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

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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.

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.

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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, kanraxelfilm.co.uk, will be launched in September.

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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.

Numbers

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.

Feelings

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.

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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.

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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 ndeng@buffalo.edu.

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!

The diversity of diverse, by Friederike Lüpke

The May 11 issue of the Smithsonian Magazine reports the recent discovery that the Natives of central Massachusetts spoke five language rather than only Loup, as had been assumed till now. Smithsonian curator emeritus and senior linguist Ives Goddard is quoted with the comment: “It’s like some European families where you can have three different languages at the dinner table.” It is odd that Europe is the continent invoked as exemplar for multilingualism, when it is one of the continents where diversity has been radically diminished over the past centuries, and where attitudes to multilingualism are far from being generally positive. Other parts of the world have maintained a indigenous multilingualism to a much higher degree.  Among them are large parts of the Lower Casamance at the Upper Guinea Coast of West Africa and the Grassfields in Northwestern Cameroon. These areas are among the most multilingual regions in the world, with patterns of multilingualism that predate the colonization and spread of European languages and emergence of Pidgin and Creole languages in them. So maybe one day the knowledge of these settings will be so commonplace that  the mention of multilingualism would evoke different images and spur remarks such as”it’s like some Casamance villages where you can’t utter ten sentences without using at least four languages” or  “she’s as multilingual as an inhabitant of the Lower Fungom area – by the age of six, she spoke six languages”.

For now, this is just a dream. Detailed (socio)linguistic research on these and  many other multilingual settings that can be described by terms such as “rural”, “traditional”, “egalitarian”, “non-polyglossic”, “balanced” or “indigenous” is only just beginning, and the knowledge of these settings confined to a circle of specialists and far from being in the public imagination. Engaging in exchanges with other scholars currently involved in research on these situations therefore is a great chance for us to develop new perspectives, to learn new methods and adapt existing methods to our settings, to chart commonalities and differences between in the ways in which language is used and conceptualised in other corners of the world, and to raise awareness of its distinct features. First comparisons have already revealed that diversity comes in many different shapes!

Last week, we were happy to have a chat with Dineke Schokkin, a member of the ARC Laureate project ‘Wellsprings of Linguistic Diversity’, led by Nick Evans, and we’re delighted that Wellsprings PostDoc Ruth Singer, whose research investigates small-scale multilingualism in Northern Arnhem land, Australia, will visit SOAS and the Crossroads project from September to December 2016. In June 2016, we will have another great opportunity for collaboration: members of our sister project KPAAM-CAM on rural multilingualism in Northwestern Cameroon, led by Jeff Good, will visit us for a joint workshop at SOAS. We have decided to make three mornings of our two-project summit open. If you can, please come and attend the talks given by members of and advisors of both projects. The detailed programme for the open parts on June 7 to 9 2016 can be found here.  You might find that your metaphors of multilingualism will become more diverse as a result…