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!

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.