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.

Bringing together worlds apart: multilingualism in London and Agnack, by Friederike Lüpke

Small-scale multilingualism of the kind used in Agnack Grand, the tiny village in the Lower Casamance where I conduct my fieldwork, seems worlds away from the bustling, superdiverse city of London.  But actually, a closer look reveals that proportionally, Agnack Grand has more linguistic diversity than one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world. London has been reported to host between 80 and 300 languages for a population of 8 million.  Agnack Grand counts a dozen languages for a population of 60.  That makes for a stunning degree of diversity for a very small and rural place tucked away between palm groves and marsh lands!

kanraxelpostermaster40Like London, Agnack Grand is nominally associated with only one language: Baïnounk Gujaher. But, unlike English, this language is not the official language of the country or province in which Agnack is located; nor is it the language taught in school or used in the media. Daily life in Agnack is very multilingual, and in a very different way from the way multilingualism works in London. London is home to many people who speak one, two, three or more different languages, but not all of them speak the same two, three, or more languages, and they don’t use these languages all the time and with everybody they encounter. In Agnack, everybody speaks at least six languages, and these languages are used all the time. Multilingualism in Agnack is a trait of individuals, and a deeply enshrined fact of social life.

Places like Agnack, of which there are many in rural Africa and worldwide, defy common conceptualisations of multilingualism (for instance, that it is widespread in urban areas and associated with growing mobility and migration in an era of globalization) and invite us to shed stereotypical expectations on what it means to speak several languages.  Places like Agnack also invite us to see multilingualism as a resource, not as a problem. It is a great opportunity for the team behind Kanraxël – the confluence of Agnack to be able to bring multilingualism à la Agnack one more time to a London audience: we will screen this documentary at an event organized by Multilingual Capital at Queen Mary University of London on March 23 at 7pm. Registration is free on Eventbrite, so come along and immerse yourself in a visual celebration of small-scale multilingualism.


Crossing the ocean to meet with the Crossroads team, by Kristine Stenzel and Bruna Franchetto


Kris, Bruna, and Friederike in deep conversation

From November  28 to December 2, 2016, Kristine Stenzel and Bruna Franchetto, professors from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, traveled to London to meet with the Crossroads team and participate in the LDLT5 Pre-conference session on “Small-scale multilingualism and linguistic diversity”. The visit was funded by a British Academy International Partnership Grant awarded to Friederike Lüpke and Kristine Stenzel with the objective of bringing together researchers working in prominent small-scale multilingual situations in Senegal and Brazilian Amazonia for an initial exchange of ideas, experiences, and knowhow.

Ruth Singer, who visited the Crossroads project from September to December 2016, gives her presentation at the workshop on small-scale multilingualism.

Ruth Singer gives her presentation at the workshop on small-scale multilingualism.

The first days were dedicated to a series of informal meetings with Friederike, visiting scholar Ruth Singer (ANU and University of Melbourne) and Crossroads team members Rachel Watson, Abbie Hantgan, Alexander Cobbinah, Samantha Goodchild, and Miriam Weidl, who shared valuable information related to data management, methodological issues, and interesting research questions under investigation. Bruna, a specialist in the Upper Xingu region in central Brazil, and Kristine, whose research is in the Upper Rio Negro region of northwest Amazonia, found many fascinating parallels between multilingual regions of Brazil and Senegal, but also noted significant and fascinating differences. ‘Discovery’ was the hallmark of the pre-conference session as well, when participants heard more about the Amazonian and West African systems, as well as about multilingual contexts in the Guianas, China, Australia, and in the classic literary traditions of northern India.

Kristine and Bruna look forward to hosting Friederike and Rachel, as well as scholars from institutions throughout Brazil and students involved in indigenous language research, at a five-day follow-up workshop in Rio, August 21-25, 2017. This workshop will introduce West African multilingual systems to the local audience, provide the opportunity for cross-regional and cross-continental comparison, and set the stage for development of a typology of regional multilingual systems in Brazil.

Crossroads team members Alex, Friederike and Rachel in a lively discussion with workshop participant Bob Borges.

Crossroads team members Alex, Friederike and Rachel in a lively discussion with workshop participant Bob Borges.

Early Career Researchers to Brussels on 21-22 June 2016 (Post Brexit update)

Alex and Abbie, along with about 20 other London-based researchers, recently took part a working visit to Brussels with London Higher Education to explore resources for furthering funding in the EU through opportunities such as  Horizon 2020Marie Skłodowska-Curie, and the European Research Council. These grants provide substantial support to academics in various stages of their careers to collaborate with those within and outside academia in a range of disciplines and fields. The necessity to align the project goals with areas of interest and relevant to EU policy and goals was stressed.

