Miriam Weidl studied African Studies, Linguistics and Anthropology in Austria and gained a Mag.phil in 2012. Throughout her time at the University of Vienna she focused on West-African languages (Wolof, Fulfulde and Bambara) and cultures in different West-African countries. She had the chance to go on several fieldtrips to Mali, Burkina Faso and Senegal. She also travelled to neighbouring countries, which gave her a broader overview of different linguistic realities and became increasingly interested in Senegal, and its peoples, cultures, diversity and languages, so much so that she wrote her dissertation on language attitudes in Senegal.
After her studies in Vienna she joined the Crossroads Project at SOAS where she is working as a PhD student. The research for her PhD thesis focuses on multilingual individuals in two households in Senegal (in the urban area of Dakar and in Djibonker located in the rural area of Casamance). The research concentrates on the use of Wolof in the repertoires of multilingual speakers and aims to identify when a change of “language” happens, why it happens and if/how textual contexts are significant in these interactions. The prime question for closer examination is, how individual persons use their multilingual repertoire and registers in their daily life and how the individual character of the language repertoires and unique backgrounds, and how the interlocutor(s) in a conversation and the social/cultural environment, influence their range of language application. Miriam is ‘very glad to have the opportunity to do my research in the supportive environment of the Crossroads team’.
The research of Miriam’s PhD is part of the “Crossroads Project” and focusses on multilingual individuals of a family spread into two linguistically different areas of Senegal. The research concentrates on the use of Wolof in the repertoire of multilingual speakers and aims to identify when a change of the use of ‘language’ happens, why it happens and if textual contents are significant in these interactions. The prime question for a closer examination is, how individual persons use their multilingual repertoire and registers in their daily life and how the individual character of the language repertoires and unique backgrounds of the participants in a conversation and the social-cultural environment influence their range of language application.
In the last year of her research, she had the chance to intensively work on her research aims and conduct a field trip to Senegal, which helped to better a insight and understanding of the existing situation there. Shortly after the upgrade presentation in June 2015, where she presented her goals, former findings as well as methods used to conduct a successful sociolinguistic research, she began her fieldwork in Djibonker, southern Casamance, Senegal. The aim for this trip was to collect data in an household of an extended family which she already knew, trying out her methods and collect first data.
Therefore she came to the decision that it would be best to be in Djibonker for the summer months, since many people who live, work or study in a more urban area commute to the village to help with the rice planting and spend their holidays there. Also from a linguistic view this was of great importance; getting to know many family members at the same place, observing their conversations and picking her main participants was the goal. Unfortunately, most them did not show up and spent the summer elsewhere even though there were expected to be in the village. After realising that, she decided to change her main participants to another family in which the parents and their children are always residents in Djibonker and two related migrated families from Djibonker to the capital of the Casamance, Ziguinchor. The family in Djibonker consists of two brothers who grew up and spend most of there lives there, their wives, both coming from the outside of the village and growing up in a different linguistic environments and their children. The two families in Ziguinchor consist of a brother and a sister who where born in Djibonker and grew up within a similar linguistic repertoire as the two brothers, but then decided to move to Ziguinchor for purposes of work. Now they live there with their spouses, who are not from Djibonker, and their children. All of the people are highly multilingual, use more then two languages on a daily basis and have Wolof as one of the languages in their linguistic repertoires.
Miriam managed to get consent from all the main participants but also some people that are in contact with them on a regular basis and will therefore be of importance. That did not only give her the possibility to start interviews and collect natural language data but also to start a social network study in Djibonker, which will as well contribute for the Crossroads project.