Irène D. Ngueteu

Irène D. Ngueteu is a PhD student in Sociolinguistics at the Department of African Languages and Linguistics, University of Yaounde I. Irène’s full CV.

Her thesis (expected to be submitted in December 2018) is entitled “Linguistic and cultural mental representations of multilingual people in Lower Fungom” and is supervised by prof. Philip N. Mutaka.

Summary of Irène Ngueteu’s PhD thesis

Linguistic and cultural mental representations of multilingual people in Lower Fungom

Our topic, the linguistic and cultural mental representations of multilingual people in Lower Fungom, sets out to disclose multilingual people’s behaviors, thoughts, feelings, and mental representations of people living in a multilingual environment as is the case in Lower Fungom, a small rural area in the north-west region of Cameroon with a high rate of multilingualism. In this work, we intend to explore the attitudes and motivations of these people and the impact of multilingualism in their daily activities.

To reach our objectives, we carried out a sociolinguistic survey with the use of pre-established questionnaires and indirect observation for testing the thoughts and behaviors of those multilingual speakers. It is with the use of these research instruments that we collected our ethnographic, linguistic and cultural data that we scrutinize in this work.

We believe that the originality of our analysis lies in adapting the so-called Optimality Theory, originally used to solve problems in phonology and also in syntax, by showing how it can be used as a theoretical framework in sociolinguistics as well. Basically, our contention for the use of the Optimality Theory is that the surface manifestations of people’s behavior are the result of two types of constraints: faithfulness constraints and markedness constraints. The faithfulness constraints can be equated with the need for individuals to act like their ancestors in terms of keeping their cultural traditions and customs. The markedness constraints are oriented towards the satisfaction of the personal needs of individuals. These constraints are thus universal, in the sense that every human society reflects them. The two types of constraints are inherently contradictory and are violable. What differentiates different societies is their ranking, that is, a given society, or individuals in the society may have certain constraints highly ranked so as to come out as the optimal candidate that reflects this constraint ranking. In this thesis, we propose the relevant constraints likely to explain the behavior of the Lower Fungom people with respect to their mental representations, their linguistic behavior as multilinguals and the cultures in which they live. The traditional chiefs (called Fon), their notables, the members of secret societies (male or female), the foreigners who feel integrated as near-natives of the Lower Fungom and those who still feel estranged although they may speak several languages will be found to reflect, at various degrees, the ranking of the constraints that are illustrated in tableaux to encapsulate the surface manifestations of the linguistic and cultural mental representations of the multilingual speakers of Lower Fungom.

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