07 December 2014

Pius Tamanji

It is with great sadness that WHISC reports the death of UMass alumnus Pius Tamanji, who died a week ago, November 30, in Yaoundé, Cameroon. Pius was Professor of linguistics at the University of Yaoundé I, and had written numerous papers on the syntax, typology and sociolinguistics of the Grassfields Bantu languages spoken in Cameroon. His latest major work, published in 2009, was a comprehensive descriptive grammar of Bafut, an understudied language spoken in Cameroon, and his native language. He earned his PhD in 1999 from UMass with a dissertation on the structure of determiner phrases in Grassfields Bantu languages, including Bafut. This work led to a string of papers on agreement, nominal adjectives and other issues relevant to the internal life of determiner phrases in these languages. In 2003, he coauthored, with Ngessimo Mutaka, an Introduction to African Linguistics. His 2009 grammar of Bafut was preceded by papers on its clausal structure and verbal morphology, which interacts in interesting ways with negation. Pius was active in language preservation work in Cameroon, and also worked with deaf communities there. He was a popular teacher, and supervised a large number of theses and dissertations. 

He also had close connections with linguistic communities in Germany. He spent the 2003 academic year at the University of Cologne with an Alexander von Humboldt Research fellowship, and visited the University of Hamburg in 2008, where he negotiated a program of cooperation between the University of Yaoundé and Hamburg. He returned to the University of Hamburg as a DAAD visiting professor in 2010.

Pius was an important promoter of linguistic science in Cameroon. He was a member of the steering committee of the World Congress of African Linguistics, and was responsible for organizing several large, successful linguistic conferences in Africa.

During his time in the department, Pius was not just valued for his linguistics. He was a steady source of good cheer and support, responsible for organizing many social events, including regular football matches (he was an excellent player). He is missed.