Urbanized African Sociolinguistics - Questioning research foci
Date and Start Time 29 June, 2017 at 09:00
In the sociolinguistic description of language(s) in Africa, there is a dichotomy between approaches focusing on urban as opposed to rural areas. The panel intends to unite theoretical and methodological approaches to urban and rural spaces to account for language use in Africa more realistically.
Rural Africa being considered "backward" (Wang et al. 2013: 14), sociolinguistic studies in Africa have often focused on urban areas, where globalization and communication are supposedly taking place.
This creates a dichotomy between approaches focusing on urban centers with newly developing linguistic codes, language used by the elite, as opposed to approaches concentrating on language documentation in rural areas.
Several studies concentrate on youth languages (Kiessling&Mous 2004; Nassenstein&Hollington 2015), varieties of English (e.g. International Corpus of English project), and the use and attitudes towards English in e.g. capitals and universities. Most of the data on African Englishes has been collected in these urban centers among the educated elite (e.g. Arua 2004, Bekker 2008, Hoffmann 2010&2011, Kadenge 2009, Skandera 2003, Stell 2014, van Rooy 2007). In contrast, data collected in rural areas rather focuses on smaller languages and only little research has been conducted on language use, especially of English (Nassenstein forthc.; Wang et al. 2013).
This panel intends to bring together sociolinguistic studies in rural and urban Africa as two intertwined spaces. It aims at developing a theoretical and methodological framework applicable to both. Some of the ensuing questions are:
Are rural and urban Africa two different linguistic settings?
Do language use and attitudes differ in rural and urban Africa?
Why is rural language use mostly neglected in World Englishes research?
Are sociolinguistic methods equally applicable to urban and rural spaces or are new frameworks needed to analyze them adequately?
Contributions from African studies, Sociolinguistics, World Englishes are equally welcome.
This panel is closed to new paper proposals.
As far as the eye can see: The urban bias in South African linguistic research
The paper proposes a critical review of current South African studies in (socio-)linguistics under the lens of the 'urban bias'. Problematizing the rural/urban dichotomy, it asks whether this research retains a geopolitical distortion in reflecting the South African linguistic landscape.
The problem of the urban bias remains a debated topic in South Africa in many spheres of society. Due to the logic of apartheid, 'rural' came to mean 'black'; or in post-apartheid-speak 'disadvantaged'. Up to today, the effects of long-term structural and systematic disadvantaging are quite tangible in the country. Though in parts also applicable to urban settings, poverty, insufficient infrastructure, and lack of access are largely foremost still a problem of the rural − and mostly black − population.
These structural imbalances are purported through a number of social fields including the academia. Often studies are conducted where access and conveniences are close and risks impeding the successful completion of research projects are low. While the tendency to consider feasibility in research is not per se questionable, the sum of research projects and results as a body might carry forward a distorted reflection of a field such as the sociolinguistic landscape of South Africa.
The paper proposes a critical review of current South African studies in (socio-)linguistics under the lens of the 'urban bias'. While problematizing the applicability of the rural/urban dichotomy for the South African set up, the paper asks whether research on South African languages and its use does retain and represent a geopolitical distortion and thus neglects a relevant part of language representation vital to the study of the heterogeneous (socio-)linguistic landscape in South Africa.
Heteroglossia in urban space construction: The case of Boda Boda Motocyclists in Bungoma town, Kenya
This study focuses on interactions among Boda Boda motorcyclists in Bungoma town in Kenya. Specifically, using principles from interactional sociolinguistics, the study argues that during conversation, the Boda Boda motorcyclists use verbal strategies to construct the rural and urban identities.
Arguing in support of the view that identity is constructed in talk, this paper investigates interactions among Boda Boda motorcyclists plying between Bungoma town and the overlying rural areas. I argue that the conversations among the motorcyclists revolve around challenges such as as lack of parking spaces, theft, presence of dishonest travelers and so on posed by the town and that since most of them are born in the rural areas, these challenges emerge through the rural lens. Thus, with theoretical and methodological principles from interactional sociolinguistics, this study investigates heteroglossia that characterizes talk among Boda Boda motorcyclists and that is revealed through the use of
verbal devices. As data that guides this study are audio recordings of the conversations among Boda Boda motorcyclists that take place at the station. The data will then be analyzed at the level of content and prosodic organization with the aim of identifying discursive structures that will be logged under verbal strategies contextualizing them and analyzed with the aim of
establishing how multiple identities are constructed. Preliminary findings show that with the use of reported speech, pronouns and metaphors Boda Boda motocyclists construct conflicting identities. By analyzing the verbal strategies of the Boda Boda motorcyclists, this study contributes to discussions on the role of language in the construction of mixed identities in the urban spaces in Kenya and in the world.
