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[2-10-2017 currently under review for publication in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Linguistics] The pervasiveness of multilingualism throughout the African continent has led it to be viewed as Africa's " lingua franca ". Nevertheless, sociolinguistic research on this topic has concentrated mostly on urbanized areas, even though the majority of Africans still live in rural regions, and rural multilingualism is clearly of much older provenance than its urban counterpart. In urban domains, individual language repertoires are dominated by the interplay between European ex-colonial languages, African lingua francas, and local languages, and language ideologies emphasize the ordering of languages in a hierarchy that is tied to social status. The situation in rural areas is clearly distinct, though it has yet to be thoroughly investigated, and the goal of this review is to summarize what is currently understood about rural multilingualism in Africa, highlighting, in particular, the ways in which it varies from better-known urban multilingualism. This survey begins by examining how early work on rural language use in Africa tended to background the presence of multilingualism in these societies. It then explores rural
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Multilingualism in Rural Africa
Pierpaolo Di Carlo, Jeff Good, and Rachel Ojong Diba
The pervasiveness of multilingualism throughout the African continent has led it to be viewed as
Africa’s “lingua franca”. Nevertheless, sociolinguistic research on this topic has concentrated
mostly on urbanized areas, even though the majority of Africans still live in rural regions, and
rural multilingualism is clearly of much older provenance than its urban counterpart. In urban
domains, individual language repertoires are dominated by the interplay between European ex-
colonial languages, African lingua francas, and local languages, and language ideologies
emphasize the ordering of languages in a hierarchy that is tied to social status. The situation in
rural areas is clearly distinct, though it has yet to be thoroughly investigated, and the goal of this
review is to summarize what is currently understood about rural multilingualism in Africa,
highlighting, in particular, the ways in which it varies from better-known urban multilingualism.
This survey begins by examining how early work on rural language use in Africa tended to
background the presence of multilingualism in these societies. It then explores rural
multilingualism through the examination of relatively recent case studies drawn from areas of
high linguistic diversity in West and Central Africa. These case studies document the presence of
individuals with linguistic repertoires that are primarily oriented around local languages,
ideologies, and practices and that do not clearly fit with what is known from urban environments.
The most important theme that emerges is the extent to which rural multilingualism is linked to
the specific dynamics holding among communities that are near to each other rather than being a
reflection of a more general, externally-imposed value system.
While this result makes it difficult to characterize rural multilingualism as a single, coherent
phenomenon, it does point to the utility of a shared toolkit of research strategies for exploring it
in more detail. In particular, ethnographic methods are required in order to ascertain the major
local social divisions which language choice both reflects and constructs in these areas, and it is
additionally important to focus on how individual repertoires are tied to specific life histories
rather than to assume that groupings that are salient to the outside researcher (e.g., “villages” or
“compounds”) are the relevant units of analysis.
The survey concludes by considering the ways in which the investigation of multilingualism
in rural Africa may yield important insights for the study of sociolinguistics more broadly.
Keywords: multilingualism, Africa, rural, sociolinguistics, codeswitching, language ideologies,
language and identity
Multilingualism in Rural Africa
Pierpaolo Di Carlo, Jeff Good, and Rachel Ojong Diba1
1 Rural multilingualism in Africa: An underexplored area of research
The pervasiveness of individual multilingualism in Africa has led to the view that
multilingualism is “the African lingua franca” (Fardon and Furniss 1994:4), and it is almost
certainly the case that “multilingualism has been a fact of social life in Africa for a very long
time” (Whiteley 1971:1).2 Yet, what we know about this impressive sociolinguistic phenomenon
is based overwhelmingly on studies of urban environments (see, e.g., Mc Laughlin 2009:3–13).
The goal of the present article is to provide an overview of work on multilingualism in rural
African settings.3
In order to contextualize the discussion for a general linguistic audience, Eckert’s (2012)
application of the wave metaphor to different phases of research on variation and social meaning
within mainstream sociolinguistics is adapted below. In this scheme, the first wave consists of
work focusing on quantitative studies of how variation can be accounted for in terms of high-
level demographic categories (e.g., age, sex, and class), the second adopts ethnographic methods
to arrive at a more nuanced understanding of the relationship between variation and social
categories as understood in their local context, and the third explores the social meaning of
1 Di Carlo was responsible for the overall structure of the article and the majority of the literature review. Di Carlo
and Good both contributed equally to the text. Ojong contributed substantially to the discussion in §4.3 and other
parts of the paper referencing that section.
2 The present article focuses only on Sub-Saharan Africa, given the very different linguistic situation of Africa north
of the Sahara.
3 Two clarifications are needed. First, we use the term multilingualism solely to refer to individual multilingualism,
where “a multilingual individual is anyone who can communicate in more than one language, be it active (through
speaking and writing) or passive (through listening and reading)” (Li 2008:4). In this sense of the term, a country,
for instance, cannot be multilingual (but see Council of Europe 2007, for instance, for a different definition).
Second, how to distinguish between “urban” and “rural” environments in Africa is an issue that historians,
anthropologists, and geographers have long debated (see, e.g., Coquery-Vidrovitch 1991, Mabogunje 1969, and
Winters 1983). For present purposes, we understand rural environments to be characterized by a relative lack of
demographic pressure, where most inhabitants are engaged in food production.
variation itself and emphasizes the ways in which individuals use language to construct social
The survey begins by providing a summary of studies of African multilingualism that can be
usefully associated with Eckert’s (2012) first wave (§2), and then moves on to studies that can be
associated with the second wave (§3). We then look at studies of multilingual language use in
rural Africa and examine how they relate to studies of language attitudes and ideologies (§4)
since these represent the available work that is most closely aligned with the third wave. The
specific contribution of these studies for our understanding of the relationship between language
and identity is then briefly explored (§5). The article concludes by summarizing the main points
that emerge from the survey as a whole (§6).
2 First-wave approaches”: The urban–rural divide and the legacy of colonialism
2.1 Multilingual “erasure” in rural settings
As mentioned in §1, work on multilingualism in Africa has mostly focused on urban domains
rather than the rural domains that are in focus here. There appear to be two reasons for this. The
first has been a tendency on the part of outside linguists to view African rural spaces in terms of
“tribes”, each associated with its own language, which has led to a kind of “erasure” (Irvine and
Gal 2000:38) of multilingual behavior (§2.2). The second is that the generalized adoption of
diglossia theory in the study of multilingualism has made urban, rather than rural, areas more
salient to sociolinguistic investigation (§2.3). Due to its emphasis on high-level social categories
and externally-defined models of the role of language choice in a multilingual space, work
discussed in this section can largely be seen as aligned with first-wave sociolinguistics.
2.2 Linguistic heterogeneity
Cities have long been seen as locations where linguistic heterogeneity is concentrated (see, e.g.,
Gumperz 1977:5). In Africa, this assumption gained further ground due to the opposition
between the social situation of urban areas—largely viewed as outgrowths of the colonial
period—and the centrality of the notion of “tribe” in conceptualizations of the social structure of
the continent in precolonial times. The resulting idea was that rural Africa was populated by
“tribes” and that each “tribe” occupied a bounded territory and spoke its distinctive “language”
(see, e.g., Hymes 1968, Kopytoff 1987:4). Although this notion has long been known to be
analytically inadequate (see, e.g., the studies in Helm 1968 and Southall 1970), it became so
heavily entrenched in the colonial era that its residue is still very much present in discussions of
African languages today (Blommaert 2007:128).
The effect of tribe-based conceptions of social organization is evident in some of the early
studies of multilingualism in rural areas. Whiteley (1974:329), for instance, suggests that
linguistically heterogeneous rural communities do not represent the normal state of affairs but,
rather, are specific to “settlement” or “border” areas. Myers-Scotton describes the target rural
community (Shiveye, a hamlet in the Western Region of Kenya) as linguistically homogeneous
(1982:126) but then, shortly after in the same work, reports that all but six percent of respondents
“reported knowing some other language or languages in addition to the home language”
(1982:128). She further concludes that “the amount of bilingualism in such a homogeneous
community may be one of the most revealing findings of this study, for it shows that simply
reporting the ‘surface structure’ of usage at any point in time may mask the actual parameters of
linguistic repertoires” (1982:129).
