Crossroads workshop on small-scale multilingualism in rural West Africa on December 10 and 11 at SOAS, University of London

This workshop presents the main results of the Leverhulme Research Leadership Award Project “At the Crossroads: investigating the unexplored sides of multilingualism”. Over five years, project members have conducted in-depth research on linguistic, cognitive and social aspects of language use and on language ideologies in a thickly multilingual village setting in Senegal, and we’re delighted to share some of our central findings in three thematic sessions. The first session, in the afternoon of December 10, looks at the relationships between reified imaginations of language and multilingual discourse. The morning session of December 11 is dedicated to the language-independent education programme that grew out of the project’s research. The afternoon session of December 11 showcases sociolinguistic research on repertoires and on the expression of motion in multilingual individuals’ speech and gesture.  The workshop is open to the public. If you plan to attend, please email A SOAS campus map can be found here.

December 10
Language, land and (trans)languaging at the Crossroads
Discussants: Harri Englund (Cambridge) and Chege Githiora (SOAS)
Attention, room change: SOAS, room 4429 (SOAS main building)

15:00-15:45 Friederike Lüpke:  Language, code-switching and (trans)languaging: from either or to when and why
15:45-16:30 Alexander Cobbinah ‘Zero objects in the Casamance’
16:30-16:45 Break
16:45-17:30 Rachel Watson: ‘Different types of multilingual Joola discourse in Brin’
17:30-18:00 Discussion

December 11
Language-independent literacies and multilingual education: the LILIEMA programme
Discussants: Julia Sallabank (SOAS) and Sheena Shah (U Hamburg)
SOAS, room S313 (Senate House)

10:00-10:45 Friederike Lüpke: An introduction to the LILIEMA programme
10:45-11:30 Break
11:30-12:15 Jérémie Sagna & Miriam Weidl: LILIEMA on the ground: implementation, experiences, challenges, outcomes
12:15-13:00 Discussion

December 11
Places and people: situated multilingual discourse
Discussants: Pierpaolo di Carlo (SUNY Buffalo), Kristin Vold Lexander (MultiLing Oslo) and Klaus Beyer (Goethe University Frankfurt)
SOAS, room S315 (Senate House)

15:00-15:45 Samantha Goodchild: Sociolinguistic spaces and multilingualism: practices and perceptions in Essyl, Senegal
15:45-16:30 Miriam Weidl: The role of Wolof in the multilingual repertoires in the Casamance: fluidity of linguistic repertoires
16:30-16:45 Break
16:45-17:15 Chelsea Krajcik: Exploring the multilingual mind in speech and gesture: focus on West Africa
17:15-18:00 Research visions and perspectives for the study of African multilingualism: Klaus Beyer,  Pierpaolo di Carlo, Sheena Shah, Kristin Vold Lexander
18:00-20:00 Drinks and nibbles in room T404 (22 Russell Square)


Secondary school teaching materials on multilingualism and more, by Neela Doležalová

The documentary ‘Kanraxël’ was first described to me as a film about multilingualism. Set in Agnack, Senegal, it is common for children to grow up speaking six or more languages. My task was to create secondary school lesson plans and resources to accompany the film.

The project made me think about my own relationship to languages. Firstly, that I only speak English. And secondly, a realisation that the other languages in my family have been lost due to colonisation, migration and assimilation practices.

‘Kanraxël’ is a pedagogical gift. The film is a perfect resource to get young people to explore the benefits of multilingualism, but it also has themes that reach beyond MFL (Modern Foreign Languages).

At its core, ‘Kanraxël’ celebrates language acquisition as a powerful resource. As an economics teacher, this concept of ‘language as resource’ interested me. Further, I was keenly aware from my own teaching that resources such as ‘Kanraxël’ aren’t often available for use in schools. To put it bluntly, there will be students in English secondary schools who may never work from a case-study set in an African country outside of a Geography lessons (and maybe not even there). I therefore became interested in the film’s use in the classroom beyond the topic of multilingualism.

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Example for a teaching activity from the teaching resource bundle

To this end I produced six lessons for Key Stages 3 and 4 that link to current curricula in the subjects of Geography, MFL, PSHE and Economics. These one-hour lessons use short clips from the film to explore themes ranging from the causes and benefits of multilingualism, to migration, supply and demand and infrastructure development.

Other resources include a range of essay and discussion topics suitable for Key Stage 5 students based on viewing the entire film. These essay topics cover a range of subject areas including Languages/Linguistics, Geography, Sociology, Religious Studies, Philosophy, Economics, History and Media Studies. The aim of these KS5 resources is to challenge students to extend their thinking, research and writing, whilst also deepening their A-Level knowledge and practice.