English to rebuke, Pidgin to be understood, local languages to feel secure. Rural vs. urban language ideologies in Cameroon
The paper illustrates recent research identifying two ideological layers informing linguistic behaviors of multilinguals in rural Cameroon. One, more recent, includes English and its identity-related notions. The other, endogenous, stresses security over status as the main drive for multilingualism.
The paper is rooted in language documentation projects focused on the speech communities of Lower Fungom, a linguistically highly diverse region located at the northwestern edge of the Cameroonian Grassfields, where most of the 12,000 residents are speakers of multiple local languages plus Pidgin English, with only a minority speaking the local variety of English.
Insights from sociolinguistic surveys and research on language use are reviewed, illustrating how English and Pidgin English are locally conceptualized and used in ways that clearly differ from local languages. English, known by a minority of adult speakers, is mostly used to construct prestige and authority, and Pidgin English, known by all adults, is often used to ensure listeners that the communication is not secret. By contrast, a significant amount of ethnographic data allows to recognize that acquisition and usage of local languages are not driven by considerations of prestige but, rather, of material and spiritual security, thus exemplifying non-essentialist ideologies that are still to find full recognition in sociolinguistic scholarship. This brings, on the one hand, to consider the limits of Fishman's (1967) extended diglossia theory in doing research on rural settings and, on the other, to draw a possibly supraregional model based on ethnographic data in which an endogenous pre-colonial layer of language ideologies can be distinguished from a colonial / post-colonial ideological layer (see Lüpke 2016 for analogous proposals about rural areas of southern Senegal).
Kikongo in Kinshasa: Repertoires of rurality and tradition in the Congolese capital
Although Kinshasa is linguistically associated with Lingala, Kikongo has played a major role in the city’s linguistic history. Both colonially and post-colonially, Kikongo served as a repertoire of rural/traditional authenticity, contrasting with the urban, hybrid connotation of Lingala.
In the streets of Kinshasa, Lingala is the main spoken language. Kinois Lingala, often interspersed with French, evokes an association with urbanity and modernity, partly due to its global spread through Kinshasa's vivid music scene. However, the city also knows a significant history of Kikongo presence. In the 1950s, some members of the Belgian colonial Commission of African Linguistics even proposed to replace Lingala by Kikongo as the official language for education and administration in the Congolese capital. Based on arguments of authenticity and efficient colonial domination, these individuals pleaded for the reinforcement of Kikongo to break the dominance of Lingala, which they considered to be an 'urban gibberish without native speakers'.
Although Lingala is the dominant language in postcolonial Kinshasa, some nodes of Kikongo can still (or again?) be found. More specifically, Kimbanguist churches and musicians that call themselves traditional make use of Kikongo as a repertoire that affirms their spiritual authority. This claim is often based on the evocation of the pre-colonial Kongo kingdom, which resonates notions of spiritual authenticity and traditional control of occult powers. As such, language attitudes towards Kikongo contrast with/complement those towards Lingala.
In this paper, based on preliminary archival research and fieldwork, I (a) look at the differences/convergences between colonial and postcolonial attitudes towards the presence of Kikongo in the mainly Lingalaphone capital and (b) question the tendency to stress the unilateral dominance of urban killer languages like Lingala, by examining to what extent Kikongo, as a linguistic repertoire of rurality and tradition, permeates the urban sphere of Kinshasa.
A Postcolonial Critique of Research on Languages in Rural and Urban Africa
Against the backdrop of postcolonial linguistics I argue that the role of linguistics’ linguistic ideologies, theoretical underpinnings and analytical practices in the colonial “invention” of Africa need to be analysed before understanding the urban and the rural as two different linguistic settings.
Following the recent history and development of research on urban languages in Africa it can be seen that socio/linguistics struggles with the disciplinary heritage of linguistic description and terminology that has contributed to the "invention" of Africa, such as the naming of languages, their artefactualization, and ethnification. At the same time, a wealth of empirical findings on urban languages has troubled received inner-linguistic assumptions such as the constitution of the linguistic object of knowledge through abstraction and reduction, a focus on stability and boundedness, or the relevance of the origin and classification of languages. The ensuing terminological innovation in sociolinguistics such as superdiversity, translanguaging or metrolingualism are certainly owed the observation of the dynamics of urban contexts, which seem to contrast with the perceived stagnation of rural areas.
From the perspective of postcolonial linguistics, however, we have to ask whether the analytical apparatus of linguistics emerged from and is restricted to the rural setting of pre/colonial Africa and for that reason fails to adequately describe the dynamics of contemporary urban linguistic practices. Or, as a second possibility and in order to salvage the underlying universalistic claims of linguistics we could also explore that linguistics' linguistic ideologies and theoretical underpinnings have been problematic all along because they should be able to explain both urban and rural language practices. In deconstructing in such a way important assumptions about language I hope to be able to open the way for seeing more clearly what makes the difference between rural and urban linguistic settings.
This panel is closed to new paper proposals.