Speakers of Lama in northern Togo refer to their language and themselves as Lama (Lamʋ, singular). Outsiders often call them Lamba. (The -mba suffix denotes ‘people plural’ when a noun ends in a nasal.) Some early linguists referred to the Lama people and language as Losso, but this term more likely refers to the Nawdba, who live south of the Lama region. According to Ethnologue, there are about 260,000 total speakers (2006-2012).1
The Lama language is classified under the Grusi, Eastern cluster of the Gur (or Voltaique) group of the Niger-Congo languages. The Lama speak three different dialects, centered in the towns of Kande (Kandé, Kante, Kantè), Défalé, and Kadjalla. Read more about the Lama here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lamba_people.
The town of Kande is located 465 kilometers (289 miles) north of Lomé, the capital of Togo, on the international nouth-sorth highway. This town is the seat of the prefecture of Kéran, the northernmost prefecture in the Kara Region. Seven of the nine cantons in the Kéran are Lama-speaking: Kande, Atalotè, Pessidè, Tamberma-Ouest (Nadoba), Hélota, Akpontè and Ossacré.
According to Lama elders, the Lama came to Kande via Défalé, a village located 15 kilometers southeast of Kande, searching for new land. Little by little, they expanded their territory toward the west to Ataloté up to Ossacré, at 45 kilometers west of Kande, by pushing out the previous occupants.
The Lama are mainly subsistence farmers and live in family groups encircled by their fields. Those who live in towns or villages walk to their fields. Other occupations in the towns include tailors and seamstresses, mechanics, chauffeurs, hospital workers, teachers, government workers, barbers, clergy, merchants, and blacksmiths.
Missionary and linguist André Prost2 (1903–1987) wrote a grammar article on Lama in 1963.3 A primer was produced for catechists in 1971. Also, between 1970 and 1973, the Catholic priest Mattieu Beraud translated several selections of the Bible with prayers and songs for mass. The Catholics realized that the alphabet they used for Lama was insufficient in symbols, but they did not have the means to represent them. The work of SIL International among the Lama began in February 1972 with the arrival of (Richard) Neal Brinneman. In August 1979 his wife, Carol, joined the work.
Numerous reading books, including primers, for purposes of literacy advancement were published between 1980 and the present. The New Testament in Lama was launched in May 1994. Translation of the Old Testament is ongoing by a team of three Lama men and is expected to be completed around 2019.
Now in 2016, Neal and Carol Brinneman reside in Waxhaw, North Carolina ([email protected]). They acknowledge the gracious and indispensable assistance of numerous Lama men over 40-some years in the compilation of this trilingual dictionary.
2Prost was a member of the Missionaires d’Afrique (Pères Blancs), of the Société d’Africanistes, and member-founder of the Société des Linguistes de l’Afrique Occidentale.
3Prost, André. Le lamba (Togo), Documents linguistiques, no. 5, 80 p. BGHV no. 757. 1963.