The UK has an office in Brussels which is available to researchers at colleges and universities such as ours in London.  We were specifically encouraged to make contact with the representatives there, even before applying, in order to increase the chances of securing funding. The UKRO Portal: offers the following:

  • Tailored news articles and clear and accessible web pages on the latest in EU funding
  • Enquiry service: individual support through your dedicated European Advisor
  • Annual briefing visits: bespoke training for your institution
  • Meeting room: a venue in Brussels available for Britain-based academics for conferences and meetings

The next call for proposals relevant to early career researchers are the ERC Starting Grants with the next call opening up in July 2017.

For those with broader prospects, the Horizon 2020 program which seeks to alleviate some of the world’s most difficult problems and opens up major discoveries by the year 2020, is a way to partner with other institutions (not necessarily in academia) to create major changes.

We also were given a fascinating tour of EU Parliament where we saw some of the inner and networkings of Europe’s 751 elected representatives who are themselves represented through 24 official languages.

  • For more information contact:
  • Email:
  • Website:
  • Twitter: @LondonHigherEU
  • c/o London House
  • Rue du Trône 108
  • 1050 Brussels/Belgium
  • Tel: +32 (0)2 650 08 00

As the situation of the UK regarding EU infrastructure has radically changed since our visit (see Information on implications of referendum), we have received an update which we would also like to share. Yesterday, October 12, 2016, UKRO representative Blazej Thomas came to SOAS for a visit in which he stated the followingː


He and the other speakers present yesterday encouraged those who are interested in applying for EU funding not to hesitate based on rumors to the contrary and that the UKRO office is available for advice and assistance.

Kanraxël – The Confluence of Agnack presented at the AHRC Commons first national event, by Chouette Films

Throughout centuries and spanning across continents, midsummer has been steeped in mysticism, rituals and folklore. And on 21 June – Midsummer’s Eve – there was no doubt that the spirits of Casamance were among us as we at Chouette Films and the Crossroads Project were able to impart some of the wisdom of Casamance’s people to a wider audience.

On the day, Crossroads PhD students Samantha Goodchild and Miriam Weidl gave a talk at the Translanguaging Symposium at the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Ethnic and Religious Diversity in Göttingen, Germany. At the same time, Chouette Films held a presentation at the AHRC Commons’ first national event, Common Ground, at the University of York. The event’s aim was to establish a new forum where Arts and Humanities researchers from a range of subject areas and disciplines can collaborate with other colleagues. Participants from organisations across the UK ran the event, including universities and colleges, cultural organisations, museums and galleries – and the activities ranged from theatrical performances to debates and film screenings.

As winners of last year’s AHRC Film in Research award, we had the honour of screening our prize-winning film Kanraxël – The Confluence of Agnack at the event’s film zone. The film depicts daily multilingual practices in Agnack, one of the field sites of the Crossroads project, where Friederike Lüpke, whose research inspired the film, conducts her fieldwork.


Children in Agnack grow up with at least three language, and many of them master four or more by the time they start school.

Our producer and a PhD candidate at the London Film School/University of Exeter, Anna Sowa’s presentation on ‘Indigenous multilingualism in research and teaching’ explored the relationship between research, methodology and the filmmaking process. Dr Ian McDonald, the event’s film zone leader, commented: “Anna’s presentation highlighted the need for respect and a strong ethical dimension to academic research and film production in developing countries. Anna mentioned that her team had donated their AHRC award to the villagers of Casamance as a gift and as recognition of the villagers’ status as, in effect, co-producers of the film. The presentation raised pertinent issues as we seek to raise the profile of filmmaking as practice-led research in the Academy. In bringing together grounded theory and method with a beautiful cinematic treatment of the anthropological film genre, the presentation struck the right mood and balance that set up the day to come.”

Kanraxël was well received by the audience, and after the screening, several important questions were raised: can a film be used as a tool for social change? Can a film make an impact, a tangible difference? These are especially timely questions now, amidst discussions on growing multiculturalism and in times of political uncertainty. Perhaps the people of Casamance could teach us a thing or two about tolerance and diversity…?


And what better time to start unravelling some of these questions than now: a few months ago, we sent an application to the SOAS Impact Fund to develop a set of online teaching resources and impact activities around the film. Yet again, it seems that the spirits of Casamance were on our side, as our application was approved and we are currently developing teaching materials aimed at university students and secondary school pupils. Our goal is to draw attention to the multilingual richness of the continent. We also want students from diverse backgrounds to discover connections to their own language practices – and embrace the different languages they might have grown up with. Above all, we want to highlight the richness and many benefits associated with multilingualism and multiculturalism. The new and exciting website,, will be launched in September.


