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Ethelbert E. Kari University of Port Harcourt, Nigeria
Degema is a Delta Edoid language that comes under Benue-Congo, which in turn is subsumed under the larger Niger-Congo phylum. It is spoken in two autonomous communities on the Degema Island by about 22,000 people, going by the 1991 population census figures (including the projection figures for the two Degema-speaking communities). The two communities in which Degema is spoken are Usokun-Degema and Degema Town (Atala) in Degema Local Government Area of Rivers State of Nigeria. Each of these communities speaks a variety of Degema that is highly mutually intelligible with the other. These varieties are called by the names of the communities that speak them. They are the Usokun variety spoken in Usokun-Degema and the Degema Town (Atala) variety spoken in Degema Town. These varieties are very similar in their phonological, morphological, syntactic, and semantic properties.
The Degema language is not also called "Atala" or "Udekaama" as contained in some scholarly publications. Atala is the alternative name for one of the Degema-speaking communities - Degema Town, while Udekaama is the name of a clan, which comprises Usokun-Degema and Degema Town. Similarly, "Kala Degema" is not an alternative name for the Usokun Degema variety of Degema, as contained in the entry for Degema in Ethnologue.
Degema has no standard variety yet. However, in recent times, there appear to be more descriptive, scholarly linguistic publications in the Usokun variety. Some of the publications that exist on the Degema language are:
(1) Abangwo, D. S. 1996. Reading and writing Degema. Fourth edition, revised by Daniel S. Okpara, Ethelbert E. Kari and Kay Williamson. Port Harcourt: Rivers Readers Project.
(2) Kari, Ethelbert E. 1997. Degema. Munchen-Newcastle: Lincom Europa. ISBN 3-89586-214-2
(3) Kari, Ethelbert Emmanuel. 2003. Clitics in Degema: A meeting point of phonology, morphology, and syntax. Tokyo: Research Institute for Languages and Cultures of Asia and Africa (ILCAA). ISBN 4-87297-850-1
(4) Kari, Ethelbert Emmanuel. 2004. A reference grammar of Degema. Koln: Rudiger Koppe Verlag. ISBN 3-89645-047-6
(5) Thomas, Elaine. 1966. Preliminary paradigm of some Degema independent clauses. In Kenneth L. Pike (ed.), Tagmemic and matrix linguistics, 187-191. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan.
(6) Thomas, Elaine and Kay Williamson. 1967. Wordlists of delta Edo: Epie, Engenni, Degema. (Occasional Publications 8). Institute of African Studies, University of Ibadan.