According to the standard classification of African languages by Greenberg (1963), there are four language phyla: Niger-Kordofanian (nowadays referred to as Niger-Congo), Nilo-Saharan, Afroasiatic, and Khoisan. According to the same classification, Tima is part of the Katla cluster within the Kordofanian branch of Niger-Congo, which further includes Katla proper as well as Julud. This is also the position taken by Schadeberg (1981:118, 127), who treats the Katla-group as one of the four subgroups of Kordofanian:
The principal applicant, however, was able to compare new data on Tima (collected during both DoBeS project phases) and other data on neighbouring languages such as Katla and Julud (together with Tima forming the Katla cluster). He therefore suggests that this group of languages “is most closely related to the Rashad group, with which it probably forms a genetic unit. The Heiban and Talodi languages, however, are only distantly related to these, and probably should be treated as a distinct, primary branch of Niger-Congo. The Katla-Rashad group on the other hand shows a considerable degree of grammatical and lexical affinity with Benue-Congo languages and appears to be more closely related to these.” (Dimmendaal To appear).
The language of the Tima people – which they themselves refer to as t̪àmáá dùmùrík – is spoken in the Nuba Mountains of north-central Sudan, a residual area with over forty different languages, many belonging to different language families. Several factors contribute to the fact that the Tima language and other languages in the Nuba Mountain area are endangered.
Most Tima are multilingual. Multilingualism as such, however, is not the main reason why Tima is an endangered language, as the domains in which such languages are used do not necessarily overlap. However, Arabic, which has become the dominant lingua franca also in the Nuba Mountains, is encroaching upon Tima and other languages in various domains of social interaction between people. But although today Arabic is the only language playing a role in the educational as well as the administrative system of the country in general (cf. Mugaddam 2006, and Mugaddam and Dimmendaal, 2005), due to special circumstances in the Nuba Mountains, English is the language schoolchildren are confronted with first in the Tima area (see Meerpohl, to appear). Arabic is only taught as one of the subjects, while English remains the metalanguage in school.
Due to the political insecurity (more specifically the civil war) in Sudan over the past decades, many groups from the Nuba Mountains have moved to major urban areas such as Khartoum. Today, there are probably over 1000 Tima people in the larger Khartoum area. Members from this community feel that their language is disappearing rapidly in particular in the Khartoum area, because their children are growing up with Arabic, and no longer learn the language of their parents.
Dimmendaal, Gerrit J. To appear. The grammar of knowledge in Tima.
Greenberg, J.H. 1963 and 1966. [The] Languages of Africa. Bloomington and Den Haag, Mouton.
Mugaddam, Abdel Rahim. 2006. Language maintenance and shift in Sudan: The case of ethnic migrant groups in Khartoum. The International Journal of the Sociology of Language 181, 123-136.
Mugaddam, Abdel Rahim and Gerrit J. Dimmendaal. 2005. Sudan: Linguistic situation. In Keith Brown (ed.), International Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics, Vol. 12, pp. 265-270. Oxford: Elsevier.
Schadeberg, Thilo C. Das Kordofanische. In Bernd Heine, Thilo C. Schadeberg and Ekkehard Wolff (eds), Die Sprachen Afrikas, pp. 117-128. Hamburg, Helmut Buske.