One of the few works pointing to a sociolinguistic reality that was not congruent with the
assumption of rural homogeneity is Kashoki (1982). He summarizes the picture emerging from
language surveys of Zambia as one of “a great mixture of people within Zambia, particularly in
the North-Western and Western Provinces where very often people speaking different languages
live side by side either in the same village or in different villages located in the same area”
(Kashoki 1982:142 quoting Kashoki 1978; on Zambia see also Marten and Kula 2008).
2.3 Diglossia/polyglossia and multilingualism
Another likely reason for the scholarly neglect of rural areas in studies of multilingualism is that
“individual multilingual behavior is more salient in urban areas than in the rural ones” (Lopez
Palma 2008:94). For instance, colonial languages are more likely to be spoken in urban areas,
and it is much easier for most outsiders to know when a speaker switches between a colonial
language and a local one. Moreover, it is worth bearing in mind that the conceptual foundation of
most studies on African multilingualism is the notion of diglossia (Ferguson 1959), as found in
its “extended” version (Fishman 1967). This was intended to describe situations where the use of
different languages was understood to depend on the idea that “one set of behaviors, attitudes
and values supported—and was expressed in—one language”, while “another set of behaviors,
attitudes and values supported and was expressed in the other” (Fishman 1967:29).
In this compartmentalized view of the linguistic space of a speech community, different
languages can be associated with different social spheres, and these spheres may additionally be
ranked in a prestige hierarchy. In African settings there are usually three recognized “ranks”
along this scale: European languages are highest, African lingua francas occupy a middle
position, and local languages are lowest. We can thus speak of polyglossia rather than diglossia
scales (see also Wolff 2015:229).4 This pattern of “stable triglossia” is described, for instance, by
Abdulaziz Mkilifi (1972) for Tanzania, Johnson (1975) for Ghana, Whiteley (1973) for Kenya,
and Woods (1994) for the Republic of Congo. Spitulnik (1998:170) offers a somewhat more
complex pattern of polyglossia in Zambia, which nevertheless adheres more or less to this
general pattern. Alexandre (1971) provides an early model of African triglossia. (For criticism of
this notion, Kropp Dakubu (1997:33–37) is a good starting point.)
Because it is based on the idea that a society’s linguistic space can be cleanly subdivided into
externally-defined “compartments”, diglossia theory accords limited possibility for the analysis
of the motivations of individuals who may use sets of languages, rather than just one, in the same
compartment. Kropp Dakubu (1997) offers compelling cases that suggest this is a significant
issue (see also Jaspers 2016 and Kulick 1992:9). This is true especially for the lowest level of the
triglossia hierarchy, which is where nearly all of Africa’s linguistic diversity is found. The
domains of these languages are normally understood by sociolinguists to be confined to the home
or to intragroup interaction, and thus thought to have the primary function of fostering solidarity.
This understanding is evident in all the early works on multilingualism in rural Africa. O’Barr
(1971), for instance, in summarizing the composition of individual language repertoires among
Usangi villagers in rural Tanzania, lists Asu (treated as the local language), Swahili, English, and
an undistinguished class of “Other African vernaculars” (O’Barr 1971:290). Sixteen percent of
respondents in this study reported some fluency in one of these “other vernaculars”, but O’Barr
does not name them and provides only a short discussion explaining competence in these
languages in terms of people’s movement and, rather surprisingly, degree of schooling (O’Barr
1971:293). Whiteley (1974), Ring (1981), Polomé (1982), and Myers-Scotton (1982) all show a
4 Wolff (2015:210) offers a model of polyglossia based on a pyramid (with local languages at the bottom and official
languages at the top) as a way to provide a fuller picture than is possible with a scale.
similar bias.5 Spernes (2012) is a recent example of a study on multilingualism in rural Africa
adopting the stable triglossia perspective.
3 “Second-wave” approaches: Multilingualism in endangerment contexts
3.1 Endangered language documentation and African multilingualism
Due to their emphasis on ethnographic data and methods, studies that we treat here as aligned
with the second-wave approaches in mainstream sociolinguistics have been able to move beyond
some of the limitations that have hindered research using methods more in line with first-wave
approaches (see §2). Such studies—especially those reviewed in §3.4–§3.6—have been largely
carried out by scholars focused on the “non-ancestral” mode documentation of endangered
languages (see Woodbury 2011:177 and Childs et. al. 2014), and this seems to be the most
promising route through which advances in the study of multilingualism in rural Africa are likely
to emerge. This section details the results of several relatively recent studies in the context of a
broader discussion on the role of prestige and ideologies in shaping the repertoires of rural
multilingual speakers. The ways in which multilingual repertoires are deployed in use are treated
separately in §4.
These studies are all focused on communities found within areas of high linguistic diversity
within the Sub-Saharan Fragmentation Belt, a macro-area running from the Atlantic shores of
Senegal to the West to the Ethiopian highlands to the East (Dalby 1970:163).6 Patterns of
multilingualism are especially salient in regions of high language density, though we have no
reason to suspect that similar situations cannot be found elsewhere in the continent under the
5 Ring (1981) deserves a special mention for the impressive depth and degree of information collected in the field
(rural Ghana).
6 This region is roughly the same as Güldemann’s (2008) Macro-Sudan Belt, though he defines it in terms of shared
grammatical features among languages rather than language density.
right conditions, such as in regions where the boundaries of larger language groups intersect.
Figure 1 gives the location of the case studies along with a rough indication of the boundaries of
the Fragmentation Belt.7
Figure 1: Location of case studies and the Fragmentation Belt
7 Figure 1 is based on Dalby (1970:167) and the map Languages of Africa created by Steve Huffman, available at
3.2 Different ways of being multilingual in rural Africa
An important observation from existing studies of rural multilingualism in Africa is the extent to
which multilingualism does not seem to be a unitary phenomenon from a sociolinguistic
perspective (cf. also Juillard 2005). This can been seen, for instance, in work by Moore (2004,
2008, 2009), one of the few instances where there is a specific focus on second-language
acquisition in rural Africa. This research focuses on the small village of Jilve, located on the
plain surrounding the Mandara mountains in northern Cameroon (see Figure 2).8,9
8 The linguistic diversity of Cameroon, paired with its relative political stability, has made it a good location for
studies of rural multilingualism, which is one reason why three of the case studies described here are of communities
based in the country.
9 The map in Figure 2 is based on MacEachern (2003:415) and David (2012:4).
Figure 2: The languages in and around the village of Jilve
The population of Jilve (1,100 in 1992) is ethnically and linguistically diverse and includes
two main sociocultural groups: the Wandala and the montagnards. “For several centuries the
plain has been dominated by the Wandala, a Muslim polity, while the traditionally animist
montagnard groups have controlled the mountains. The Wandala are the socioeconomically
dominant group, and Wandala–montagnard relations have long been characterized by
interdependence and ambivalence” (Moore 2004:132). The linguistic ecology of Jilve, like that
of the surrounding area, is characterized by the sociolinguistic dominance of the Wandala
language ([mfi], Biu-Mandara, Chadic) and a number of languages of wider communication,
including Fulfulde ([fub], Atlantic, Niger-Congo), Kanuri ([kau], Nilo-Saharan), Hausa ([hau],
Chadic)), as well as French and, to a lesser extent, English and Cameroonian Pidgin English
[wes]. Also present are a number of more localized Chadic languages of the Biu-Mandara
branch. These are associated with the montagnards, and they include Vame-Pelasla [mlr],
Wuzlam [udl], Mada [mxu], and Zulgwa [gnd].
The Wandala and montagnards have been in close contact for centuries in Jilve. However,
they inhabit the local linguistic ecology in very different ways. Moore (2004) examines this
dynamic by focusing on the speech practices of four adolescents, two Wandala and two
montagnards. The montagnards not only master more languages (around five or six) than the
Wandala (around two or three), but they also show a much more positive attitude towards
language learning in general, an activity for which they have also developed a higher
metalinguistic awareness (Moore 2004:143). Moore concludes that, “Wandala children grow up
in a largely monolingual world, where languages other than Wandala are learned under formal
instruction and used in religious [i.e. Arabic] or educational settings [i.e. French], or learned
much later in life for purposes of work, travel, or commerce [i.e. Fulfulde]. Montagnard children
are socialized into multilingualism from birth, taught early on by the examples, opportunities,
and challenges in their immediate environment to use the resources of multiple languages for
both communication and second language learning in a variety of settings and for a variety of
purposes" (Moore 2004:145).