The poster for the film shows the confluence (Kanraẍel in the patrimonial language of Agnack) of two rivers that offers the beautiful metaphor that we extended to the effortless way in which people meet and mix in Casamance.


Although we are not claiming to be able to change the world, we believe that films like Kanraxël, along with the materials available the upcoming website, can equip audiences to rethink the ways in which multilingualism and multiculturalism are conceptualised. As Samm Haillay, a senior film producer and presenter at the AHRC Commons event, said, “An artist’s job is not to try and answer the huge questions, but to pose them in a way that engages those who are watching. The key is to get the audience to consider these questions, to look at their life and attempt to find their own meanings.”


Watch this space for the big launch of the new Kanraxël website this autumn. For a taster, watch this clip showing one of the protagonists and giving insight into often overlooked women’s trajectories, identities and language use here.

You can follow the film’s success and join the conversation on diversity and multilingualism on Twitter and Facebook using #KANRAXEL

KPAAM-CAM – Crossroads Workshop,  6th – 10th June 2016, by Pierpaolo di Carlo*

* With contributions by Alexander Cobbinah, Abbie Hantgan, Samantha Goodchild, Friederike Lüpke, Rachel Watson and Miriam Weidl

In September 2015, at the end of the M4 conference, team members of the Crossroads project and of the KPAAM-CAM project (Key Pluridisciplinary Advances on African Multilingualism – CAMeroon, based at the University at Buffalo, SUNY), had a fruitful meeting and realized it would be important to spend some time together in a joint workshop to share our experiences and develop common research tools and methods. We dreamed of a serendipitous event in a quiet town of rural Italy, which unfortunately proved impossible to organize.

Nonetheless, we maintained our motivation and managed to hold our first joint KPAAM-CAM – Crossroads workshop at SOAS, University of London, at the beginning of June 2016, and it was undoubtedly a success from which all of us benefitted and are still benefitting. Not only did we start the week with an exciting event, witnessing the centenary celebrations of SOAS. We used our time for project internal and open discussions, gave and heard talks on topics concerning ongoing research, corpus design, upcoming problems, the definition of terms and concepts, and ended the workshop at Queen Mary,  University of London, participating in the Jenny Cheshire Lecture with an inspiring talk from Lesley Milroy.


IMG_0010As a whole, the nineteen invited participants represented six universities (SOAS, University at Buffalo SUNY, University of Yaounde 1, University of Buea, Université Cheikh Anta Diop Dakar, University of Frankfurt) and eleven countries (Austria, Benin, Cameroon, China, Democratic Republic of Congo, France, Germany, Italy, Senegal, the US, and the UK). We met every day from 10am to 5pm, for four days, to talk about both individual as well as team-based research projects; all variously connected with individual multilingualism in lesser-studied areas of sub-Saharan Africa. The programme of the workshop part open to the public is available here.


Put in this way, we realize it may not sound too exciting for the non-specialist. What has happened, in fact, is that scholars and students coming from different disciplines (linguistics, sociolinguistics, anthropology, information technology) with diverse backgrounds have tried to create an environment that could suit a basic, yet often neglected need of researchers: to discuss difficulties, challenges, and failures. It is not that common to find two research teams available to discuss openly about their difficulties, but in some sense we also managed to do that. Of course, being in a quiet town in rural Italy would have further facilitated the process somewhat…

One phenomenon, different approaches

We all had one main reason to meet: discuss about how we are dealing with multilingualism in areas such as Casamance, in southern Senegal,  and the Cameroonian Grassfields. Friederike Lüpke discussed these two settings in the wider context of small-scale multilingualism worldwide in her talk. The two teams have so far adopted two substantially different perspectives:  the Crossroads team focusses more on topics related to language contact and the links between multilinguals’ ideologies and repertoires and actual language use, while KPAAM-CAM is more concentrated on the possible cultural matrixes of language ideologies co-occurring with widespread and intense multilingualism. This complementarity was the essential reason why we thought we would benefit from a joint workshop.

Involvement of local communities in and around target areas

One of the first topics we discussed concerns the ways in which the two teams have collaborated with local communities in and around their respective research targets. We identified three levels of collaboration: institutional, operational, and target communities. KPAAM-CAM crucially relies on Cameroonian universities (Yaounde 1, Buea, and CATUC Bamenda), both at an institutional and operational level (currently involving 10 MA and PhD students). The Crossroads team collaborates with Cheik-Anta Diop University in Dakar and has three Senegalese PhD students and co-ordinator Alain-Christian Bassène on the team.

