Paper Abstracts

Ericka Albaugh: “Language Movement and Civil War in West Africa”
The early independence nation-building project in Africa promised to spread official languages to ensure cohesiveness.  Fifty years later, only a minority of most states’ populations speak the official language.  And yet people still communicate; multilingualism is ubiquitous.  I propose to investigate the contemporary spread of wider languages of communication within and across borders.  These languages have spread through urbanization, trade, migration, and sometimes education. I am more interested for the moment, however, in the role of war.  Scholars have noted that inter-state war often provokes nationalism and the spread of common languages; I suggest that civil war might have similar effects. In areas most touched by conflict, I would expect lingua francas to have progressed faster than they would through “natural” processes and individual calculation.  I have begun to investigate these processes in Sierra Leone and Liberia, and I will do so as far as possible before field research in Cote d’Ivoire, using early and recent censuses, Afrobarometer surveys, and Ethnologue data. A continent perceived as linguistically fragmented is in fact deeply intertwined, and this should influence the way scholars treat language diversity on the continent.

David Gordon: “Wanderwörter of the South-Central African Caravan Trade, c.1800-c.1900”
By the late the nineteenth century a caravan trade extended from Indian and the Atlantic littorals through the hinterland of south-central Africa. Industrial commodities - guns, cloths, iron, and beads - were exchanged for ivory, slaves, beeswax and rubber. Along the trade routes and in the centers of new trading polities, words spread to describe new commodities, new peoples, and new forms of political power. These Wanderwörter were generally loanwords originating in the languages of the coastal traders, in particular Portuguese and KiSwahili. By the end of nineteenth century, as the diverse vernaculars of the central African interior began to be transcribed by colonial-era missionaries into tribal languages, such wandering words were incorporated into these new languages, often disguised by distinctive orthographies. Examining some of these wandering words provides a window into linguistic dynamism and political-economic change prior to European conquest.

Carolyn Logan: “100 Languages and Counting: Managing Survey Research Across a Linguistically Diverse Continent”
Since 1999, Afrobarometer has been conducting comparative cross-national surveys on public attitudes about democracy, governance and related issues, now covering more than 35 countries across Africa. Fulfilling Afrobarometer’s twin goals of conducting interviews ‘in the language of the respondent’s choice’ while maintaining stringent quality standards has presented no small challenge. This paper will have two main parts. First, we will review what Afrobarometer data reveals about language distribution and multilingualism, both at the individual level, as well as within communities and across countries. Obviously most African countries are linguistically heterogeneous, but how linguistically diverse are the local communities where people live, and how do they adapt to this diversity? Secondly, the paper will discuss some of the core challenges the Afrobarometer has faced, from translating complex concepts into dozens of languages, to linguistically matching respondents and interviewers, and dealing with languages that are unwritten, or unread. We will close by considering whether new technologies for implementing interviews and capturing data can help to overcome some of these challenges.

Kathryn de Luna: “Scales and Units: Language Movement in Precolonial Central Africa”  
This paper takes as its case study one short chapter in the larger history of the expansion of Bantu languages across eastern, central, and southern Africa: the story of the expansion of Botatwe languages c. 750-1250 from their linguistic homeland in middle Kafue river region to lands beyond the Lukanga swamps to the north and the Zambezi River to the south. Botatwe languages were widely adopted in the area as a result of a major reconfiguration of social ties that facilitated marriages, settlement, and travel across longer distances at a time when interregional trade was also expanding. But the peculiar sources used to tell this story—words reconstructed to the proto-languages of the Botatwe family—and the linguistic demography of precolonial Africa raise a number of issues about units (speakers, languages, words, lexicons) and the scales of language movement and change they evince. By comparing the units and scales of studies of language movement and change in 20th and 21st century Africa with the units and scales discernable for precolonial periods, we can see forces of language change that are not immediately visible in contemporary Africa but may, nonetheless, be important factors in current and future language movement.   

Scott MacEachern: “Understanding Distributions of Chadic Languages: Archaeological Perspectives”
The distribution of Chadic languages in West/Central Africa is extremely diverse: it includes the very widely dispersed single language Hausa, the more restricted Central Chadic and Masa languages in and around the southern Lake Chad Basin, and a set of poorly-understood Eastern Chadic languages spoken in Chad. These distributions are disjunct in complex ways, and the relationships between Chadic and neighbouring Nilo-Saharan and Niger-Congo languages is extremely complicated. The genesis of these distributions lies in the mid-Holocene, with the progressive occupation of the Lake Chad Basin by populations faced by the desiccation of the Sahara and the opening of lands fit for pastoralism further to the south. Further differentiation of Chadic languages appears to be associated with sociopolitical developments in the region, especially over the last 1000 years. This paper will consider the methodological challenges associated with studying the history of these ethnolinguistic populations using archaeological data, as well as providing an initial framework for understanding the social dynamics within which these linguistic distributions emerged.