Moore (2004) demonstrates that “rural” multilingualism is not a unitary phenomenon, in this
case even within a single small village. Rather, it is strongly conditioned by the language
ideologies held by speakers, that is the “the cultural (or subcultural) system of ideas about social
and linguistic relationships, together with their loading of moral and political interests (Irvine
1989:255). In the Jilve case, the Wandala hold a language ideology where one language is
“primary”, while others are learned for specific functions. The montagnards, by contrast, are
characterized by an ideology which emphasizes general multilingual competence without
specific compartmentalization of languages. The Wandala language ideology can be understood
as a kind of polyglossia (see §2.3), and, as such, it overlaps with what is often taken to be found
in urban environments, while the montagnard one has more in common with what will be
described for other rural environments below.
3.3 Historically endogenous and historically exogenous ideologies
The coexistence of multiple language ideologies within a single community is not necessarily
surprising given the anthropological linguistic insight that “the multiplicity of meaningful social
divisions (class, gender, clan, elites, generations, and so on) within sociocultural groups”
(Kroskrity 2000:12) will produce different perspectives within a community regarding the social
import attached to any given language within a linguistic ecology. What is of special interest
here is the fact that, in Jilve, as well as in the other cases we will review below, some ideologies
can be recognized as stemming from relatively recent sociohistorical circumstances, while others
seem to represent the persistence of older patterns. The ideology observed among the Wandala,
just discussed above in §3.2, is clearly connected to the arrival of Islam—which the Wandala
progressively adopted in the 18th and 19th centuries (MacEachern 2003:77)—and modern
schooling—an essentially postcolonial (i.e. post-1960) phenomenon.
By contrast, the dominant language ideology among the montagnards shows no sign of being
due to a recent cultural imposition and is likely of great historical depth. We can, therefore,
consider the montagnard ideology to reflect “endogenous” cultural influences and the Wandala
ideology to have been shaped by “exogenous” influences. While these are not established terms,
they are adopted here as a means of being able to clearly reference the distinction below.
3.4 The place of prestige and ethnicity
When considering the case of multilingualism among the Wandala and montagnards as described
in §3.2, we can usefully invoke the role of prestige in structuring Wandala language learning
attitudes (though Moore 2004 does not specifically use this term). In the wider local context,
Wandala is more prestigious than the montagnard languages, as evidenced by its status as a
lingua franca, and, when the Wandala learn a second language, they favor languages that are also
associated with prestige such as French or Arabic. Within the region’s linguistic marketplace
(Bourdieu 1991), these languages are stable assets, providing access to improved economic and
social prospects. Language acquisition among the montagnards, by contrast, does not show a bias
towards prestige.10 They learn both montagnard languages and “prestigious” languages (Moore
Patterns like what is found for the montagnards are described elsewhere in West Africa.
Something similar, for example, is found in another region of Cameroon, over 500 kilometers to
the southwest of the area examined by Moore (2004). Connell (2009) examines language use in a
10 However, the fact of being multilingual might in and of itself be matter of personal prestige (cf. Moore 2009:
market setting in the village of Somié, which is in an area associated with the Mambila language
cluster (Mambiloid, Benue-Congo), with the local Mambila [mcu] dialect of Ba predominating.
Other languages present in the local ecology, in roughly decreasing order of prominence, include
Fulfulde as a lingua franca, French, various other varieties of Mambila, including Mbar, as well
as some close relatives of Mambila in the Mambiloid group, more distant relatives within the
Bantoid subgroup of Benue-Congo, and Cameroonian Pidgin English (Connell 2009:133–134).11
Figure 3 provides a map of the area that is the focus of this case study.
Figure 3: Languages of the Somié area (based on Zeitlyn 1994:23)
11 See Zeitlyn and Connell (2003) on the complicated linguistic situation on and around the Mambila Plateau.
Except for French, Connell (2009:134) found that none of these languages “appears to have
greater prestige than the others...the society is essentially unstratified, and language knowledge
or use does not serve as a social class marker”. This finding parallels what was discussed above
for Jilve on the basis of Moore (2004). Notions of prestige are associated with languages that
have entered the region recently along with an exogenous ideology, while they seem to be absent
with respect to relationships among local languages.
In order to better understand the area’s language ecology, Connell (2009:137–140) examined
the language choices of an assistant, SM, during a two-hour visit to the Somié market based on
recordings made with a concealed microphone. SM reported proficiency in at least eight
languages: Ba Mambila, Fulfulde, French, and some others that he learned when living outside
of the Somié area, including the Mambiloid language Vute [vut]. In this village, having a
“language repertoire this not typical...but neither is it unique and...most people
have command of at least three or four languages” (Connell 2009:138).
Across forty-five interactions that were examined on the basis of recordings from SM’s visit
to the market, he was found to have used eleven languages. Language choice appeared most
strongly correlated with interactants’ “ethnicity” (Connell 2009:138), for instance Mambila
varieties were used among individuals primarily identifying as Mambila, while SM used the
Grassfields Bantu language Bamoun [bax] with two visiting Bamoun traders. However, several
of the recorded interactions cannot be straightforwardly explained by appeal to any obvious
sociolinguistic features. For instance, “conversations…took place with people identified as being
Tikar [tik], in one of which Tikar was used by both speakers. In the other, however, Tikar was
not used at all: SM began in Ba while the Tikar man replied in Fulfulde. When SM then used
Fulfulde, the Tikar speaker switched to Vute!” (2009:139).
Connell’s (2009) study emphasizes the extent to which language choice is driven by
consideration of the entire context of a situation. Moore’s (2004) work, discussed in §3.2,
revealed factors that motivate individuals in rural African settings to learn different languages
and how language choice is influenced by local ideologies. Taken together, they show how
understanding multilingual behavior in rural Africa requires knowledge of the details of the
specific situation in which any given interaction takes place (i.e. setting and participants) and
also knowledge of what has been called “extra-situational context” (Goodwin and Duranti
1992:8), which, in this instance, includes local patterns of social organization, cultural values,
and language ideologies. This is why the advances represented by second-wave studies rely
strongly, as will be seen, on ethnographic data collected through observational techniques.12
3.5 Localist ideologies and what counts as a “language”
Whether focused on linguistic repertoires, or on how they are deployed in interaction, studies on
multilingualism are normally concerned with “languages”, where these are minimally understood
to be lexicogrammatical codes that are not mutually intelligible with each other. Competence in
what linguists consider to be distinct language varieties, whether distributed diatopically (i.e.,
across space), diastratically (i.e., across social strata), or in some other way (see, e.g., Coseriu
(1981)), is usually not considered under the heading of multilingualism. However, taking this
“objective” stance would run counter to speakers’ notions of what counts as a language,
12 Such work can be seen as a recent continuation of long-established anthropological linguistic traditions such as
work under the heading of the ethnography of communication (see Hymes 1964 and Johnstone and Marcellino
2010), even if this is not explicitly recognized.
therefore compromising one’s ability to understand, on the one hand, the speakers’ motivations
for developing multilingual repertoires (especially involving local languages) and, on the other,
the social significance of choosing to speak one variety over another, whether or not these
varieties are treated as distinct “languages” by linguists (see e.g. Auer (1999: 312)).
Dealing with speakers’ conceptualizations of language boundaries requires the adoption of
ethnographic methods of inquiry and may yield unexpected insights. An exemplary case is
offered by the work of Di Carlo and Good (2014) on the languages of Lower Fungom, a rural
area characterized by exceptional linguistic diversity located in Northwest Cameroon (see
Figure 4). Inhabitants of the region show high degrees of individual multilingualism, with many
speaking three or more local languages as well as Cameroonian Pidgin English and some
claiming to speak more than ten local languages (Esene Agwara 2013). The scholarly linguistic
classification of the speech varieties of this area suggests: “Seven languages, or small language
clusters, are spoken in its thirteen recognized villages” (Good et al. 2011:102). However, this
characterization is at odds with the local conception of linguistic distinctiveness which treats
each of the region’s thirteen villages as having its own “talk”.
