The pervasiveness of multilingualism throughout the African continent has led it to be viewed as Africa’s “lingua franca.” Nevertheless, sociolinguistic research on this topic has concentrated mostly on urbanized areas, even though the majority of Africans still live in rural regions, and rural multilingualism is clearly of much older provenance than its urban counterpart. In urban domains, individual language repertoires are dominated by the interplay between European ex-colonial languages, African lingua francas, and local languages, and language ideologies emphasize the ordering of languages in a hierarchy that is tied to social status. The situation in rural areas is clearly distinct, though it has yet to be thoroughly investigated. Early work on language use in rural Africa tended to background the presence of multilingualism and was dominated by an approach that viewed each community (or “tribe”) as having its own language. Thanks to the progressive adoption of ethnographic methods of inquiry, facilitated by language documentation research especially since the beginning of the 21st century, it has been possible to more effectively study areas of high linguistic diversity in West and Central Africa which demonstrate that multilingualism plays an integral role in structuring social relations. Available case studies document the presence of individuals with linguistic repertoires that are primarily oriented around local languages, ideologies, and practices and that do not clearly fit with what is known from urban environments. The most important theme that emerges from this work is the extent to which rural multilingualism is linked to the specific dynamics holding among communities that are near to each other rather than being a reflection of a more general, externally imposed value system. While this result makes it difficult to characterize rural multilingualism as a single, coherent phenomenon, it does point to the utility of a shared toolkit of research strategies for exploring it in more detail. In particular, ethnographic methods are required in order to ascertain the major local social divisions which language choice both reflects and constructs in these areas, and it is additionally important to focus on how individual repertoires are tied to specific life histories rather than to assume that groupings that are salient to the outside researcher (e.g., “villages” or “compounds”) are the relevant units of analysis. Finally, investigation of multilingualism in rural Africa is not only valuable for what it reveals about social dynamics on the continent, but it also seems likely to yield important insights for the study of sociolinguistics more broadly.
Pierpaolo Di Carlo, Jeff Good, and Rachel Ojong Diba
Elizabeth Lanza and Hirut Woldemariam
The linguistic landscape (henceforth LL) has proven to be a fruitful approach for investigating various societal dimensions of written language use in the public sphere. First introduced in the context of bilingual Canada as a gauge for measuring ethnolinguistic vitality, in the 21st century it is the focus of a thriving field of inquiry with its own conference series, an increasing number of publications, and an international journal dedicated exclusively to investigating language and other semiotic resources used in the public arena. The scholarship in this domain has centered on European and North American geographical sites; however, an increasingly voluminous share of studies addresses the LL of sites across the world through both books and articles. African contributions have added an important dimension to this knowledge base as southern multilingualisms bring into question the very concept of language in that speakers and writers draw on their rich linguistic repertoires, avoiding any compartmentalization or separation of what is traditionally conceived of as languages. The LL of Ethiopia has contributed to this growing base of empirical studies in the exploration of language policy issues, identity constructions, language contact, and the sociolinguistics of globalization. A new language policy of ethnic federalism was introduced to the country in the 1990s following a civil war and through a new constitution. This policy was set to recognize the various ethnolinguistic groups in the country and the official use of ethnic/regional languages to satisfy local political and educational needs. Through this, languages previously unwritten required a script in order for speakers to communicate in them in written texts. And many regions have chosen the Latin script above the Ethiopic script. Nonetheless, some languages remain invisible in the public sphere. These events create an exciting laboratory for studying the LL. Given the change of language policy since the late 20th century and the fast-growing economy of Ethiopia (one of the poorest countries on the continent) the manifest and increasingly visible display of languages in the LL provides an excellent lens for studying various sociolinguistic phenomena.
