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Repertoires and Choices in African Languages

Most African languages are spoken by communities as one of several languages present on a daily basis. The persistence of multilingualism and the linguistic creativity manifest in the playful use of different languages are striking, especially against the backdrop of language death and expanding monolingualism elsewhere in the world. The effortless mastery of several languages is disturbing, however, for those who take essentialist perspectives that see it as a problem rather than a resource, and for the dominating, conflictual, sociolinguistic model of multilingualism. This volume investigates African minority languages in the context of changing patterns of multilingualism, and also assesses the status of African languages in terms of existing influential vitality scales. An important aspect of multilingual praxis is the speakers' agency in making choices, their repertoires of registers and the multiplicity of language ideology associated with different ways of speaking. The volume represents a new and original contribution to the ethnography of speaking of multilingual practices and the cultural ideas associated with them.

Author Information

Friederike Lüpke, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, UK; Anne Storch, Institute for African Studies and Egyptology, University of Cologne, Germany.


In this ambitious book, Friederike Lüpke and Anne Storch seek to counter the common view, based in a nineteenth-century European romantic nationalism, that sees language as the essentialized expression of a monolingual, homogeneous ethnic community. The authors argue instead for a focus on multilingualism and the complex repertoires of ways of speaking that are situated in the lived relations and practices of social life. Although concerned with Africa - primarily though not exclusively sub-Saharan Africa - much of their discussion applies equally well to other parts of the world. It raises important questions about linguists' methodologies, which Lüpkeand Storch see as largely failing to grasp the complexity and fluidity of the linguistic resources speakers draw on in their many social roles, groupings and activities. - Judith T. Irvine, Times Literary Supplement In this thoughtful and often provocative volume, which both revisits some earlier debates in linguistic anthropology and casts them in light of contemporary concerns about language documentation, the authors focus on multilingualism in Africa and on the inadequacy of current approaches to capturing the complexity of language dynamics on the continent. Their approach is informed by multiple veins of recent anthropological and linguisticresearch on, among other topics, language ideology, colonial linguistics, thesociolinguistics of writing, and linguistic ecology. - Fiona Mc Laughlin, Journal of African Languages and Linguistics Repertoires and Choices in African Languages (RCAL) will interest not only Africanists but also specialists in other geographical areas and those generally concerned with language endangerment and language documentation.The authors, Friederike Lüpke and Anne Storch, are two of the finest scholars working on African languages today and two of the most reflective thinkers in this field. The breadth and depth of their research records (they call themselves, somewhat modestly, ‘fieldworkers’) are both exemplary, and together constitute a whole that any two other scholars would find difficult to replicate. Moreover, their ideological orientation brings to bear a critical perspective that has been largely absent from research on the continent. Importantly, they stimulate us to become reflective practitioners with regard to both language documentation and revitalization. Africanists, as well as researchers in other parts of the world, would do well to follow the lessons of the essays contained in RCAL. - G. Tucker Childs, Language Documentation and Conservation

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Audience: Institutional Libraries, Students and Researchers in African Studies, Cultural Anthropology, Sociolinguistics, Language Planning