Angiachi D. Esene Agwara

Angiachi D. Esene Agwara is a PhD student in African Linguistics at the Bayreuth International Graduate School of African Studies. Angiachi’s full CV.

Her thesis (expected to be submitted in September 2019) is entitled “Language attitudes in a multilingual/ multilectal community: The case of Mungbam in Lower Fungom, North-West Region of Cameroon” and is supervised by Gabriele Sommer (mentors Pierpaolo Di Carlo and Eric Anchimbe).

Summary of Angiachi D. Esene Agwara’s PhD thesis

Language attitudes in a multilingual/ multilectal community: The case of Mungbam in Lower Fungom, North-West Region of Cameroon

This study investigates language attitudes in the typically diverse multilingual and multilectal villages of Mungbam, lower Fungom (hence, LF), situated at the hem of the Cameroonian Grassfields. Past as well as recent studies identify the Grassfields (Warnier, 1979) and LF in particular (Di Carlo, 2015) as one, if not, the most linguistically diverse micro-area in the world. LF is relatively small, covering a total land space of only 10 km (Good et al, 2011). According to Di Carlo (2016) in LF eight languages spoken in 13 villages amongst them Mungbam.

Mungbam is neither an autoglottonym nor a language of its own, but rather, an acronym that refers to five varieties composing this referential cluster: i.e. MUnken, NGun, Biya, Abar and Missong. While five of these languages are restricted to single villages but are spoken across village borders: Ajumbu [muc], Buu [No ISO code], Fang [fak], Koshin [kid], Kung [kfl], three are not restricted to single villages: Mungbam [mij], Naki [mff], Mundabli [boe]. Studies on the LF area have predominantly been descriptive, sociolinguistic, geo-historical and anthropological. Some of studies, for instance, Di Carlo (2011), Good et al. (2011), Lovegren (2013), Di Carlo and Good (2014) describe the peculiar status of Missong when compared to the other four Mungbam varieties. Even though it shares commonalities with these varieties, as shown by Good et al (2011), Lovegren (2013) holds that there is only sketchy linguistic evidence for that. However, while the other four communities claim that their languages are different from Missong, such differences are still not ascertained in linguistic research. Nonetheless, sociolinguists like Auer (1999) in his dynamic typology of bilingual speech, observes that what accounts for a code must refer to participants not linguist (see pg. 119). He argues that it is sometimes difficult to make a given arrangement of signs constitutes a combination of elements of two systems that is not only difficult to make, but it is also irrelevant. In addition, which are objectively similar, come across to his consultants as separate languages.

In the same light, attitudinal studies can be interpreted by focusing on language users ideologies about their linguistic signals as such insights can explain attitudes people have about a given language. Further, Di Carlo (2011), Di Carlo and Good (2014) continue to disclose Missong’s visible differences in their reconstructing the language distribution in geographical, anthropological, socio-cultural and historical terms. Di Carlo (2011) points out that from his twenty distinct cultural features used to compare LF societies, Missong stands clearly apart: in spite of speaking a Mungbam variety, the Missong community shows highly idiosyncratic cultural traits. For instance, exogamous units do not coincide with kin groups. Despite these various dimensions in understanding the linguistic and sociocultural ecologies in Mungbam, language attitudes have been mentioned very cursorily. In addition, while language attitudes in multilingual settings have been elaborately discussed in urban centers, (see for example diglossic situations (Ryan, (1985), Ellen et al, (1984) Kelechukwu (2006) Loureiro-Rodriguez (2012)), little or nothing has been done along purely local language lines, especially recognizing the fact that these languages enjoy more-or-less equal socio-economic status (Di Carlo, 2015). Recent studies (Di Carlo 2016) suggest that local linguistic ideologies are not structures in polyglossic terms, so languages do not enter the ‘division of labor’ relationship typical of the urban multilingual environments studied by sociolinguists working within the diglossia framework. Otherwise stated, such languages have no clear-cut distinctive functions but are instead used interchangeably depending on the context and on the participants in the interaction. This study therefore aims at describing language attitudes in multilingual and multilectal local context. The findings will possibly be of high significance for the advancement of knowledge on this form of small-scale multilingualism (cf. Luepke and Storch 2013).

This study seeks to answer the following questions: What are the attitudes of the in-group (Missong) vis-à-vis the out-groups (i.e. the other four varieties) and vice-versa? How are these attitudes reflected in their linguistic practices?

The methodology used in this study will include:

  1. Sociolinguistic Questionnaire: This questionnaire is meant to help us gain a well grounded and multi-faceted view of a community (Meyerhoff, Schleef and MacKenzie 2015). Inquiries are made into ethnographic data, multilingual and multilectal profiles of consultants, choices, and motivations of language use, language ideologies and, into language attitudes.
  2. Matched-guise technique: This sociolinguistic experiment method was designed by Lambert et al. (1960) as an indirect way of collecting data on attitudes people have towards their languages or dialects and of others as well. Recorded voices in the target number of speech samples are played to listeners. Listeners have no idea the speech samples are from the same voice. This method has been applauded for its relevance in multilingual and multicultural societies (Lambert et al. (1960), Gaies (1999)). Also, it has been credited for both holding constant paralinguistic features, and the content (Melander 2003) and Kelechekwu (2006). Thus, making the linguistic stimuli via the voice quality a significant variable in probing into language attitudes.
  3. Participant observation: This method of qualitative research is used in this sociolinguistic study. In order to get information about the culture of the individuals under study, we will engage in group discussions, conduct informal interviews. Howard (1972) posits that to gather reliable data; we need to: establish a rapport with the community, getting to know the people by learning their language, histories, customs and traditions and finally, record data and observations. This method digs deeper into social interaction.
  4. Language documentation: This is another methodological tools necessary to work on language attitudes in multilingual setting efficiently. It is a new branch of linguistics which owes its first steps to the German linguist, Himmelmann in 1998. The aim of a language documentation is to provide a comprehensive record of the linguistic practices characteristic of a given speech community. Linguistic practices and traditions can be highlighted through observable linguistic behavior which is manifested in everyday interactions between members of the speech community. We will be able to capture the linguistic practices and traditions of the Lower Fungom/Bafut people, i.e. precisely the languages they use where, when, with whom and how, as well as analyze their behaviors and interpret them based on language attitudes. In other words, it not only about knowing the languages repertoire of the speakers through voice and video recordings but also their judgments (self and others). We will record some selected performances on some women njangui groups and secret society.

Findings may reveal the dynamics of language attitudes to be either favorable or unfavorable towards the in-group (Missong) vis-à-vis the out-groups (i.e. the other four varieties) and vice-versa. The study on language attitudes in the multilingual/ multilectal community of LF will contribute to the advancement methodological and contextual knowledge in the field of language documentation and sociolinguistics.

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