Fiona Mc Laughlin: “Repertoires of Locality: Taxes, Scripts, and Languages at the Port of Niodior, Senegal”
This paper takes a novel approach to investigating the use of loanwords and their representation in a multilingual West African context as indexical of a complex local history that has been shaped by economic and religious forces.  Tapping into recent theoretical advances in the sociolinguistics of writing, I consider the semiotics of a panel entitled “Taxes du Port” erected at the entrance to the port of Niodior in Senegal’s Saloum Delta.  This hand-painted sign announces the sum that must be paid as tax for everything that boats bring to the island, from cows to televisions to coconut trees.  A list of tariffs runs down the center of the panel, dividing it in two, one half in Roman script in French, the other in Arabic script. The Arabic script side is the more complex and multilingual as it depicts multiple languages, and in so doing more closely approximates the everyday repertoires of the inhabitants of Niodior.  In analyzing this panel I make use of recent theoretical perspectives in the sociolinguistics of writing to consider the ways in which economic and religious factors shape language spread in Africa.

Fallou Ngom: “Ajami Literacies of Africa: Their Emergence, Expansion and Functions”
The emergence of Ajami traditions in Africa mirrors the development of traditions of writing European languages based on the Latin orthography. Just like the Latin script spread throughout the world through Christianity and was modified to write numerous European languages, so too the Arabic script spread through Islam and was modified to write numerous African languages. Many Ajami traditions emerged as part of the pedagogies to disseminate Islam to the illiterate African masses. However, their usage expanded to encompass other areas of knowledge, just as the Latin script flourished from the church environment to encompass other secular domains of knowledge of different European communities that had modified the script to meet their written communication needs. Recent discoveries indicate that African Ajami traditions go as far back as the eleventh century. The materials that have emerged in Ajami traditions represent an important and underexplored source of knowledge on Africa. They are rich and varied and encompass both religious and secular manuscripts. I will discuss the emergence, expansion and current religious and secular functions of Ajami literacies and their implications in the humanities and social sciences, including in language planning and policy.

Kenneth S. Olson and M. Paul Lewis: “The Ethnologue and Language Mapping”
Since the 15th edition (2005), Ethnologue has followed the ISO 639-3 standard for decisions regarding language inventories. The language identification process is based on structural criteria (primarily linguistic similarity, which is mostly based on intelligibility measures), and to a lesser extent, functional criteria (e.g. as a marker of identity). The concept of macrolanguages was developed in order to reconcile the earlier ISO 639 standards (Parts 1 and 2) with Part 3. The earlier standards included general labels such as “Arabic” and “Chinese,” which comprise collections of mutually unintelligible speech varieties (usually united by other factors such as a shared standardized speech variety or a common writing system). These general codes are labeled macrolanguages in order to relate them to the more specific codes of Part 3. Ethnologue’s focus has traditionally been on non-dominant, smaller languages. We are increasingly focusing on second-language use and have enhanced our database to improve tracking that data. Much of that research is currently presented in statements that begin with “Also use…” followed by one or more language names. This expanded database structure also allows us to report the inverse “Also used by…”. This additional data will foster the mapping of the geography of LWCs and lingua franca.

Derek Peterson: "Vernacular Languages and Political Imagination"
As textual systems African languages came of age at the convergence of three historical conjunctures: the colonization of the African continent; the rise of the evangelical missionary movement; and the maturation of comparative linguistics. Africa’s languages were not allowed to develop on their own terms. For every language there were committees—the Interterritorial Swahili Language Committee, the Yoruba Orthography Committee, the Shona Language Committee—which set the standards that writers were obliged to observe. They launched essay competitions, sponsored translations, and funded the publication of approved books. It is for this reason that the library catalogues for Africa’s different languages look broadly similar: in order of publication there is the New Testament, then Pilgrim’s Progress, then collections of proverbs and folk-tales, and, latterly, novelistic and historical literature.

But there was space within the vernacular-language library for experimentation, creativity, and imagination. The standardization of vernacular languages and their widespread dissemination in books and newspapers gave Africa’s literate men and women a tremendous sense of empowerment. In their newly defined vernaculars they found a means by which to talk to their people, all at once. Language standardization entailed the amalgamation of hitherto regionalized vocabularies, the erasure of secret and specialized forms of knowledge, and the creation of a homogenous vocabulary. Standardized vernaculars were integrated. They were addressed to audiences that saw themselves as a coherent people. Literate men and women found in them a tremendously powerful means of hailing their people. Writing in the vernacular was an experimental undertaking: it required new modes of address, provoked new audiences, and conjured new communities. The history of vernacular-language writing in Africa is therefore an aspect of the continent’s political history, for it was by innovating in the vernacular that new solidarities were conceived.

Hanétha Vété-Congolo: “French Caribbean Creole and African Metaphysics”
Irrevocable rupture, unescapable fragmentation, seeming and irreconcilable differences and irretrievable human displacements as well as utter linguistic domination on the one hand (the European’s) and, unspeakable voicelessness on the other (the Africans’) are some of the strong markers characterizing the history of the Caribbean. This did not herald any possible future coherence or cohesion for the Region ontology. However, the Caribbean metaphysics is poignantly embodied by Creole, the new language that was to be born out of the complex interactions, transactions and transmutation of the different constituents at play. Using multiple paradigms of the Science du langage discipline (language of science) as well as a comparative perspective in order to show the philosophical significance of Creole, in this paper, I will first analyse the way Caribbean Creole, especially French-based Creole, has been one of the new ‘loci’ where, through the epistemological and metaphysical work of the Africans outside of Africa, the diverse and different cultures and languages congregated and overcame the linguistic and cultural fragmentations the Caribbean is said to have been plagued with. Secondly, I will show the extent to which French Caribbean Creole that carries strong aspects of African metaphysics can arguably be seen as an African language.