All these teaching resources are now freely available on the Kanraxël website:

The website, which also contains free teaching resources for universities, will be launched on February 20th 2018 at an event hosted by the Royal Anthropological Institute: “When multilingualism is your mother tongue – the documentary Kanraxël and associated teaching resources”. After an introduction to the film and the teaching resources, the film Kanraxël will be screened. Registration on Eventbrite for this event is free, but compulsory. Come and join us to reflect on multilingualism as a mother tongue not only in urban centres, but as a world-wide reality!

University teaching materials on multilingualism, by Miriam Weidl and Samantha Goodchild

In 2017, Miriam Weidl and Samantha Goodchild developed free online teaching materials, which are based on their experiences of multilingual language use in a highly multilingual and multicultural area in the southern Casamance in Senegal within the Crossroads project. The teaching materials accompany clips from the award-winning documentary film Kanraxël, which depicts multilingual life in the small Senegalese village Agnack.

The materials consist of a general introduction with suggested readings on multilingualism, forming five modules, with the following overall topics:

  • Language Policies in Multilingual Education
  • Methods for Sociolinguistic (video) Recordings
  • Linguistic Repertoires
  • Language Use in Different Spheres
  • Context-Dependent Language Use and Language Attitudes

Each of the modules includes an introduction to the module, an Instructor’s Manual and a Student’s Manual. The Instructor’s manual introduces the instructor to the content of the module, presents the learning objectives, provides suggested and further readings, and includes a detailed description of different exercises which be can used in class (discussions, debates, presentations, short research sessions, data analysis, etc.). They further include video clips, which are excerpts from the  documentary film Kanraxël, to provide the students with audio-visual data to discuss, interpret, analyse or criticise as part of some of the exercises. The Students’ Manuals are separate documents, which can be printed and handed to the students by the instructor to introduce them to the exercises.

All of the modules critically address the topics mentioned above and can be used by university instructors to teach a full course on multilingualism-related topics or single modules and exercises can be picked out to teach separately.

These materials are freely available and can be used for free:

The website hosting these materials, and also free teaching resources for secondary schools, will be launched on 20 February 2018 at an event hosted by the Royal Anthropological Institute: “When multilingualism is your mother tongue – the documentary Kanraxël and associated teaching resources”

After an introduction to the film and the teaching resources, the film Kanraxël will be screened.

Registration on Eventbrite for this event is free, but compulsory. Come and join us to reflect on multilingualism as a world-wide reality!


LILIEMA* phase two: bringing language-independent literacies to an international forum, by Friederike Lüpke

* LILIEMA is being collectively developed by (in alphabetical order): Aimé Césaire Biagui, Landing Biai, Julienne Diatta, Friederike Lüpke, Alpha Naby Mané, Gérard Preira, Jérémie Fahed Sagna and Miriam Weidl, in collaboration with local learners.

It’s been a year since we started developing LILIEMA, a repertoire-based literacy programme. We were inspired by grass-roots regimes of literacy widespread in West Africa and found them ideally suited for the small-scale multilingual context of Casamance. The creative ideas harnessed during our initial LILIEMA workshop on Orango in January 2017 have been tested since then in LILIEMA classes in two locations.


The LILIEMA team at the end of a week’s work

With SOAS impact funding, we were able to take the programme to the next level: in November 2017, we gathered the six LILIEMA teachers and trainers and five learners, all from Agnack Grand, Agnack Petit, Brin and Djibonker, villages in Casamance where the method is being piloted, for a second workshop. Our aim was to take stock of the achievements and challenges of our first trial, and to consolidate the programme.  Over six days, we decided on running the programme in two levels: an initial course for learners without or with only little exposure to Latin-based literacy, and a second level for learners with previous exposure to the Latin alphabet. For both levels, we decided on learning goals and a syllabus charting the steps towards them.


Preparing folders with learning materials

LILIEMA is a complementary educational programme that valorises local knowledge and those parts of learners’ repertoires that are not represented in the formal school curriculum or in fact anywhere in the public sphere. In the highly multilingual context of Casamance, we do not focus on literacy in a particular language, as this would turn multilingualism into a burden, exclude many learners, and would not connect to the social literacy practices used informally. Grass-roots writing spans writers’ multilingual repertoires, since they connect with interlocutors who speak and write different languages, often not separating codes but using their entire linguistic resources in “translanguaging” (García & Li Wei 2014) fashion.  LILIEMA learning goals reflect this multilingual nature of every-day interaction and are based on the purposes of existing grass-roots literacies in West Africa, which flank the formal literacy that exists for the official languages:

  1. At the end of level 1, learners will be able to read and write personal names and words (for instance for shopping lists and inventories) and phone numbers.
  2. At the end of level 2, learners will be able to read and write short personal messages (for instance text chat messages, notes and letters). They will be able to do simple book-keeping and account-holding.

