WhenMay 08, 2017 03:30 PM - 05:00 PM
WhereRosenwald Hall, Room 011
Contact InformationDepartment of Linguistics
Description"Moving Targets: Insights on language, variation and in small-scale multilingual societies"

Friederike Luepke (SOAS, University of London)

This talk introduces small-scale multilingual multilingualism in the Casamance area of Senegal, a hotspot of linguistic diversity on the Upper Guinea Coast of West Africa. This area is home to a high number of named languages, many of which are associated with villages and smaller polities as their ideological home bases.

Multilingualism in this area is centuries old and deeply engrained in rural societies, yet deeply shaped by the first wave of globalisation, into which the area was drawn through the transatlantic slave trade, and overlaid by larger, national, patterns of language use in postcolonial Senegal, Gambia and Guinea Bissau. Multiple identities as indexed also through the use of different languages or emblematic linguistic features serve to express various social relations and forge flexible regional alliances. Inhabitants of Casamance speak between 4 and 10 named languages till today, adapting their multilingual repertoires according to their trajectories throughout their entire lives, as observable throughout Africa.

Language use in the area is thickly multilingual and highly variable. While ideologies of bounded codes are apparent in glossonyms, in practice, differentiation between ‘languages’ exists in more or less limited conventionalised lexico-grammatical features. Furthermore, their identification through naming practices and association with particular linguistic traits is entirely dependent on perspective and scale. It is therefore impossible to approach variation and change in language without prior consideration of the different ideologies and epistemologies underlying the conceptualisation of language.

Therefore, I investigate these construals of language and languages as an area of variation worthy of investigation in their own right before exploring how linguistic variation can be captured in these contexts, and how the relationships between the different language constructs and language use can be described. I particularly dwell on the potential and limits of explaining variation through indexical functions associated with claiming languages and using features linked to particular languages. I end the talk by outlining the consequences of polycentric perspectives on multilingual language use and language concepts for linguistic theories of language change, language shift and language endangerment.
CategoriesConferences/Lectures, Meetings, Workshops
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