Figure 4: The languages and villages of Lower Fungom (Di Carlo and Good 2014:231)
Unsurprisingly, the reason for the prevalence of this localist attitude to lect classification (see
Hill 2001) is sociocultural in origin. A “village” in the local context, is not merely a residential
cluster but a locally salient sociopolitical unit headed by a traditional chief. The presence of a
distinctive “language” is a crucial part of the identity of these villages as traditionally
independent polities, resulting in the local ideological equation “one village/chiefdom = one
language” (Di Carlo and Good 2014:233). Thus, the local definition of language is intimately
connected to local political structures. Even if a linguist might label the speech varieties of two
villages as “dialects” of each other, the inhabitants of Lower Fungom’s linguistic landscape
would see competence in both those dialects as, in effect, a kind of multilingualism.
The ideological basis of this linkage between village and language in Lower Fungom can be
further understood by relating it to the results of ethnographic investigation in this part of the
world. In particular, examples abound, both from precolonial and contemporary African
societies, establishing an intimate link between the political and spiritual dimension of life. As
argued by Geschiere (1995), the relationship between the two is so tight that it is not possible to
fully understand political life in Africa without considering how it is entwined with local
conceptions of witchcraft. In Lower Fungom this is manifested, in particular, in a hierarchical
social organization resting upon village-based secret societies and centered around the figure of
the chief, who is believed to possess spiritual powers and is expected to manage them for the
prosperity of his subjects (see Di Carlo 2011:70–76). In this context, “political independence”
crucially includes, from an emic perspective, “spiritual independence” of the polity as a whole
and, at the same time, villagers’ dependence on their chief’s spiritual powers. Speaking a certain
village lect, then, can be seen as the primary means for an individual to signal that they should be
included among those who benefit from the chief’s spiritual protection (Di Carlo 2016:83–89).
Underscoring the fact that the different ways of being a “language” in social terms is
significant for the study of multilingualism is the social value attached to Cameroonian Pidgin
English in Lower Fungom (see Ojong 2017+). Unlike the local languages, Cameroonian Pidgin
English is not linked to any one village, and its status is not determined by the endogenous layers
of the local language ideologies (see §3.3) but, rather, falls more in line with the predictions of
polyglossic models of multilingualism. It is used, for instance, as a default language for
communication in settings where information is intended to be widely known or, especially in its
more Standard English-like forms, as a way for a speaker to establish prestige, consistent with its
general use in Cameroon (see Anchimbe 2013:170–174).
The specific pattern that we see in Lower Fungom should not be understood to be typically
“African” since other linkages between local sociopolitical structures and “languages” are also
reported. A relevant case is the Lower Casamance region of Senegal, and the discussion here is
based on the work of Lüpke (2017+) (see §4.2 for further discussion of Lower Casamance). This
is a rural area bordering Guinea-Bissau, which is also linguistically highly diverse. As in Lower
Fungom, we find a dissociation between the scholarly and local systems of language
classification. Linguists’ analyses suggest fifteen languages are spoken in the area, whereas the
local system of language classification gives around thirty named languages, each of which is
nominally associated with a village, a hamlet, or a land area (Lüpke 2017+).
This sociolinguistic feature of Lower Casamance “languages” seems to be the reflection of a
pre-colonial socioeconomic dynamic which has been characterized in terms of a dichotomy
between first-comers and late-comers (Kopytoff 1987) or landlords and strangers (Brooks 1993):
“First-comers are the ones that lay claims to the land and, through their descendants and
linguistic identity, determine its patrimonial language” (Lüpke 2017+:6). The ideological
connection between language and land is also revealed by a language naming convention that
Lüpke (2017+:7) terms “patrimonial deixis” where languages are referred via a construction
along the lines of “language of X” that indicates which group is understood to be descended from
the first-comers to that area. For example, one named language is Jóola Kujireray, which can be
translated as “the Jóola language spoken in the village of Jire” (Lüpke 2017+:6). This name
simultaneously connects the language to the larger Jóola (also known as Jola) linguistic group
(classified within the Atlantic branch of Niger-Congo), asserts that the founding clan of Jire is
Jóola in origin, and marks it as a distinctive linguistic variety.
If one were to look at standard linguistic maps of Africa, Lower Casamance and Lower
Fungom would not seem all that different in terms of their linguistic patterning. However,
ethnographic techniques reveal that “languages” in these two areas have different kinds of
sociocultural associations. Further discussion of Lower Casamance and Lower Fungom will be
found in §4.2 and §4.3.
3.6 Endogenous ideologies leading to the development of multilingual repertoires
With the exception of the Wandala in Jilve (see §3.2), none of the case studies described above
revealed communities whose multilingual patterns are in line with the polyglossic model (see
§2.3). That is, local languages are neither valorized based on some external notion of prestige nor
consistently assigned to a specific social domain (e.g., trade, household, etc.). To the extent that a
generalization can be made, it appears that in these settings speakers “use multilingualism as a
social strategy that maximizes alliances and protective networks through different languages
providing indexical cues according to context” (Lüpke 2016:53).
The prominence of achieving security in the local context, rather than signaling prestige, as
the principal motivation for the development of localized multilingual repertoires finds
illuminating parallels in anthropological literature. Relevant work stresses the presence of a
pervasive cultural tendency in this part of the world towards cultivating multiple social
affiliations: “far from there being a single ‘tribal identity’, most Africans moved in and out of
multiple identities, defining themselves at one moment as a member of that cult, at another
moment as part of this clan, and at yet another moment as an initiate in that professional guild”
(Ranger 1983: 248). In this regard, Kopytoff (1987) adds that, “each person was attached to
several groups of solidarity. Depending on the context, one expected support from each and
offered it to each of them. In times of conflict, one tried to mobilize the maximum contextually
relevant group. Since traditional African societies were structured in terms of corporate groups,
individual survival was possible only by being under the protective umbrella of one or another
such group, and the larger and more powerful it was, the safer one was” (Kopytoff 1987:24,
emphasis added).
While still relatively limited in scope, the work that has looked into this issue seems to
confirm that there is a link between a desire to achieve personal security through multiple
affiliations and endogenous patterns of multilingualism that lead people to enlarge their language
repertoires and, thereby, signal their connection to additional groups of people (Di Carlo 2016;
Di Carlo and Good 2014:250–253; Lüpke 2016; 2017+).
4 Approaching the “third wave”: Multilingualism and language use
4.1 Existing work on language use in multilingual contexts on Africa
The discussion to this point has emphasized language attitudes and ideologies rather than actual
language use (with the partial exception of the discussion of the work of Connell (2009) in §3.4).
While there is not yet a substantial body of work examining how multiple codes are employed in
natural discourse in rural Africa, this is clearly a central topic to understanding the nature of
multilingualism in this part of the world. Consistent with broader patterns of sociolinguistic
research on African languages (see §2), most work on language use by multilinguals has been
focused on urban settings, and it emphasizes the interaction between languages occupying
different ranks within a posited polyglossia scale, typically a local language of wider
communication and an ex-colonial language (see, e.g., Gafaranga 2001, Myers-Scotton 1993a,
Scotton 1976, and Swigart 1992).
The lack of work on multilingual language use in rural Africa is partly attributable to the fact
that most of Africa’s languages still lack basic descriptive materials, a lacuna that undermines
researchers’ abilities to transcribe and analyze conversational data. It should come as no surprise,
then, that in studies of codeswitching—broadly understood here as “the selection by
bilinguals/multilinguals of forms from two or more linguistic varieties in the same conversation”
(Myers-Scotton 1993b:480)—most work undertaken in rural areas has focused on the interaction
between a local language and a lingua franca (e.g., Rosendal and Mapunda 2016), especially in
the classroom (e.g., Makgato 2014, Sailors et al. 2010). Muaka (2009:64) suggests that
codeswitching between local languages is genuinely rare in Kenya, while the work of Connell
(2009) described above in §3.4 indicates that it is common in the Mambila region of Cameroon,
and it is also common in the Lower Casamance region of Senegal and, to some extent, in the
Lower Fungom region of Cameroon, as will be discussed below in this section. There is simply
not enough work on this topic to know if these different results reflect general regional patterns
or if other factors are involved.
