Small-scale multilingualism in the Lower Casamance

Multilingualism is deeply anchored in the societies of Lower Casamance, where it is both cause and effect of a number of social practices. Caused by the need for strategic, multiple, and versatile alliances between the small, family-based groups that populate this area, the many networks in which its inhabitants have engaged through the known history of the region have in turn created a social habitus geared towards a great openness to languages and multilingualism. Among the social practices that nurture multilingualism in the entire region are exogamous marriages, widespread child fostering and ritual, professional, religious and economic mobility. All these exchanges occur across imaginary language borders and at a small, local, scale; yet every local setting has its own characteristic language ecology.

Shared social and cultural aspects of identity have been well studied by historians and anthropologists for Casamance and the Upper Guinea Coast. Material culture, myths of origin, religious practices, etc., have converged throughout the region and cross-cut ethnic and linguistic borders. Ethnic groups, only recently introduced in the wake of French colonisation, have only limited relevance for linguistic and cultural patterns.

Our project has had the chance to build on previous research on individual languages in the Crossroads area. Involving a team of researchers, we were able to look in detail not only at corpus data of multilingual speech but also at the social networks and communities of practice in which it is produced, and at the ideologies that underlie conceptualisations of language and language use.  

An important milestone was reached when we understood how language indexes identity at the local level. Hamlets, villages, quarters or entire areas are nominally associated by their inhabitants with one language or language cluster, a connection that we reflect in the term patrimonial language developed within the project (Lüpke 2018b). The association with a patrimonial lineage does not reflect actual language use but reveals the nominal or identity language(s) of the founding clan or claims of particular groups to first-comer status, signalling land ownership and the authority to settle strangers. Via a process of patrimonial deixis, the language of the first settlers becomes associated with the entire space, thus indexing a political unit under the control of the first settlers, not reflecting the late-comers or settled strangers inhabiting it. The link to land rights and patrimony entails that the patrimonial language is only made visible in contexts where first-comer status is emphasised.

Crucially, being a first-comer  is only of relevance when a contrast with late-comers is made – a dichotomy that underlies the entire known migrational history of the Upper Guinea Coast of West Africa, where small groups continuously broke off and reorganised in Frontier societies. As the people to whom generic first-comer claims are attributed, Baïnounk reflect first-comer status through great openness to recognise the presence and accomodate to the languages of late-comers. Joola late-comers, who in many cases superseded and assimilated former Baïnounk, often erase their former late-comer status from political and linguistic memory. Settlements recognised as mixed, such as the village Brin (Jire, Watson 2015, Watson 2018) retain aspects of their settlment history in their conceptualistion .

First-comer/new-comer dualities continue to be of importance for language territorialisation and thus determine the scope and domains of use of patrimonial languages in much of the area. In the Joola Banjal area, a shift towards ancestral, ethnic language ideologies can be observed (Goodchild forthcoming, 2019, Goodchild & Weidl 2018) which results in multilingualism and heterogeneity being exclusively associated with mobility and migration. The inhabitants of this area are multilingual due to their networks and trjactories, but regard the Banjal area as a monolingual space.

In addition to local, patrimonially or ethnically motivated linguistic identities, inhabitants of the Casamance conceptualise identity at regional and national levels (Cobbinah forthcoming a, Lüpke 2016a, Lüpke & Watson forthcoming, Watson 2018, Watson 2019). At the regional scale, alliances are formed through the participation in initiation ceremonies and shared cultural calendars. These federal contexts are reflected in superordinate identities activated at this level. In the case of areas where closely related Joola languages are spoken in the Crossroads area and beyond, from the West of Ziguinchor towards the Atlantic coast, we observe that local linguistic features that index village-level identities become downgraded and that more widely shared features are used to (Cobbinah et al 2017, Hantgan 2017) or more vehicular varieties of Joola are privileged (Cobbinah forthcoming a).

In the case of language ideologies in the area to the east of Ziguinchor, in particular those related to Baïnounk languages scattered across a vast area, no intermediate registers regrouping the village-based languages are attested, reflecting the fragmented status of Baïnounk territory. At the national scale, identities are construed in relation to the Senegalese state and its language ideologies, with are ethnofederal (Cobbinah forthcoming a, Lüpke 2016 a). Joola identities are expressed there in their most inclusive reading, encompassing a wide range of languages that can also be seen as distinct. This identity is linguistically expressed through Joola Foñi, a widely spoken Joola language and the main standardised and recognised Joola variety. While a pan-Baïnounk identity is metadiscursively articulated at this level, in order to gain recognition through minority language status, it has not found reflection in a koiné variety, because of the very heterogenous nature of the Baïnounk language cluster.

In all settings in the Casamance, Wolof and French play important roles. French is deeply embedded in everyday language practices, to the extent that speakers themselves are unaware of the multilayered (diachronic and synchronic) mixed character of speech (Goodchild 2019). As the de facto national language of Senegal and as the language associated with internal colonisation and northern political dominance, Wolof polarises, not the least because it is the language associated with the Senegalese state in a region affected by a secessionist conflict for more than thirty years. Yet, while attitudes towards Wolof can be extremely negative, in particular in Joola-speaking areas, at the local level, Wolof is integrated into linguistic practice without functioning as the high language in a diglossic setting. Just like French, it is absorbed into flexible languaging (Goodchild & Weidl 2018, Weidl 2019).

Crossroads research has shown that ethnic and linguistic identities are extremely local, malleable and relational (Goodchild 2016, Lüpke 2016). Seemingly stable concepts such as named languages and named ethnic groups are constantly reanalysed and restructured in response to sociopolitical process from the local to the national level. These observations have prompted us to integrate the dimensions of temporality, scale and perspective into our research paradigm and to develop approaches to the study of language contact that turn them into an integral part of our method (Goodchild 2019, Lüpke & Watson forthcoming, Weidl 2019). Capturing village-based settings not as hosting a homogeneous language community but speech communities sharing norms and etiquettes for the situated use of multiple languages has consequences for language vitality and language revitalisation research. Rural multilingualism is not always a symptom of a former monolingual polity in decline but an outcome of prolonged multilingualism in societies in which co-habitation is not, or only very recently, based on the creation or imagination of a monolingual speech- and language community (Lüpke 2016b, 2017, 2018a, 2019). The maintenance of prolonged rural multilingualism makes the Lower Casamance a prime example of small-scale multilingualim (Lüpke 2016b).