The Crossroads project was a collaborative and interdisciplinary research project investigating small scale multilingualism in a shared cultural space in Southern Senegal. The Crossroads area forms a triangle of three villages tied by dense social networks, family relationships and shared languages, yet every local setting has its own distinctive language ecology.
Rather than switching to only one or two regional or national languages of wider communication, people at the Crossroads are maintaining multiple languages in their repertoires, and have done so for centuries, if not millennia. It is not unusual for an individual to speak anything upwards of five languages, many of which are small, village-based languages that are not used as linguae francae. We approached this type of multilingualism from two angles: the social and the structural. and cognitive.
Governed by the assumption that the maintenance of this type of multilingualism must be motivated by social, political and religious factors and serve to express particular aspects of identity in different contexts, the project investigated the ideologies that nurture it.
In addition, we looked at how the social networks and communities of practice of the very mobile speakers of these languages shape and change their repertoires. Our third research focus explored the impact of social practice on the structural side of language – where convergences between languages occur (or don’t), to what extent the languages are fully reified and to what extent they keep re-emerging in and from multilingual discourse.
The physical focal point of our research in Casamance wasour field base in Brin, where our local transcriber team worked with us on making sense of the multilingual recordings we collected. There, we came together as a team with members of the village communities for shared meals, workshops, training sessions, and, not to forget, parties.