Additional work where conversations involving the use of multiple local languages are
considered involves studies whose primary concern is the effect of language contact on local
languages by larger languages. This includes, for instance, Dada (2011) on the interaction of
Erushu [aqg], Yoruba [yor], and English in the speech of Erushu speakers (Ondo State, southern
Nigeria), Dorvlo (2014) on Ewe [ewe] influences in Logba [lgq] (Volta region, Ghana), or
Essizewa (2014) on Kabiye [kbp] and Ewe in Lomé (the capital of Togo).13 In many cases, these
instances of “codeswitching” involve the use of a single morpheme from one language
embedded in a larger stretch of discourse drawing on vocabulary from another language. The
difficulty in clearly separating instances of codeswitching and borrowing in such instances
presents another methodological concern in studies of multilingual language use in rural Africa:
Historical records are lacking which might establish which patterns of language use represent
new cases of interleaving among codes and which represent long-standing patterns of integration
of words from one language into another.14
The limited available data on language use by multilinguals in rural areas of Africa makes it
impossible to contextualize it fully within the multifaceted literature on codeswitching in Africa
as a whole.15 However, it is possible to note some significant trends in data that have been
collected on rural African contexts and to consider their implications for research on
codeswitching and language contact studies more generally. Two of the case studies discussed in
§3 are drawn on again in this section, that of Lower Casamance and Lower Fungom. As will be
seen, by focusing on the social meanings conveyed via language in use, the work described here
can be seen as roughly similar to third-wave studies in mainstream sociolinguistic research.
13 Another relevant study is Purvis (2008), based on a corpus including conversational data. It examines register
variation among L1 speakers of the northern Ghanaian language Dagbani [dag] in written and oral texts, where data
on the alternation among English, Akan [aka], and Hausa [hau] are briefly discussed (e.g. Purvis 2008:8384,128).
14 See Schadeberg (2003:158) for a relevant caution in this regard in a discussion of historical multilingualism
among Bantu-speaking groups. Also relevant in this context is the work of Beyer and Schreiber (2013) and
Schreiber (2009), who explore social network analysis to understand dynamics of contact-induced language change
in West African rural communities with high incidence of individual multilingualism.
15 Good starting points to explore this vast research area are Kamwangamalu (2000), Myers-Scotton (1993a),
Connell and Zeitlyn (2010), Higgins (2010), Mesthrie (2010), and Amuzu and Singler (2014).
4.2 Varieties of codeswitching in Lower Casamance
As part of a broader discussion of multilingualism in Lower Casamance (see §3.5), Cobbinah et
al. (2017+) briefly present conversational data collected as part of documentary work on the
languages of the region. A key point that emerges from their analysis of this data is that the ways
different languages are used do not allow for any straightforward categorization. There are
instances of extended single-language use (i.e. no codeswitching); multiple language use where
the languages are nevertheless used relatively “discretely” (i.e., intersentential but not
intrasentential codeswitching, as in (1)); as well as intense codeswitching, within sentences and
even words, as in (2) (see Green and Abutalebi (2013) for relevant general discussion). The
languages involved are the Gubëeher variety of Bainounk (Atlantic, Niger-Congo), Wolof [wol]
(Atlantic, Niger-Congo), and French.16
(1) Multilingual interaction (Gubëeher, French, Wolof)
Antoine: Acingi acingi
He went out, he went out.
Isidore: Ihokoro ajiiba
I’ll win a lot.
Alian: Uruk gahuy boneh nini bimbeŋ belbaf... an mi mehun gumehun nah mes six
If someone had taken a [belbaf]…and I put down my cards.
Isidore: Angu suwe alian neh ajiba balób
Now play, Alian talks too much.
Juliette: Claude!
Claude: Naam?
16 The Bainounk variety seen in (2) and (3) is not associated with a standardized ISO 639-3 code. English
translations are based on French originals in (1) and (2).
Juliette: Añ!
Claude: Waw mani ñów!
OK, I’m coming!
(2) Intense codeswitching (Kujireray, Gubëeher, French, Wolof)
Camille: Namuge!
He killed!
Jean-Tomi: Nifacaw!
One time!
Dodo: Fujin beenoor ufe!
Beenor’s bull is there!
Camille: Ëó innuŋ?
Where is mom?
Jean-Tomi: Innoŋ biŋeen
Mom is over there.
Damace: Dodo!
Dodo: Père!
Damace: Qu’est-ce qu’il y a?
What’s the matter?
Dodo: Père naka mu?
Father, how are you?
Damace: Kati réunion ou bien?
Perhaps a meeting or something elese?
Dodo: Waaw. Reunion, liggey, lep!
Yes, meeting, work, everything!
Cobbinah et al. (2017+) observe that the type of language use in a given context can be partly
accounted for by the linguistic identities and knowledge held by those individuals who are
interacting with each other. Monolingual discourse might take place among individuals from the
same household, for instance, while more extreme instances of codeswitching might take place
among speakers who are very familiar with each other and have clear knowledge of each other’s
linguistic repertoires. In other cases, codeswitching can be understood as a kind of
accommodation. A conversation dominated by one language may shift to a different one when a
speaker who does not know a given language enters the conversational space.
Consideration of this conversational data yields interesting results with respect to a concern
raised in §3.5 regarding what constitutes a “language” when studying rural Africa.
Cobbinah et al. (2017+) note that the “mixed” code produced in the most extreme forms of
codeswitching blurs the boundaries between what are recognized as distinct languages from both
a local and a scholarly standpoint. Nevertheless, speakers have intuitions regarding whether
someone is speaking in a manner more strongly associated with one language over another. The
specific examples discussed by Cobbinah et al. (2017+) involve an opposition between Bainounk
and Eegimaa (also known as Bandial [bqj]) ways of speaking. These varieties are associated with
the Atlantic group of Niger-Congo, though they are not closely related.
The distinction between these “languages” has an emblematic value in keeping village
communities ideologically distinct. Identification of a given stretch of discourse as “Bainounk”
or “Eegimaa” can be done on the basis of relatively limited material such as the use of certain
noun class prefixes or of a single phonological isogloss found amidst other forms which are not
associated with a specific language. Cobbinah et al. (2017+) suggest that these facts can be
usefully examined with respect to prototype theory as developed within the field of psychology
(see, e.g., Rosch 1978). This approach to categorization allows for gradient category
membership, with some members being seen as more central to the category than others.
Applying prototype theory to a multilingual context means that, rather than viewing a given
“language” being as a fixed and bounded code, it should be seen in terms of a more fluid set of
properties (e.g., specific roots, noun classes, or formulaic expressions), some of which are
viewed, in local terms, as more prototypical of a given language and others as less prototypical.
Those features that are both prototypical and distinctive can serve as emblems of a particular
language and establish that a given speaker is intending to use that language in a given context—
a highly economic adaptation in an extremely complex language ecology.
4.3 Code choice in interaction in Lower Fungom
The linguistic situation of Lower Fungom was summarized in §3.5. Superficially, it resembles
Lower Casamance: A large number of languages are used in a relatively small area, and residents
tend to be highly multilingual. However, as documented in the work of Ojong (2017+), the use
of local languages in conversation is quite different from what is found in Lower Casamance. In
particular, the presence of individuals with large language repertoires does not seem to
correspond with extensive codeswitching in interaction. Rather, there is a strong preference
towards single-language interactions. This is reflected not only in ideological orientations, as
revealed through speakers’ reports on how languages should be used—that is, through their
discursive consciousness (see Giddens 1984)—but also in observational data.
To the extent that intrasentential codeswitching is observed in Lower Fungom, it appears to
be largely limited to the use of words from Cameroonian Pidgin English within stretches of
discourse that are otherwise clearly identifiable as belonging to a single local language. When
intersentential codeswitching is found, it is generally reflective of changes in the interactional
context, e.g., a change of addressee or the arrival of new participants in a conversation.
Deviations from this tendency appear to be rare but can be used to achieve specific pragmatic
effects, as in (3).17
(3) N is a sixty-year-old man from the village of Buu who is married to B’s older sister. B is
about forty five years old and is from the village of Missong, where he is the son of the chief.
They each speak Buu [boe], Missong [mij], and Cameroonian Pidgin English, among other
languages. On a market day in the centrally-located village of Abar, B enters a drinking
establishment and encounters N. (Buu, Missong, Cameroonian Pidgin English)
B: ndɛ...a ye de bɛ
Uncle...How are you? Isn’t there kola?