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We devised and tested an initial assessment allowing to select participants for level 2 and decided on the length of our courses: each level will run over a school year comprising 38 weeks, allowing free time during labour-intensive periods such as the cashew harvest and the rice planting season. Once we had our matrix in place, we had to fill it with substance: six worksheets, each for one course unit, were created for both levels during the workshop, more are being added as we speak. And words from the entire repertoires of the workshop participants were collected according to the progression developed for level 1: think multilingual crosswords and scrabble combined!

With this plan in hand, the core team of teachers and trainers travelled to Dakar, where we met our next challenge: present LILIEMA to an audience of global policy makers, development professionals, the NGO sector, private sector, arts and creative sector representatives, researchers and all those with a perspective on the role of language in society at the 12th Language and Development Conference. While there is an important body of literacy programmes in national languages in Senegal and Africa-wide, these are all language-based. Would our radically different model be favourably received?

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Friederike Lüpke presenting LILIEMA at the Language and Development Conference in Dakar

The preliminary, and very motivating,  answer is that we are receiving colossal encouragement. My featured talk on LILIEMA garnered much attention and positive feedback, so we have hopes for future collaborations in LILIEMA’s further development. But the most important signal we wanted to give at this conference was the importance of local knowledge that can only be created by local participants, and therefore, it was the presence of local teachers and trainers – not normally present at international events of this nature, where they are rather talked about – that was at the centre of our conference attendance. LILIEMA teachers and trainers staffed our stall, interacted with government officials, Senegalese and international researchers and NGO representatives over three days and hosted a party for the friends made during the conference. We all left with a huge work agenda charted out for us, but lifted up by the positive resonance we received. We have started teaching the LILIEMA curriculum and testing and adapting our course materials. Watch this space for LILIEMA phase 3!


Workshop: “Towards a typology of regional multilingual systems: West Africa and Amazonia” by Rachel Watson


museo de indio

At the end of August I was lucky enough to fly out to Rio as part of the London delegation for the second leg of the British Academy International Partnership and Mobility scheme cooked up by Friederike Lüpke, Kris Stenzel and Bruna Franchetto to compare our work on multilingualism on opposite sides of the Atlantic and explore possibilities for future collaborations. Kris and Bruna were in London last December for the first workshop where we had a real broad introduction of all things multilingual in West Africa, Amazonia and beyond. This time, at the beautiful, Museu do Índio, the focus was less exploratory and more detailed, we really got into the nuts and bolts of many different diverse multilingual situations.

For someone who works in a region (Casamance) that can be traversed in any direction in a day it is difficult to comprehend the scale of the area across which our Brazilian colleagues fieldsites are spread.  We had more than 10 presentations on different multilingual settings within Amazonia and West Africa which each painted pictures of such different situations, showing how subtle (or sometimes not so subtle) differences in history, geography and culture can result in important differences. We hope that these observations will be published as a collaborative paper in the not too distant future – in the meantime there follows a (relatively) brief summary of what we learnt. For me the talks could be roughly divided into 3 themes: multilingual settings, contact phenomena, and methodology, although of course all talks contained aspects from each of these.

Multilingual settings

Cariban bilingualism in the Tumucumaque Area: the Wayana-Apalaí and Katxuyana-Tiriyó cases

Sergio Meira, Universidade Federal de Roraima (UFRR), Boa Vista, Roraima, Brazil

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Sergio spoke about patterns of apparently permanent bilingualism between groups in the Tumucumaque Area who live together and often intermarry. Interestingly the patterns of multilingualsim do not appear to be fully symmetrical – some groups are less inclined to acquire the language of their neighbours.  He also spoke about the difficulty of working on multilingual data and doing comparative work between closely related languages – something we definitely relate to working on Joola languages in Casamance.

The Kheuól from Uaçá: aspects of its formation in a multilingual and multiethnic context

Glauber Romling da Silva, Federal University of Amapá (UNIFAP)


Glauber also provided a detailed social and historical account of the factors leading to the emergence of the creole Kheól  (the only creole language spoken in the Brazilian territory) and its role as an L1 identity language for some populations in the Indigenous Land of Uaçá (city of Oiapoque, state of Amapá, Brazil, on the French Guyana border). This talk also stimulated some very lively discussion on how we can understand the terms creole, L1, identity language etc.

Upper Xingu, a multilingual regional system in Southern Amazonia

Bruna Franchetto, Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ)

bruna (5)

Bruna took us through a journey of the history, culture and languages of the Upper Xingu, a multi-ethnic and multilingual regional system of southern Amazonia.  She distinguished between micro-level multilingualism involving dialect diversity, as compared to macro-level multilingualism involving interaction between groups speaking languages with different genetic origins. In yet another parallel that is recognisable from the Casamance situation she spoke of the dialectic between linguistic purism and the notion of ‘mixed languages’ and ‘mixed people’.

