Speakers of the Lama language live chiefly in northern Togo around the town of Kande, but over
the years many have migrated to other parts of Togo in the south and also to Ghana and Benin. In
French or English, they refer to their language as Lama and themselves as Lamba. Some early
linguists referred to the Lamba people and language as Losso, but this term more likely refers to
the Nawdba, who live southeast of the Lamba region. According to Ethnologue in 2022, there are
about 258,000 total speakers.1
The Lama language is classified under the Grusi, Eastern cluster of the Gur (or Voltaique) group
of the vast family of the Niger-Congo languages. Lama has three different dialects centered in
the towns of Kandé, Défalé, and Kadjalla. The Défalé dialect varies little from that of Kandé.
This dictionary uses the Kandé dialect, but the two other dialects are represented where possible.
The town of Kandé is located 465 kilometers north of Lomé, the capital of Togo, on the
international north-south highway. Kandé is the seat of the prefecture of Kéran, the northernmost
prefecture in the Kara region. Six of the nine cantons in the Kéran are Lama-speaking: Kandé,
Atalotè, Pessidè, Hélota, Akpontè, and Ossacré.
According to Lamba elders, the Lama came to Kandé via Défalé, a village located 15 kilometers
southeast of Kandé, searching for new land to farm. Little by little, they expanded their territory
toward the west, first to Atalotè and then to Ossacré, 45 kilometers northwest of Kande.
The Lama are mainly subsistence farmers (millet, fonio, sorghum, igname, manioc, peanuts) and
live in family groups encircled by their fields. Some Lambas work as tailors and seamstresses,
mechanics, chauffeurs, barbers, merchants, or blacksmiths. Others work for the government
(teachers, nurses) or as pastors and priests.
Missionary and linguist André Prost2 (1903–1987) wrote a grammar article on Lama in 1963.3
A primer was produced by the Catholic church in Kandé for their 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 lacked
needed letters, but they did not have the means to represent them.
The work of SIL International among the Lamba began in February 1972 with the arrival of
(Richard) Neal Brinneman and eventually a better alphabet was established. In August 1979
his wife, Carol, joined the work. In 2006 the orthography was revised by the Lamba team translating
the Old Testament of the Bible, which is the orthography used in this dictionary.
Numerous Lama reading books, including primers, folk tales, modern stories, proverbs, and
others for purposes of literacy advancement were published between 1980 and the present
(2022). With the collaboration of Pastor ARAKOU Adji, the New Testament in Lama was
completed and launched in May 1994. The translation of the Old Testament is in progress by a
team of three Lamba translators—Pasteur ARAKOU Adji, M. MEDJAMNA Anam, and M.
GNELOSSE Joseph). The entire Bible in Lama should be published in 2023 or 2024.
Now in August 2022, Carol Brinneman resides in Waxhaw, North Carolina
([email protected]). She continues working with the Lamba team on this dictionary
and other projects to advance Lama language efforts. After many years of joyfully serving the
Lamba people, her husband, Neal, died in May 2018.
1 Gary F. Simons, David M. Eberhard, and Charles D. Fennig (eds.). 2019. Ethnologue: Languages
of the World. 25th edition. Dallas, Texas : SIL International. Version online: www.ethnologue.com.
2 Prost 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.
3 Prost, André. Le lamba (Togo), Documents linguistiques, no. 5, 80 p. BGHV no. 757. 1963.