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!

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.

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