The Upper Rio Negro – a brief introduction

Kristine Stenzel, Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ)


The Upper Rio Negro is yet another wildly multilingual system composed of over twenty-five ethnic groups, (speakers of East Tukano, Arawak, Nadahup, and Kakua-Nɨkak languages, in addition to Nheengatú – a widespread lingua franca of Tupi-Guarani origin transported to the region in the early eighteenth century) in which multilingualism is maintained and motivated by exchange relations including trade, marriage networks, political alliances and cultural practices. Kris also spoke about ideologies of linguistic purity – linked to notions of social identity –  being a major force in counteracting convergence.

Language in multiethnic societies in Rondônia

Hein van der Voort, Emílio Goeldi Museum, Pará (MPEG)


Hein introduced us to the astonishing linguistic diversity present in Rondônia where over 25 languages from 10 different stocks and as many as 7 isolates are found in a region the size of Germany, as well as a fascinating account of the history of linguistic research in the area. Sadly this was one of the more sobering talks, as Hein showed how most of these languages are critically endangered for reasons of the many violent acts committed by settler colonists including deforestations, relocation, introduction of disease and other atrocities. It is certain that such things affect all levels of identity, language use, ideologies at the most profound level. While the Upper Guinea coast has surely seen more than its fair share of violent acts these are qualitatively and temporarily distinguishable from those having taken place in Amazonia and these facts must be taken into account when comparing multilingual systems and speakers on the two sides of the Atlantic.

People and languages in the Trombetas and Mapuera rivers region, Pará

Leonor Valentino, Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ)


Leonor showed how myriad and very recent historical factors have shaped multilingualism in  the Trombetas and Mapuera river basins (in the northeastern part of the state of Pará), again sadly underlining colonist violence, but also presenting linguistic diversity as a form of resilience. Many of the Carib and Arawak populations of the region were wiped out by epidemics and conflicts aggravated by contact with colonizers, and many of their descendants either migrated or were transferred to Christian missions. This has resulted in a delicate configuration of a surprisingly large number of languages, many of which are highly endangered.

‘Tikinhü ake kitandu ügühütu engagü: the pathways of marriage with other people’

Mutua Mehinaku


Mutua was the second indigenous student of the Graduate Program in Social Anthropology at UFRJ (National Museum). He presented a synthesis of the second chapter of his master’s dissertation, defended in 2010. Marriages between individuals who speak different languages is one of the paths leading to the maintenance and reproduction of the Upper Xingu multilingual system. The ethnography of his own parents’ marriage (father Mehinaku, a speaker of an Arawak language and mother Kuikuro, who speaks a variety of the Upper Xinguan Carib language) was the starting point for Mutua to discuss the tensions between an ideology of maintaining linguistic differences and the concept and (negative) value of tetsualü (in Kuikuro), the current mixture of people, languages and traditions.

Ritual language and politics in the Upper Xingu multilingual society

Antonio Guerreiro, Universidade Estadual de Campinas


Antonio treated us to an account of language in musical genres, where people from different groups in the Upper Xingu creatively and strategically use their own or neighbours languages in songs to produce political relations both at local and regional scales. This again seems to echo the hypothesis that retaining distinct languages is motivated by the need to index and exploit strategic political alliances.

Listening to Nheengatu history through the voices of Baré, Baniwa and Werekena

Aline da Cruz, Federal University of Goias (UFG/NTL)


Aline presented both a historical background on the development and spread of Nheengatu, and a contemporary account base on personal testimonies from Baré, Baniwa, and Werekena people. This talk also simulated interesting discussion – this time largely based around Aline’s reactions to a question she often receives from colleagues and indigenous communities, about the ethics of spending time and money documenting a ‘killer language’. Of course, as has already been mentioned, a particular sensitivity to  factors contributing to language endangerment are appropriate in such settings. However, we must remember that it is not the languages themselves that are killers, and that the greater understanding we have of all situations of language endangerment the better equipped we may be to mitigate them.

Pantanal bugre

Gustavo Godoy, Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (PPGAS, Museu Nacional-UFRJ) 


Gustavo gave us another demonstration of complexity in a multilingual system – this time with regards to the history of multilingual and multicultural indigenous populations of the Pantanal region and its environs, and their relations of interaction based on the trade of metals.  Since this indigenous configuration has been destroyed by colonization, epidemics, natural disasters and national wars, Gustavo showed the importance of archaeological and historical evidence in interpreting the dynamics of multilingual settings.