For what concerns relationships with target speaker communities, all of us shared a preoccupation: that of having broader positive impact. For example, many Crossroads team members have been involved in teaching English classes, both to adults and children, and boxing classes, setting up small gym areas in Brin and Djibonker. KPAAM-CAM has initiated a project called Pig for Pikin (which, in Cameroonian Pidgin English means “Pigs for Children”), where people have been trained in pig rearing in order to raise money which will be used for funding teachers in local schools in the area.



Stimuli for reappraisal of some widely held assumptions

Languages as categories (prototype theory)

In this session we discussed the tension between the ‘translanguaging’ discourse that is Crossroads prototype RW-screenshotpopular in sociolinguistic studies on multilingualism of this type, and the need for descriptions of individual languages. In her talkRachel Watson proposed that prototype theory can serve as a useful way to resolve this conflict. Languages can be conceived of as clusters of features which are more or less prototypical, which speakers may select according to different social and cultural cues.


Visible and invisible social networks


DiCarloNeba-screenshotOne of the key pluridisciplinary advances of KPAAM-CAM is that of showing how some cultural features connected with the spiritual sphere of one’s existence – found in the Cameroonian Grassfields but not limited to this area – do in fact condition one’s linguistic behavior. For instance, Pierpaolo Di Carlo and Ayu’nwi N. Neba (University of Buea) have proposed an overview of Bafut language ecology and ideology pointing to the need to widen our perspective on speaker communities crucially including also invisible agents (i.e. the ancestors and other spirits). This could nicely implement current social network analysis as it is being applied by Klaus Beyer, who illustrated his ongoing project in Ngaoundere and also coordinated a hands-on session on how to practically implement social network analysis. Along the same lines, also Prof. Philippe Mutaka (University of Yaounde 1) in his paper suggested to find ways to deal with emically relevant discourse genres in sociolinguistic research focused on African societies, crucially including matters connected with the spiritual side of life.

Developing a shared workflow

Both Crossroads and KPAAM-CAM stem from previous language documentation projects and during the workshop the team shared ideas centering around best practice when collecting sociolinguistic data and worked together looking at sociolinguistic interview guides. One pertinent topic was how to maintain comparability of data across semi-structured interview situations. In response to this, and from the perspective of a longitudinal project that needs to ensure database consistency on a long term, KPAAM-CAM have worked with Ning Deng (PhD candidate in Computer Science and Engineering in Buffalo) to create a promising field data collection app, available on Android, which helpfully prompts users for required and desired data. For more information on the app please contact Ning at

Ideas for dissemination

Both teams are aware that what they are finding in the field has the potential to become a significant addition to linguists’ and sociolinguists’ epistemological repertoires. Hence comes the determination to join forces and prepare publications that could start disseminating our research outcomes. While there was not enough time to develop an agenda for joint publications, on the last day of the workshop we discussed about dissemination in African universities. We have brainstormed about online and offline tools, gamification and, more generally, about cultural differences that should be taken into account to increase the impact of our dissemination efforts.

Last but not least: naming “our multilingualism”

In the brainstorming session, there were many possible terms conceived to describe the multilingual situations that we work in (name slide to be inserted here). Why would we need a new name here? Simply put: the multilingualisms we are exposed to (which have much in common with similar situations in Amazonia and Melanesia) have a number of features that fundamentally keep them apart from the canonical understanding of multilingualism: i.e. urban, post-colonial, polyglossic and superdiverse.

Names for multilingualism

Many terms were discussed although wider issues were identified such as whether we wished for a term to describe the process of multilingual language use, the phenomenon in itself, an ontology of multilingualism or whether we wanted to privilege a term that maximized chances of being understood by a wider, less specialist audience. It was pointed out that speakers and contexts should have an important place in the terminology, both for what we do in our research and in how we name the phenomenon and differentiate it from other forms of multilingualism. We left the workshop agreeing that we engage in dynamic repertoire analysis, a term that captures the multitude of perspectives and disciplinary approaches we combine in different ways to describe the complex settings in which we work. Regarding a better label for the phenomenon we reseearch that also captures how speakers live it, we came up with the term “organic multilingualism” – a configuration that has grown without regulating top-down interventions in a particular ecological space and is adaptive to changing conditions in it. More to come on our new pet term soon – watch this space!