Linguistics Department

Colloquium - Jeff Good (University of Buffalo, Buffalo, NY)

Documenting multilingualism in rural Africa: The case of Lower Fungom

Mon, October 2, 2017 | CLA 1.302B (Glickman Center)

3:00 PM - 5:00 PM

This talk reports on the results of interdisciplinary collaborative research to document patterns of multilingualism in the Lower Fungom region of Northwest Cameroon. Lower Fungom is geographically compact, but linguistically quite diverse. It is associated seven to nine local languages, and its inhabitants collectively have knowledge of dozens of other languages spoken outside of the region. The research makes use of a mix of standard documentary methodologies along with data collection and analysis techniques developed within sociolinguistics, anthropology, geography, and computer science.

The picture that is emerging on the basis of this work is that the most important social motivation for multilingualism within Lower Fungom is to allow an individual to ensure their spiritual and economic security in the local environment. This contrasts with what has been observed in other parts of Africa and suggests that an interesting future area of investigation is the typology of the relationships that can hold between communities and the languages that they speak in rural multilingual settings. Pilot research is also being conducted using GIS techniques to map the geographic distribution of knowledge of Lower Fungom's languages throughout the region so as to create a more accurate depiction of the relationship between language and space than is possible with traditional cartographic presentations.

Taken together, the results of this work are not only useful for helping us better understand the dynamics of rural multilingualism in Africa, but they also provide an outline for how documentary work can expand beyond the examination of individual languages and towards the documentation of entire language ecologies.

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