Minha vida com cinco línguas – My life with five languages

Francineia Bitencourt Fontes, Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ)

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Francineia is an indigenous student of the Graduate Program in Social Anthropology at UFRJ (National Museum). In her talk, she discussed some of her experiences as a speaker of Baniwa and Nheengatú, two of the major languages spoken in the multilingual environment of the city of São Gabriel da Cachoeira. She also described her work at the Federation of Indigenous Organizations of the Upper Rio Negro (FOIRN), which allowed her to travel extensively throughout the region and gain additional insights into the regional multilingual system.

The Casamance conceptualised as an area hosting small-scale multilingual societies

Friederike Lüpke, SOAS, University of London


Friederike carried the torch for the eastern side of the Atlantic space introducing the relatively small but richly diverse region of the Casamance. Again, we were shown how a small and diverse area reveals ever deeper strata of internal diversity contingent on differing constellations of interaction on the local and individual levels. Yet again, the tension between purist ideologies (for both speakers and researchers) and variation in multilingual discourse was discussed, and moreover the fact that conceptualization of language in any situation is dependent on perspective.

Contact phenomena

On the long duration of linguistic diversity in the Northwest Amazon: the Tukano, the Arawak and the regional systems

Thiago Chacon, University of Brasília (UnB)


Thiago presented data providing evidence for ancient and continuous contacts between Arawakan, Tukanoan and neighbouring languages from the Northwest Amazon. It is inspiring to see historical methods being used to show patterns of contact and how Thiago draws subtle distinctions between direct and indirect diffusion processes, dominance patterns as well broader patterns of areal relationships are also explored.

Languages in contact in the Upper and Middle Rio Negro: the contribution of the Nadahup family

Luciana R. Storto, University of São Paulo (USP)


Luciana also presented lots of complex data from the Nadahup language family, including from phonetic and phonological, aspectual and lexical domains. I really appreciate these talks, because speaking personally it can become easy to become lost in the overwhelming complexity of variation. These talks are welcome reminders of good solid linguistic techniques that can be applied with high levels of success to illuminate patterns of contact between the human beings who spoke these language, provided that, as these presenters underscored, they are interpreted in conjunction with rich sociolinguistic, historical, anthropological, and basically any other information we can get our hands on. In fact for me this seemed to be pretty much the manifesto that emerged from the workshop.


Several presentations focussed on methodologies. I gave two talks that discussed some of the challenges we have encountered and solutions we have come up with regards to epistemology and data management respectively.

Describing the indescribable: towards a multidimensional research model for the study of small-scale multilingualism

Rachel Watson, SOAS, University of London


This talk described the challenges I (and other team members) have faced in analysing multilingual data, when we have no real reliable benchmark for what constitutes the languages involved, how people’s repertories are structured, and which sort of communicative contexts affect the use of different languages in discourse. The conclusions (which also became a running theme in the methodology talks) are that research of this type requires in-depth investigation of naturalistic data combined with rich ethnographic data, and conducted in an iterative fashion.

Going with the (work)flow: tailoring data management protocols to a complex research cycle

Rachel Watson, SOAS, University of London

My second talk was purely procedural and detailed the process we have been through in designing a robust data management workflow that ensures our large amounts of primary language use data pass smoothly through numerous people, places and stages of processing to become a useable corpus.

Multilingual interactions and code-switching in a Desano-Siriano community (Northwest Amazon)

Wilson Silva, Rochester Institute of Technology


Wilson works in the Vaupés Region in Northwest Amazonia and importantly draws attention to the fact that many communities are highly multilingual despite persistent claims to the contrary in the literature. In this talk he gave some insights into practical solutions for investigating this sort of multilingualism in the face of prevailing monolingual and/or purist ideologies on the part of both speakers and researchers – play games!

Developing/conducting sociolinguistic surveys in multilingual regions

Hein van der Voort, Thiago Chacon, Flora Cabalzar & Kristine Stenzel. Luciana Storto


Here we had several short presentations on different methods of sociolinguistic data collection. Kris presented a pilot study of multilingualism and language vitality in São Gabriel da Cachoeira. Some 1200 high school students responded to an extensive sociolinguistic questionnaire developed for the region and some administered the same questionnaire to members of their families. Data from the study revealed different linguistic profiles among the city’s five high schools, highlighted patterns of language use in different public and home settings and tendencies toward language loss, and provided an initial look at speakers’ attitudes toward indigenous and national languages.

Hein and Thiago presented the detailed surveys of the type administered to indigenous communities in Amazonia. While there was some discussion about the type of essentialist ideologies (with respect to both language and ethnic affiliation), for me these questionnaires present an important perspective (one of many) into the dialogue on multilingualism in Amazonia, and are probably emblematic of some sort of crucial difference between the Amazonian and West African cases.  A particular light-bulb moment for me came from Luciana’s presentation of research using biographies and maps to gather rich sociolinguistic information from individuals. We know that time and space are so central to language use at all levels so this enterprise to represent this was really inspiring.

