We focus on lesser-known forms of multilingualism

As the Google Ngrams graph above tells us, one may call it plurilingualism or multilingualism – both meaning “one’s ability to communicate in more than one language” – but, in any case, reference is made to a single broad topic that has become increasingly frequent in newspapers, books, and scientific literature over the past half century: people’s ability to communicate using more than one language. There can be little doubt that much of this increase was determined by the significant attention paid to globalization and multicultural encounters in cities. But does it mean that only global cities provide motivations and opportunities for people to become multilingual? Are there forms of multilingualism unrelated to globalization that still go unnoticed both to journalists and scholars alike?

From language documentation to multilingualism

Between 2009 and 2013, thanks to two documentation projects targeting endangered languages spoken in Lower Fungom (a linguistically very diverse micro-area in the Cameroonian Grassfields), we progressively realized that not only locals had extensive linguistic repertoires in local languages plus colonial languages (up to 17 languages, with an average of 4 for women and 5 for men), but that this form of small-scale multilingualism could not be accounted for using classical sociolinguistic models, such as Fishman’s enlarged diglossia theory. Only a multidisciplinary perspective which included at least linguistics, sociolinguistics, ethnography, and geography could allow us to explore such little known but potentially very informative contexts.

KPAAM-CAM: research and training for a longitudinal study

It is on this basis that we developed KPAAM-CAM, which stands for “Key Pluridisciplinary Advances on African Multilingualism – CAMeroon”. KPAAM-CAM started in the summer of 2014, after the main project it stems fromwas funded (“Language documentation, fieldwork training models, and computational tools for understanding linguistic stability and change”, U.S. NSF BCS-1360763). KPAAM-CAM has been conceived as a longitudinal project (i.e. lasting for decades), its first phase (2014-2018) being aimed to lay out its foundations under two respects: on the one hand, by advancing our knowledge on African rural multilingualism and making it public through research and publications; on the other, by developing best practices and tools to facilitate cross-disciplinary collaborations and training for students from the US, Europe, and Africa.

These are the main goals of KPAAM-CAM:

Facts and figures of KPAAM-CAM

  • 11 Cameroonian students trained and supported throughout their research (9 PhD and 2 MA students)
  • 2 international workshops (one in Cameroon, the other in the UK in collaboration with the SOAS Crossroads project)
  • 1 summer school offered to 40 Cameroonian MA and PhD students in linguistics and anthropology (Yaounde, August 2017)
  • 1 fieldwork practicum offered to 6 Cameroonian students
  • 7 scientific articles published (or forthcoming) in international journals
  • 4 presentations in international conferences
  • 5 theses completed (4 more theses by 2018 and 2 by 2019)
  • 1 software for facilitating multidisciplinary data collection in the field

KPAAM-CAM milestones

  • 2014
    • August
      • meeting of project team in Buffalo (Jeff Good, Pierpaolo Di Carlo, Paul Nkwi, Ayu’nwi N. Neba, Gratien Atindogbe). Project goals and objectives are discussed and a preliminary schedule is developed.
    • September
      • PhD in Computer Science starts working at the software.
    • November – December: Catholic University of Cameroon at Bamenda.
      • Course on the documentation of multilingualism offered to students collaborating on the project.
      • Refresher course on multilingualism in urban vs. rural contexts. Offered to teachers of linguistics and sociolinguistics from the universities of Yaounde 1, Buea, Bamenda, CATUC, and Maroua.
  • 2015
    • January – June
      • 8 Cameroonian PhD students are selected and start being supported by the project.
      • Students go on fieldwork in Lower Fungom and Lower Bafut.
      • Pierpaolo Di Carlo presents project results at the conference “Globalising Sociolinguistics”, held at the University of Leiden.
    • June – December
      • 2 Cameroonian Master’s students are selected and start being supported by the project.
      • 2-week fieldwork training is offered to four PhD students in Lower Fungom
      • The community project “Pig for Pikin” starts
  • 2016
    • January – June
      • Crowdfunding campaign for “Pig for Pikin” is developed, launched, and reaches its goal ($4,500)
      • Project team is in London with the Crossroads team (PI prof. Friederike Lüpke) for a joint workshop on the common theme “Africa’s rural multilingualisms”
      • Angiachi Esene Agwara, one of our PhD students, is admitted to the PhD program in sociolinguistics at BIGSAS (University of Bayreuth, Germany).
    • October – December
      • The 2 Master’s students defend successfully their theses at the University of Yaounde 1 and Buea, respectively
  • 2017
    • January – March
      • The multidisciplinary project “Social spatial networks and language use in a rural and multilingual African context”, stemming from KPAAM-CAM, is funded by the University at Buffalo (IMPACT #0077, $34,860). PI’s are Jeff Good (Linguistics) and Ling Bian (Geography), project coordinator is Pierpaolo Di Carlo, students on project are Yujia Pan and Penghang Liu (Geography).
      • The beta version of our software is ready and is tested in the field by two Cameroonian PhD students.
    • June
      • Pierpaolo Di Carlo, Angiachi Esene Agwara and Rachel Ojong present their work at the 7th European Conference on African Studies at the University of Basel
    • September
      • Results of the project “Social spatial networks and language use in a rural and multilingual African context” are presented at COSIT2017 and published in the conference proceedings.
      • Di Carlo’s, Esene Agwara’s, and Ojong’s paper at ECAS is selected for publication in Sociolinguistic Studies.
    • December
      • Two important articles from the project are accepted in prestigious scholarly publications:
        • Di Carlo, Pierpaolo, Jeff Good, and Rachel A. Ojong “Multilingualism in rural Africa”, Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Linguistics.
        • Di Carlo, Pierpaolo and Jeff Good “The vitality and diversity of multilingual repertoires: Commentary on Mufwene”, Language 93, 4: e255-e263.

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