Since starting my studies in African linguistics, general linguistics and phonetics at the University of Cologne, West Africa has been the geographic area that caught my interest most. My very first travel to the continent, to Cameroon, Congo Brazzaville and Equatorial Guinea, was a voyage straight into the heart of African multilingualism and set the tone for several red threads of my academic development and work. Participating in a survey on national languages used in education and the media for UNESCO, I was amazed by the linguistic diversity in these countries and impressed by the attempts to measure, describe and tame it. Later, when gaining practical experience in a language development project with GTZ in Mali, I became critical of Eurocentric activities to protect complex and heterogeneous linguistic and cultural heritage by reducing it to standards and monolithic representation. I escaped addressing these issues for my doctoral research, which was firmly rooted in grammatical description within a functional-typological framework and resulted in a description of the verbal system of the Mande language Jalonke. Since then, my work has been motivated by bringing together research on language as an abstract system with its social realities and the fluid and heterogeneous nature of language use. The Crossroads project, with its interdisciplinary orientation and intensely collaborative atmosphere, is the ideal environment to develop exciting new perspectives on the interaction of ideological constructs of languages with creative and versatile practice in one of the most multilingual settings found in Africa, the Casamance region of Southern Senegal.
This interview with Research Professional tells the history of the Crossroads project.