Puck and Pajek (Antonio Guerreiro)

antonio networks

We also had an inspiring impromptu presentation from Antonio on the possibilities on the kinship software Puck and networking software Pajek. These applications can do impressive stuff – although its often been my experience that, they can sometimes fail to do such impressive stuff when it’s me and not the IT whizz who is calling the shots. Nonetheless I am a keen if inexperienced convert to the possibilities of digital humanities tools and approaches and am going to put some time and energy aside to play with these tools, particularly Pajek for which I see possibilities not just for mapping social or kinship networks but for visualizing lexical and grammatical distance between different named languages.

The post is already too long, so I’ll spare the details of our long (2 day!) discussion session, the two films showing multilingualism in Senegal and Amazonia, the private view of the collection of beadwork of our hosts Museo de Índio, and not to mention the Friday night party at Kris’s.  If I were to crystallize what I took away from the workshop it would be a reinforcement of the notion that multilingualism is really a natural and pervasive state of human societies, while the exact nature of that multilingualism is contingent on many and complex factors that we are just beginning to better understand. As I may have mentioned we plan to get out a paper with a rather lengthy list of authors in the not too distant future so watch this space…



Comparing regional multilingual systems in Amazonia and on the Upper Guinea Coast, by Friederike Lüpke

BA logoAfter having spent three years of research on the small-scale multilingual setting in the Crossroads research area in Southern Senegal, we have started expanding our horizon last year, first through a joint workshop with our sister project KPAAM-CAM, which is located in Northwestern Cameroon, followed by a workshop at LDLT also involving researchers from Brazil and Australia. The LDLT workshop marked the beginning of a British Academy International Partnership and Mobility Grant awarded to Kristine Stenzel (Federal University of Rio de Janeiro) and myself, which has as its topic the development of a typology of small-scale multilingual settings.

The time is approaching fast for the second workshop funded by this partnership: a workshop bringing two Crossroads researchers together with eleven researchers based in Brazil. Over five days we will exchange findings, approaches and methodologies and show each other documentaries stemming from our research in order to deepen our understanding of the particularities and commonalities of the precolonial multilingual settings in both areas and of how they have been and are being transformed by globalisation. The first three days of the workshop( August 21 to August 23), organised by Kris Stenzel and Bruna Franchetto at the Museo do Índio in Rio will be public; two final days will be used by the participants to develop plans for joint publications and ideas for future collaboration. The full workshop programme can be found here.

This partnership is not explicitly dedicated to looking at transformations of multilingualism in the Atlantic space, which brought slaves from often multilingual societies a the Upper Guinea Cost of West Africa to the Americas and the Carribean, also areas with museo do indio logoprecolonial multilingual settings – such a perspective would require a much bigger initiative. Yet, even when comparing settings in their respective areas and in their own right, it is striking that they have been affected for the past five hundred years by colonisation and globalisation in very much the same way, and partly by the same colonial powers, and that they exist in postcolonial nation states with similar policies of continuation of colonial language policies and exclusion. It’s high time then that we start talking to each other!

Workshop on morphological complexity in noun class systems by Rachel Watson

On 21 June we held a workshop on morphological complexity in noun class systems at SOAS. The workshop was organised by our project leader Friederike Lüpke, and inspired by a wish to connect with Francesca Di Garbo, who is doing sterling typological work on this topic in various African language groups. Friederike put together this lovely program, and we were also lucky to have additional learned attendees including our Crossroads project-mates Mia and Sam, as well as Olly Bond and Matthew Baerman all the way from Surrey. We really had a very interesting time and productive discussion, and having spent the last few months attempting to theoretically tame the mad beast that is multilingualism in Casamance, it was rather calming to get back to my (underspecified lexical) roots

Francesca kicked off with a talk introducing her metric of complexity, and exploring this using a number of case studies. The metric breaks morphological complexity into a series of dimensions, and a language is assigned a score for each of those dimensions according to the nature of its noun class system. For example, under the dimension ‘number of gender values’ a language with two genders scores 0 (least complex) and one with 5 or more scores 1 (most complex). Somewhat unsurprisingly, many of the African languages in the sample score high for complexity. The beauty of the approach, however, is that outliers are quickly picked out for further examination. Francesca showed that the noun class systems of Kinshasa Lingala and Bila are unusually uncomplex, and hypothesises that this is due to a peculiar sociolinguistic profile. She stressed the importance of diachronic and sociolinguistic factors in studies of this kind – for me this was a theme that ran through all the talks and became the take-home message of the workshop.

