tended rather to define the expressions given to them as stimuli as opposed to listing attributes of them at random as expected from other test results. This amounts to defining by economically profiling the (mostly) perceptually salient against a salient frame, just as two points define a straight line. For example, the noun phrase black something profiles DADDAWA (locust bean cake) so clearly against the SAUCE frame. In this, what are according to ALT methodology considered to be just two attributes, i.e. black something and sauce, form a sufficient description for an average Northern Nigerian to single out the concept of DADDAWA.

Whether the Northern Nigerian reaction to ALT – that is defining the stimulus – is culture specific or not, it is consistent enough to be considered an explanation for the obviously narrow scope of attributes produced by the method of elicitation itself.