N: nfo question wa tumɛ
You had asked me before
B: a fɛ ŋkwo mi tumɛ be? a fe so hɛnɛ. n du we kwe fa mi ɛmu be…
What is it about? You remembered. I asked you to buy Kola for me…
B: ai ca n sɛ keke wu!
Ah! Don’t flatter me!
N: a kɛ ya lɛ dzɛng? ŋ wu yɛ bu ka follow wa ton
Did you come up to Fang? I heard that you were chased there
B: ŋ ka follow be mi? ŋge du ye a ka de mi. e bɛ kɛhɛ manto
Chased away? It was not me, it was Manto
N: a ke wou ye kem jo uwa de?
Are you all listening to what I am saying?
B: ben wou gin ta?
What should we listen to?
N: a gɛ kɛ kɛ ta?
So, where did you go?
17 The data in (3) represents a rough transcription (without tones) and preliminary word segmentation. While higher
levels of accuracy would clearly be desirable, this is difficult to achieve when researching codeswitching in a region
with seven to nine local languages, none of which are associated with any kind of written standard.
B: offlicense wo ne mi wo me ma bahɛ ti ma
I reached here and saw you in this off license.
N: bi kie lahe
You are still a child.
[After some grumbling, N stops speaking to B who then leaves.]
Consistent with broader patterns of the local culture, it is expected that a junior person should
accommodate to a senior person’s primary linguistic identity to the extent possible. In choosing
to use Buu, this is exactly what B (junior) initially does in his interactions with N (senior).
However, when N began to reprimand B, the latter first did his best to argue against N’s
insinuation using the Buu language, but then shifted to his own primary language, Missong. This
had the effect of putting an end to the interaction. What is crucial to note here is that the change
in code did not go unnoticed and that both interlocutors understood it in the same way: as an act
of social distancing. Even though the data in (3) appears superficially to be an instance of
codeswitching similar to what was seen in Lower Casamance in (1) and (2), it has a quite
distinctive local social import. This stretch of discourse reveals a feature of Lower Fungom
ethnopragmatics that is both illustrative of local language ideologies and would not be predicted
if it was assumed that polyglossic models of language choice applied in the region and will be
further discussed in §5.18
5 Language choice and identity in endogenous ideologies of multilingualism
One of the areas in which the findings of the studies discussed in §3 and §4 seem particularly
relevant to the sociolinguistics more broadly is the relationship between language and identity. A
18 See Duranti (1993) for discussion of ethnopragmatics.
common approach to the study of identity in the sociolinguistic and linguistic anthropological
literature relies on the essentialist assumption that “those who occupy an identity category...are
both fundamentally similar to one another and fundamentally different from members of other
groups” and cultural essentialism, in particular, “relies on language as a central component”
(Bucholtz and Hall 2004:374).
Such approaches result in a situation where a given sociolinguistic fact, including language
choice, is taken to index a certain population and, by association, some set of distinctive features.
Indices of this kind can be further subject to what Irvine and Gal (2000:37) have called the
process of “iconization”, where “linguistic features that index social groups or activities appear
to be iconic representations of them, as if a linguistic feature somehow depicted or displayed a
social group’s inherent nature or essence” (Irvine and Gal 2000:37). This would be an instance of
a second order index following Silverstein’s (2003) terminology. First, the perception of a
linguistic feature distinguishing a given population is taken to index a speaker’s membership in
that population. This index of membership is then transformed into a higher-level index for
features that are assumed to define that population (see, e.g., Eckert (2012: 94); Johnstone and
Kiesling (2008) is a useful complement to Silverstein (2003)).
Such indices contribute to the development of a kind of identity that, in a sociological
context, Brubaker and Cooper (2000) have labeled “categorical”, through which “one may
identify oneself (or another person) by membership in a class of persons sharing some
categorical attribute (such as race, ethnicity, language, nationality, citizenship, gender, sexual
orientation, etc.)” (Brubaker and Cooper 2000:15). This is opposed to a relational identity, which
involves locating individuals within a web of relationships (e.g., within a kin group).
Urban language ideologies in Africa largely appear to associate the use of specific languages
with second-order indexical features (see §2.3). Colonial languages, and, by extension, those
who master them, are assigned the highest levels of prestige, followed by African lingua francas,
and, then, local languages. This pattern can also be found in rural areas to the extent that
exogenous language ideologies are present, such as what was found for Arabic in Jilve (§3.2) or
French in Somié (§3.4). By contrast, endogenous layers of language ideologies seem to
exemplify a quite different system.
As seen in §3, for all of the communities reviewed with the exception of the Wandala
Muslims of Jilve, there was no indication of a hierarchical arrangement of languages (or lects)
within local systems of language valorization. Their social role does not appear to extend beyond
indexing membership in the local groups which they are associated with, for instance the socio-
political unit of the village (coinciding with a chiefdom) in Lower Fungom or an individual’s
patrimonial group in Lower Casamance (§3.5). In terms of indexical order, the use of these
languages has not been observed to go beyond the first level. That is, the languages indicate
group membership without suggesting any additional associations in and of themselves: Being
member in a given group merely means having a certain position in relation to the other
members who participate in the interaction.19
The interactional data illustrated in (3) (§4.3) seems to confirm this view that the “ideological
moves” (Eckert 2012:94) that are called up by the choice of using any particular language are
limited to affiliation. By switching to Missong, B chooses to represent himself as member of the
19 This is not to say that there cannot be special features attributed to the groups that these languages are associated
with. For instance, in Lower Casamance (§3.5), some languages are associated with first-comer groups, and first-
comers have privileges not accorded to newcomer groups. What is crucial here is that first-comer status is not
linguistically defined. That is, while a specific language may serve as an index of first-comer status, it is not a
determinant of it.
village of Missong, a community in which he is the chief’s son and where N, being from the
village of Buu and having only in-laws in Missong, does not have the right to criticize his
actions. Thus, choices made by the two interactants rely on an ideology where the local lects of
Lower Fungom index not “identity” as “categorical identification” but, rather, as “relational
identification” and whose interpretation depends on the specific position that an individual
occupies within the relational “web” indexed by a lect (Brubaker and Cooper 2000:15).20 This is
possible in part because, in small societies like those of Lower Fungom, practically all adults are
already aware of the major relational groups to which a given resident of the region may belong
and of their relative positions within such groups. This again demonstrates the importance of
ethnographic methods for interpreting rural multilingual language use (see also Stroud
The apparent prominence of relational, rather than categorical, identification in endogenous
layers of rural African language ideologies is probably a central factor in allowing individuals to
accumulate and shift “identities” in ways that are surprising to Western observers.21 Further
research on this topic would likely contribute useful additions to the set of interpretive tools
employed within sociolinguistics to explore connections between language and identity, which
could be applied both within, and outside of, Africa.
20 The distinction between relational and categorical identification is what Di Carlo and Good (2014) referred to in
terms of an opposition between language ideologies characterized by an indexical orientation, where only group
membership is implicated in the use of a language, as opposed to an essentialist orientation, where qualities beyond
group membership are implicated.
21 See, for example, the fact that Childs (2003:20) takes time to discuss this issue in the introductory chapter of an
introductory textbook on African languages.
6 The future of research on multilingualism in rural Africa
While multilingualism in rural Africa remains a very under-researched area given its
pervasiveness, available work suggests that it is not only quite different in character from urban
multilingualism but also that there are significant differences in the social significance of
multilingualism across rural parts of the continent. Unlike urban settings, there is no indication
that local languages are associated with a hierarchy of prestige or social compartmentalization
(§3.3–3.6). However, beyond this, they can vary with respect to the nature of the social group
they are attached to (§3.5) and how they are deployed in language use (§4). To the extent that
any generalization can be made, multilingualism in this part of the world appears to revolve more
strongly around relational identities than essentialist ones (§5).
Perhaps the most important result of this survey is that it establishes a need to study rural
multilingualism in Africa in a much wider range of contexts than has been done to date so that
the diversity of rural African “multilingualisms” can be better established. Such social patterns
are likely to be much more endangered than languages themselves, adding a degree of urgency to
this work. Finally, from the perspective of linguistics in general, a key point that emerges from
this survey is the extent to which a full understanding of this topic requires greater adoption of
ethnographic methods than is typical in linguistic research, especially within the domain of
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... From this perspective, it will become evident that in the terminology I adopted in this work, contexts in which a number of languages are spoken in any given area are best defined as instances of "linguistic diversity" (see Di Carlo, Good & Ojong, 2019;Lüpke, 2016;Stallcup, 1980). In this sense, a country is not multilingual as such; instead, it is linguistically diverse. ...