Andrew Harvey presented some of his doctoral research on the wildly complex noun class system of Tanzanian language Gorwaa. Quite apart from his casually impressive pronunciation of Gorwaa forms, I was struck by the sheer scale, on several levels, of his enterprise. This language has around 25 suffixes distributed over three genders (as marked on agreement targets) which have very idiosyncratic behaviour with respect to the number values they mark on different roots.  Andrew has collected data on noun class and agreement for over 1400 nouns  – I can just picture those elicitation sessions :/ Although we work in different frameworks, I found a lot of points of connection between my understanding of noun formation in such languages (essentially that lexical roots are underspecified a la Distributed Morphology). In the discussion, the possibility was raised of applying a paradigm approach to this system, as Alex and I used in our theses and I will be very interested to see what this throws up – in any case we look forward to what will be a very welcome contribution to the noun class literature.

We were very happy to hear about the work of our colleagues at SOAS, and fellow Leverhulme grantees Lutz Marten, Rozenn Guérois and Hannah Gibson. Their project –  Morphosyntactic variation in Bantu: Typology, contact and change – does what it says on the tin; and talking of scale, they investigate features in around 450 languages! Today they presented data on diminutive constructions, which as noun class bods know are very interesting as they can often occupy a hinterland between inflection and derivation. The presentation showed that a broad distinction can be drawn between diminutives formed with noun classes, and those formed with an innovated suffix, originating in a form for ‘child’ (similar to the way that baby– can be used as a prefix in English I suppose), and with a bit of reduplication thrown in for good measure. Integrating the historical and social factors of the languages in their sample they presented a very cautious, but intriguing hypothesis that the languages that retained the innovation may have done so as a result of speakers aligning their identity to, and thus appeasing  new occupiers or powerful populations in their area. Conversely, languages that ultimately rejected the innovation may have been reasserting an oppressed identity.

After the break were talks from Crossroaders Alex Cobbinah and myself. Alex provided a follow-on from Francesca’s talk, breaking down her metric in even greater detail. He showed that while many of the Casamancais languages we study would score similarly (high) for complexity according to this metric, if we score the dimensions on a finer level of granularity we can observe quite significantly different scores. This overtly underscored a topic that also had come up in informal discussion with Francesca, and which seems to be a preoccupation of many of the attendees; namely that we need cooperation and communication between researchers working at all levels – typologists to give us the big picture, and field linguists to delve into details that may often be lost in grammars.

My talk also discussed complexity on a more minute level. I showed that even for Baïnounk Gubëeher and Joola Kujireray, both of which have extremely complex noun class systems which exist in very close contact, there is pretty extreme maintenance of difference between the systems in terms of the form, meaning and structure of the noun classes and the paradigms they form (the differing agreement patterns, which Alex touched on in his talk, and which formed a large part of discussion I’m sure add even greater levels of difference but it makes my head spin a bit so I will leave it for another day). That said, there are some pretty striking, if seemingly kind of random, crossovers between the systems – there seem to be contact effects between collectives, for example, as well a noun class for verbal nouns in the domain of  agriculture and/or fishing. An interesting, if unresolved topic of discussion involved , if we accept the hypothesis that complex noun class systems in contact help to reinforce each other’s complexity, why do they retain such idiosyncrasies without aligning. Again, a working hypothesis to that would probably involve  notions of identity construction and maintenance, although it is clear we have a lot of work to do in this respect.

That was the end and we all went for a nice drink in the sunshine. A big thank you again to everyone who participated, I think it initiated some really nice exchange which we hope will continue.

LILIEMA: Language-independent literacies for inclusive education in multilingual areas, by Friederike Lüpke (text) and Miriam Weidl (videos)

In many countries in West Africa, literacy is characterised by a paradox: the formal education system, based on the teaching of the official languages of colonial provenance, is struggling and plagued by stagnating enrolment and high dropout rates. Learners who complete primary education are frequently unable to read and write or lose their literacy and language skills because they have little occasion to use them in their daily lives. While there is a growing movement of recognising national languages through their standardisation, their use in education remains limited in scope and has low uptake. In short, at school students acquire skills that they cannot use in their daily lives (the small elite working in the formal sector of the economy relying on official languages notwithstanding).

At the same time, many West African writers do read and write, but in forms of literacy that are not recognised as such or frowned upon by linguists and education planners. The grassroots literacies they practise are old, such as the writing of African languages in Arabic characters, or new, such as Facebook posts, text messages, graffiti and signage in the linguistic landscapes using the Roman alphabet. What these practices have in common is that they are as mono-or multilingual as their writers and readers. This flexibility entails that they do not uphold strict boundaries between languages, as done in standardised writing practice. You can see some examples of how Alpha Naby Mane, LILIEMA trainer and Crossroads transcriber, uses Ajami to write Arabic and Mandinka here.