Dorien Van De Mieroop
Rather than thinking of identity as something that defines a person in such a way that it makes them distinguishable from others, researchers using discourse analytical approaches within linguistics—especially in the fields of pragmatics and interactional sociolinguistics—tend to adopt a social constructionist perspective and thus view identity as a multimodally constituted activity or process. From this perspective, identity is not something one is or has, but something that one does or creates by means of various linguistic and paralinguistic resources as well as bodily movements. This performative view of identity has a number of implications. Rather than thinking of identity in the singular, a plural conceptualization of identities is capitalized on. Moreover, these identities should not be regarded as pertaining to only the ‘large’ macro-level sociodemographic categories individuals belong to, such as gender, race, and social class; identities are often described in much more nuanced terms. Such a fine-grained approach is needed to do justice to this performative perspective on identity, as it helps to capture the many dynamic and extremely fleeting ways in which people engage in identity work. Furthermore, all these identity constructions are not necessarily always consistent with one another, and they may sometimes even be contradictory, as people may not always be—or be able to be—equally prone to enacting a particular identity. This may depend on what they are doing and with whom, as identities are also related to the identities other people may construct around them. All these aspects make the analysis of identity quite a complex endeavor, as not only can their plural and fleeting nature make identities quite hard to capture, but it can also be quite a challenge to pin down precisely at which points in an interaction we can actually observe identity work in action.
Adrian P. Simpson and Melanie Weirich
Speech carries a wealth of information about the speaker aside from any verbal message ranging from emotional state (sad, happy, bored, etc.) to illness (e.g., cold). Central features are a speaker’s gender and their sexual orientation. In part this is an inevitable product of differences in speakers’ anatomical dimensions, for example on average males have lower pitched voices than females due to longer, thicker vocal cords that vibrate more slowly. Arguably much more information has been learned by a speaker as they construct their gender or identify with a particular sexual orientation. Differences in speech already begin in young children, before any marked gender-related anatomical differences develop, emphasizing the importance of behavioral patterns. Gender, gender identity, and sexual orientation are encoded in speech in a range of different phonetic parameters relating to both phonation (activity of the vocal folds) and articulation (dimensions and configuration of the supraglottal cavities), as well as the use of pitch patterns and differences in voice quality (the way in which the vocal folds vibrate). Differences in the size and configuration of the supraglottal cavities give rise to differences in the size of the acoustic vowel space as well as subtle differences in the production of individual sounds, such as the sibilant [s]. Furthermore, significant and systematic gender-specific differences have been found in the average duration of utterances and individual sounds, which in turn have been found to have a complex relationship to the perception of tempo.
Bilingualism/multilingualism is a natural phenomenon worldwide. Unwittingly, however, monolingualism has been used as a standard to characterize and define bilingualism/multilingualism in linguistic research. Such a conception led to a “fractional,” “irregular,” and “distorted” view of bilingualism, which is becoming rapidly outmoded in the light of multipronged, rapidly growing interdisciplinary research. This article presents a complex and holistic view of bilinguals and multilinguals on conceptual, theoretical, and pragmatic/applied grounds. In that process, it attempts to explain why bilinguals are not a mere composite of two monolinguals. If bilinguals were a clone of two monolinguals, the study of bilingualism would not merit any substantive consideration in order to come to grips with bilingualism; all one would have to do is focus on the study of a monolingual person. Interestingly, even the two bilinguals are not clones of each other, let alone bilinguals as a set of two monolinguals. This paper examines the multiple worlds of bilinguals in terms of their social life and social interaction. The intricate problem of defining and describing bilinguals is addressed; their process and end result of becoming bilinguals is explored alongside their verbal interactions and language organization in the brain. The role of social and political bilingualism is also explored as it interacts with individual bilingualism and global bilingualism (e.g., the issue of language endangerment and language death). Other central concepts such as individuals’ bilingual language attitudes, language choices, and consequences are addressed, which set bilinguals apart from monolinguals. Language acquisition is as much an innate, biological, as social phenomenon; these two complementary dimensions receive consideration in this article along with the educational issues of school performance by bilinguals. Is bilingualism a blessing or a curse? The linguistic and cognitive consequences of individual, societal, and political bilingualism are examined.