... A village is a very important socio-political unit that is headed by a traditional ruler, and the language spoken in the village land indexes identity. Di Carlo, Good and Ojong (2019) further support that "language" spoken in the village "is a crucial part of the identity of these villages as traditionally independent polities, result in the local ideological equation of one village/chiefdom = one language" (p. 233, p. 11). ...
... This can be misleading in the context of "small-scale multilingualism"-a term introduced by Friederike Lüpke (see, e.g., Lüpke, 2016). The same kind of phenomena have been referred to differently by other authors, including traditional multilingualism (Di Carlo, 2015), endogenous multilingualism (Di Carlo et al., 2019) and indigenous multilingualism (e.g., Vaughan & Singer, 2018). Small-scale multilingualism refers to contexts where several languages are found within a small geographical area, and there is little or no exposure to western ideas of standard ideologies. ...
The present sociolinguistic study focuses on language ideologies, which are any set of beliefs about language and social relationships. It investigates how language ideologies shape repertoires, language attitudes, and language use in the Lower Fungom area, said to be a context of small-scale multilingualism in Northwest Cameroon. Moreover, the vast majority of studies conducted in urban spaces and outside Africa obscures a fuller understanding of sociolinguistic dynamics in rural areas that also enjoy considerable linguistic diversity and individual multilingualism. For instance, there is a lack of prominence concerning more rural-oriented research methods and data types, particularly in the adaptation of sociolinguistic tools, such as questionnaires and the matched-guise test to match locale-specific situations and meanings. Finally, issues relating to individual multilingual repertoires, language attitudes and language use have been explored independently in individual studies in past research on African settings, but none of them has tried to take the results obtained at one level of analysis to illuminate all other levels. This work used multiple research tools to gather data from Lower Fungom in 2012, 2017 and 2019, namely, questionnaires, the matched-guise test, sociolinguistic documentation, and participant observation. The data sets obtained were all informed by the adoption of an ethnographic approach in Lower Fungom. The study population came from the 13 villages (i.e., Munken, Missong, Abar, Ngun, Biya, Mufu, Mundabli, Buu, Kung, Ajumbu, Fang, Koshin and Mashi) of Lower Fungom. Out of the 174 multilingual individuals who responded to the ethnographic inquiries, 31 Missong residents were tested for their attitudes towards languages (i.e., the Missong, Munken and Ngun language cluster and Mashi) using a culturally adapted matched-guise test. The choice of Missong was because of its unique internal cultural distinctions as opposed to Munken and Ngun. Furthermore, 35 Lower Fungom members were documented interacting in the market. The study showed that language ideologies constitute an integral part of sociolinguistic behaviours, i.e., repertoires, language attitudes and language use of Lower Fungom inhabitants, which was uncovered thanks to an ethnographic approach. The self-reports about multilingualism gathered from multilingual individuals through ethnographic questionnaires indicate that multilingual repertoires are developed far away from diglossic models and dwell more on the multilingual speaker’s relationship with others. For language attitudes, unlike what is found in the literature, the main factors shaping Missong speakers’ language attitudes are not stereotypical categorizations but, rather, considerations of relational qualities that capture locally salient features. I concluded that code choice during transactional interactions makes up an essential element of the linguistic practices of Lower Fungom multilinguals. Moreover, code choices are deliberate actions to index ideological associations to the local codes. These choices are associated with village affiliations for economic favours during market transactions and doing this without compromising one’s face or a relationship. Furthermore, to signal neutrality and conceal belonging to one of the villages in this multilingual context, interactants often use Cameroon Pidgin English (CPE). This Pidgin further serves as an emergency language to break communication barriers. This study adds to the literature on Lower Fungom identified as an area where small-scale multilingualism is practised. Furthermore, it questions the validity of existing scholarly discourses, especially on using research tools weighted with diglossic frameworks in investigating people’s multilingual repertoires, language attitudes, and language use. This work, hopefully, proposes other ways of designing research tools that allow one to capture the realities of an existing context as the locals see them.
... Most of these studies are performed in societies where the norm is exogamy-the practice of taking marriage partners from other groups. Language ideologies in exogamous societies are discussed in South America (Chernela, 2013;Epps, 2018;Fleming, 2016;Stenzel & Williams, 2021), Australia (Singer & Harris, 2016), Vanuatu (François, 2012), China (Stanford, 2009;Stanford & Pan, 2013), Siberia (Khanina, 2021), and Africa (Di Carlo, Good, & Ojong, 2019;Lüpke, 2016). Stanford and Pan (2013) suggested to lay "the foundation for a typology of the sociolinguistics of exogamy." ...
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Studies of multilingual systems found in Indigenous small‐scale communities often assume that exogamous marriages are the norm in such societies and contribute to their linguistic diversity. This paper is an account of the language ideology of endogamous societies in rural highland Daghestan (Northeast Caucasus). By studying language policing and language choice in infrequent mixed marriages, the paper uncovers the beliefs that support endogamy and reveals issues of linguistic identity and attitudes toward the usage of the matrilect within the family and the village. Interviews show that in‐married women do not bring new languages to the villages, because they quickly acquire the local language new to them and use it with all their in‐laws and their children. A strong association between villages and languages together with the ideology supporting linguistic homogeneity within the village contributes to the maintenance of the regional linguistic diversity. В ряде исследований многоязычия у традиционных народов отмечается, что экзогамия является нормой таких сообществ и способствует поддержанию языкового разнообразия. В этой статье исследована языковая идеология в эндогамном сообществе ‐ сельском высокогорном Дагестане. На основе анализа интервью с женами в смешанных семьях выявляется идеология, которая поддерживает эндогамию, анализируется языковая идентичность членов смешанных семей и отношение к использованию матрилекта в семье и в деревне. Проведенные интервью показали, что женщины, вышедшие замуж в другие языковые сообщества, не приносят в эти сообщества новые языки, поскольку они быстро усваивают местный язык и используют его со всеми членами своей новой семьи и со своими детьми. Жесткая ассоциация между языком и деревней и идеология, поддерживающая языковую гомогенность деревни, вносит вклад в поддержание языкового разнообразия Дагестана.
... The cultural and linguistic knowledge of local participants and ethnographic and qualitative sociolinguistic data jointly contributes to our thick understanding (Geertz 1973) of the social environment for literacy. How course participants describe their linguistic repertoires, which writing choices they make and how they categorise different spoken and written forms gives us a deep understanding of multilingual practices and grounds our description in them (Djité 2009;Di Carlo, Good, and Diba 2019). Without the LILIEMA context, this insight would not be available. ...
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In recent (socio)linguistic research there is a growing awareness that rural, small-scale multilingualism as the most widespread communicative setting across the globe. Yet, literacy programmes accepting and incorporating this diversity are non-existent. LILIEMA is a unique educational programme currently based in Senegal that addresses the need for enabling learners to use their entire repertoire, nurturing, and validating local knowledges and sustainable multilingualism. This article focuses on the participatory methodologies at the heart of LILIEMA (Language-independent literacies for inclusive education in multilingual areas), born from a collaboration between professional linguists and local teachers, transcribers, research assistants and community members. We explore how the cultural knowledge of local participants and ethnographic and qualitative sociolinguistic data jointly contributes to our thick understanding of the social environment for literacy and how it can make African languages and multilingualism more visible. Furthermore, used methods allow to describe fluid and potentially ambivalent multilingual speech events based on different perspectives motivating choices both in terms of languages ideologies and linguistic practice. LILIEMA pursues the objectives to support and enhance the use of (multilingual) literacy, strengthens languages and linguistic awareness and fosters self-confidence in all sectors of life by creating innovative spaces for small and locally confined languages.
Cross-nationally, urbanization is associated with the decline of minority languages and a shift towards national and official languages. But the processes that link urbanization with language shift have not been adequately documented. In this paper we consider the relationship between cities and language shift from a sociolinguistic perspective, focusing our attention on the issue of language use and language shift in Indonesia – a large, ethnically and linguistically diverse, rapidly urbanising country. We use census data to examine how ethnic diversity shapes language shift in the context of urbanicity. We find that in ethnically homogenous regions, urbanicity itself has little relationship with language shift. By contrast, ethnic diversity is consistently associated with a greater probability of speaking Indonesian both among urban and rural Indonesians and in urban and rural areas. These findings contribute to our understanding of language shift and linguistic vitality in diverse, urbanising societies, and highlight the need to distinguish between the process of urbanization and the state of being urban.