Working together in a team of Northern and Southern trainers, teachers and learners in the Crossroads project, we have developed a  method called LILIEMA – language-independent literacies for inclusive education in multilingual areas – or, as Alpha Naby Mane calls it, “l’alphabet sans frontières – the alphabet without borders”. LILIEMA builds on the actual existing grassroots literacies so that they can be used in multilingual classrooms, rather than continuing a language-based approach to education that is always based on a selection of languages and hence creates exclusion.

You can download our policy brief on LILIEMA here. An article in press discusses West African grassroots literacy practices as regimes of writing that deserve recognition. And you can read more on LILIEMA and read and watch testimonies and classroom interaction by reading on below.

Continue reading

Data management workflow by Rachel Watson

After plenty of trial and error, I’m happy to be posting the latest diagrams for the data management work flow that I’ve been working on with the valuable input of my team members. I don’t think it’s quite the finished article, no doubt we will find some details that need to be clarified, but I think we have now found a good system that means everything that needs to get done to get the data and metadata from creation to archiving with maximum efficiency and minimal confusion. It’s being used now by team members in various different roles and it seems to be going well so far *touch wood*.

I’ll be posting with some reflections on the process of developing a work flow for a project of this type, the challenges that we have encountered and how we have overcome them. In the meantime I’ll briefly outline the principles that underpin the workflow.

  1. Let the data management flow be dictated by the natural cycle of research and field trips – not the other way round.
  2. Where a task must be carried out in a very specific way by multiple team members, have documents detailing this process in explicit detail. If it doesn’t really matter how it is done, don’t bother.
  3. Apportion tasks according to knowledge and expertise, but…
  4. Ultimate overseeing of the data and metadata should be ceded to a central manager (we have two – one in London and one in Senegal)

The following diagrams show the process that we follow for getting the data and all its accompanying metadata from creation in Casamance, through the transcription process, and back to the corpus in London. The diagrams are colour coded according to the role of the team member who must carry out the step (green = researcher, blue = Corpus Master (CM), red = Transcription Master (TM) and yellow = transcriber). The docx. files referred to in the round ended boxes are more technical ‘how to’ documents , and the .xlsx are excel templates that we use to transfer metadata. The eagle eyed reader may notice that step 4 is missing. This concerns the flow of recordings from the transcription master to the transcribers and back again, and I don’t have an updated version of this section due to *ahem* a workflow hiccup – I’ll update asap!

1 create new arbil session

2 prepare new files for transcription

3 CM receives new transcription list

5 new transcriptions senegal to london

6 process new ELAN files

7 update arbil for new transcriptions

8 new ELAN files into corpus

9 integrate new elan files into corpus


*Snap* Gestures in the Lower Casamance by Chelsea Krajcik

My second leg of fieldwork in the Lower Casamance was carried out from October 2016 to early February 2017, during which I focused on investigating the semantic system of placement and removal events in Joola Kujireray. As I am researching the manual gestures used by speakers of Kujireray, I’ve developed more or less of an eye for certain gestures. In particular, there is one gesture that has captured my attention since the beginning of this project which I like to call a “snap and point” gesture. Combining both audio and visual elements, speakers extend their hand and snap, and upon completion of the snap, the index finger remains straight, creating the deictic pointing gesture. The video below provides an example of this gesture used by one of the speakers of Kujireray. In French, she is discussing the location of a building that used to be present, and when referring to its location, she uses this “snap and point” gesture, and both my colleague Mia Weidl and I turn our heads to look.



Why is this interesting for linguists and gesture researchers? Well, for one, gesture researchers have found a diverse range of deictic gestures across cultures that vary in both form and meaning. For example, the “thumbs-up” gesture may be the same form in several cultures or regions, but carries contrastive meanings. An open palm gesture in some cultures may only refer to objects in the plural form, where in others it may be used in certain contexts of formality. Like most of linguistic work, the majority of research concentrates on European languages and the same holds true for gesture studies. Hopefully, as the field of gesture studies is increasingly exploring new avenues of research, it will include a description of these understudied gesture forms in rural West Africa.

As for the “snap and point” gesture, I am curious to understand its parameters for which it is used. Is the speaker-gesturer trying to emphasize precision of the focal point? Is it used to get the addressee’s attention so s/he will look to where the speaker is pointing? Does visibility play a part in whether or not the speaker includes the snap? How exclusive is this “snap and point” gesture to the Lower Casamance – does this occur in other West African countries and beyond, and if so, does the form’s meaning vary? These are just a few questions I have pondered for this gesture, and although my current research does not focus on this form, it certainly makes for some interesting future research for the field of linguistics and gesture studies.