Margaret N. Chenemo

 Margaret Neh Chenemo is a PhD student in General and Applied Linguistics at the Department of African Languages and Linguistics, University of Yaounde I. Margaret’s full CV.

Her PhD thesis is entitled “Multilingualism and language ideology: an ethnographically-informed sociolinguistic perspective in the study of linguistic diversity in Lower Bafut, North-West Region of Cameroon” and has been supervised by prof. Etienne Sadembouo in collaboration with Pierpaolo Di Carlo. The thesis has been submitted in January 2018.

Summary of Margaret Neh Chenemo’s thesis

“Multilingualism and language ideology: an ethnographically-informed sociolinguistic perspective in the study of linguistic diversity in Lower Bafut, North-West Region of Cameroon”

Geographically Lower Bafut is situated in Bafut sub-division in Mezam division, North West Cameroon. It is a cluster of villages which lie in the basin to the North of Bafut. The total population area is about 20,000 people speaking seven different languages namely: Butang, Buwi, Mantaa, Mbakong, Obang, Otang and Agah. These languages are spoken against the back-drop of ideological pressures of language dominance and marginalisation from Bafut, the seat of a powerful chiefdom, and Bafut being a highly functional language, dominating the whole area where pidgin English equally serves as a lingua franca.

This work sets out to attest the assertion by Di Carlo (2015) in the article “Multilingualism, Solidarity, and Magic” through an ethnographically-informed sociolinguistic perspective to diagnose the ideologies behind these languages that have kept them striving side by side in this multilingual milieu. Moreover, its aim is also to further investigate into the motivations of people speaking many languages, to be able to state whether multilingualism is a geographical phenomenon or a societal one. 

Techniques of data collection

  • The main instruments of research were a sociolinguistic questionnaire, an ethnographic questionnaire, interviews, the Matched-Guise Technique (MGT) and a wordlist. All interviews were audio recorded, annotated and the MGT spoken text and wordlist transcribed. A metadata was written on all audio files.
  • The research was carried out in three phases: the first phase was a sociolinguistic survey of the speech communities and the administration of the sociolinguistic questionnaire. The second phase was the administration of the ethnographic questionnaire and interviews; and the last phase was the administration of the MGT and the collection of a wordlist.

Objectives

  • To investigate into the natural dispositions and prejudices of an individual or a group of people vis–à-vis the languages they speak or languages spoken around them.
  • To prove the existence and resistance of the languages of Lower Bafut against the pressures of the dominant Bafut culture. 

Procedure

The administration of the sociolinguistic questionnaire which contained questions about consultant’s personality, linguistic identity and motivations of multilingualism.  The sociolinguistic approach focuses on the evaluation of intelligibility and intercomprehension between the eight linguistic varieties in the Bafut Fondom through the application of the lexicostatistic method and the recorded text testing (RTT). The application of this comparative method in a multilingual context permits us to realize four types of intelligibility: mutual intelligibility, acquired intelligibility, neighbor intelligibility, and non-reciprocal intelligibility.

The matched-Guise technique by Lambert (1959) was used as a measure of people’s opinion of a language. What are the assumptions and projections about a language? Do people choose to speak one or more languages present in their locations because the native speakers are perceived by the hearts as possessing certain desirable personal and moral qualities or it is because it is a cultural practice for them to affiliate through languages?

The questionnaire was used, firstly, to identify multilingual speakers and to sample their opinions on the languages they speak. Secondly, to identify multilingual speakers competent in the three target languages of the MGT which were Bafut, Mbakong and Obang, It was subdivided into the speaker’s questionnaire which had the text to be spoken in the three target languages: Bafut, Mbakong and Obang, and the listener’s questionnaire which had oral instructions, the recorded spoken texts and the question about the personality traits of the speakers. 

Results

From the sociolinguistic questionnaire it was revealed taking into consideration the point of view of the native speakers in terms of the following declarations: Mbakong, Butang, Obang, Mantaa, Buwi, Otang are not dialects of Bafut but different languages of their own.

From the Matched-Guise Technique (MGT) we observed the following results.

  • Both essentialism and indexicality are present in Lower Bafut. Our task was then to look at the degrees of differences between these ideologies.
  • The absence of prestige is revealed in the indexical use of the languages of Lower Bafut, while the presence of prestige in the use of Bafut is seen in their sense of belonging and bonding of the Lower Bafut people to the people of Bafut.

On the whole, with the analysis, statistically achieved through an inter-disciplinary approach, to prove the existence and resistance of the languages of Lower Bafut against the dominant Bafut culture, this work   has provided an impetus for more research work to be carried out in this area.

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