Purpose To contribute to the establishment of a novel approach to language documentation that includes bilingual and multilingual speech data. This approach would open this domain of study to work by specialists of bilingualism and multilingualism. Approach Within language documentation, the approach adopted in this paper exemplifies the “contemporary communicative ecology” mode of documentation. This radically differs from the “ancestral-code” mode of documentation that characterizes most language documentation corpora. Within the context of multilingualism studies, this paper advocates for the inclusion of a strong ethnographic component to research on multilingualism. Data and Analysis The data presented comes from a context characterized by small-scale multilingualism, and the analyses provided are by and large focused on uncovering aspects of local metapragmatics. Conclusions Conducting language documentation in contexts of small-scale multilingualism requires that the adequacy of a corpus is assessed with regard to sociolinguistic, rather than only structural linguistic, requirements. The notion of sociolinguistic adequacy is discussed in detail in analytical terms and illustrated through an example taken from ongoing research led by the authors. Originality To date, there are no existing publications reviewing in the detail provided here how the documentation of multilingual speech in contexts of small-scale multilingualism should be structured. The contribution is highly original, in particular, for its theoretical grounding of the proposed approach. Significance/Implications This article can serve as a reference for those interested in methodological and theoretical concerns relating to the practice of language documentation in contexts of small-scale multilingualism across the world. It may also help clarify ways for sociolinguists to engage more closely with work on language documentation, a domain that has thus far remained primarily informed by structural linguistic approaches.
Aims The paper aims at providing an exhaustive overview of studies of small-scale multilingualism, a type of language ecology typical of—but not exclusive to—indigenous communities with small numbers of speakers. We identify the similarities and differences among situations of such multilingualism, which lay the foundations for a future typology of this kind of language ecology. Approach and data We outline the importance of language ideologies for multilingualism in small-scale societies, highlight the sources of this type of language ecology, with a special focus on the impact of marriage patterns, discuss to what extent situations of small-scale multilingualism are truly egalitarian and symmetric, and survey the different methods used in the study of this domain. In order to do so, we survey studies devoted to multilingualism in indigenous communities of all continents: the New World (especially South America), Australia, Melanesia, Africa, Europe and Asia. Conclusions The multilingual ecologies of the pre- and postcolonial world are extremely diverse, with many factors playing a role in their constitution. They are also highly endangered, and thus their study is of the utmost urgency. Originality The domain of small-scale multilingualism is still novel for sociolinguistics and linguistic anthropology. Although the researchers working with indigenous groups have been describing the peculiarities of multilingual repertoires, language acquisition and language attitudes in various parts of the world, the domain lacks the kind of comparison and generalizations that we provide here. Significance The increased interest in small-scale multilingualism has been boosted by the realization of its significance for reconstructing the social conditions that favoured linguistic diversity in the precolonial world. Furthermore, insights into this type of multilingualism—which differs considerably from the better-studied situations of bi- and multilingualism in urban contexts and large nation states—are of prime importance for a better understanding of the human language faculty.
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As a contribution to the more general discussion on causes of language endangerment and death, we describe the language ecologies of four related languages (Bà Mambila [mzk]/[mcu], Sombә (Somyev or Kila) [kgt], Oumyari Wawa [www], Njanga (Kwanja) [knp]) of the Cameroon-Nigeria borderland to reach an understanding of the factors and circumstances that have brought two of these languages, Sombә and Njanga, to the brink of extinction; a third, Oumyari, is unstable/eroded, while Bà Mambila is stable. Other related languages of the area, also endangered and in one case extinct, fit into our discussion, though with less focus. We argue that an understanding of the language ecology of a region (or of a given language) leads to an understanding of the vitality of a language. Language ecology seen as a multilayered phenomenon can help explain why the four languages of our case studies have different degrees of vitality. This has implications for how language change is conceptualised: we see multilingualism and change (sometimes including extinction) as normative.
The sociolinguistic background of multilingual rural societies in West Africa and the prevailing conditions of language transmission are quite different from those found in most immigrant situations in the Global North. In the case focused upon here, the target language itself is under constant pressure from other, more dominant contact languages, and the usual repertoire of a fully competent speaker already involves a larger number of language sources and internal variations. This article explores the verbal behaviour of three speakers of the endangered language Pana (Gur/Niger-Congo; Mali/Burkina Faso) who experienced varying degrees of interrupted language transmission in earlier life times. They were all brought up in situations where only one of the parents spoke Pana as a first language and where it was not part of their general linguistic environment. The speakers find themselves now in a setting where local people prefer Pana and consider it the most appropriate code for village dwellers in community-internal communication. Accordingly, the speakers under scrutiny struggle with the communicative obligations and try to cope with their usually fully competent conversation partners’ expectations. The presented analysis of discourse data shows the manifold and complex linguistic and social implications of such a situation. It will be argued that it is correspondingly difficult to disentangle general language contact phenomena from variation introduced through incomplete second-language acquisition. Furthermore, the data strongly suggests that the background of a diffuse linguistic system and a relatively unfocused society entails a greater liberty for the scrutinized speakers’ communicative possibilities. Regarding norm adherence, the partners in discourse seem to stretch the acceptance of linguistic variation to the very limits of the already diffuse linguistic system as long as social conduct and behavioural norms of communication are respected.
This article investigates what is commonly called multilingual writing. Based on case studies from Mali, and drawing on a number of West African settings, it argues that in fact, not all ‘multilingual’ writing is in effect multilingual. The article proposes a two-tiered classification of types of writing, based on linguistic properties of texts and the differing perspectives of writers and readers. This analysis contrasts writers’ intentions to write (in) a particular language vs. to mobilise linguistic resources in a more holistic manner. The latter type of writing, it is argued, is better characterised as language-independent, since writers do not draw borders between what can be analysed as different languages from a code-based perspective often applied by analysts. The co-existence, spaces, and potentials of language-based and language-independent writing are examined in detail. This type of writing is invisible to language planners and often taken to be unreadable, akin to the mythical writing on the wall inspiring the title of the paper. Yet, in contexts with low educational resources and great linguistic diversity, language-independent writing presents a resilient and underappreciated alternative to language-based literacies.
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Cet article présente les aspects sociolinguistiques et linguistiques d'une situation plurilingue dans un contexte rural en Casamance (Sénégal). En nous basant sur des recherches interdisciplinaires en cours, nous introduisons les langues patrimoniales associées aux villages que nous étudions. Nous élaborons ensuite le dualisme entre langue patrimoniale en tant que construit identitaire et usage fluide dans le discours et identifions les motivations de cette stratégie duale et comment elle s'insère dans les id²ologies linguistiques locales, régionales et nationales. Nous finissons par exposer les conséquences de ce type de plurilinguisme de longue durée sur les systèmes linguistiques et le défi qu'il pose pour une tradition descriptive basée sur la notion d'une langue et non pas sur celle d'un répertoire dynamique. Nous proposons un modèle inspiré par la théorie des prototypes servant comme repère pour ancrer la description de la variation et de l'hybridité qui caractérisent le discours.
Development is essentially based on communication through language. With more than 2,000 languages being used in Africa, language becomes a highly relevant factor in all sectors of political, social, cultural and economic life. This important sociolinguistic dimension hitherto remains widely underrated and under-researched in Western mainstream development studies. The book discusses the resourcefulness of languages, both local and global, in view of the ongoing transformation of African societies as much as for economic development. It starts off by unearthing received ideologies, pre¬¬judice and cliché in Western perceptions of Africa and her languages, which are distorted by Eurocentrism and Orientalism. From a novel applied African sociolinguistics perspective, it analyses the continuing effects of linguistic imperialism on post-colonial African societies, in particular regarding the educational sector, through imposed hegemonic languages such as Arabic and the ex-colonial languages of European provenance. It offers a broad interdisciplinary scientific approach to the linguistic dimensions of sociocultural modernisation and economic development in Africa, written for both the non-linguistically trained reader and the linguistically trained researcher and language practitioner.