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International Journal of the Sociology of Language

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Volume 2018, Issue 254


Towards an understanding of African endogenous multilingualism: ethnography, language ideologies, and the supernatural

Pierpaolo Di Carlo
Published Online: 2018-09-26 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/ijsl-2018-0037


In a globalised sociolinguistics “[d]ifferent types of societies must give rise to different types of sociolinguistic study”, as Dick Smakman and Patrick Heinrich argue in the concluding remarks of their (Smakman, Dick. 2015. The westernising mechanisms in sociolinguistics. In Dick Smakman & Patrick Heinrich (eds.), Globalising sociolinguistics. Challenging and expanding theory, 16–35. London: Routledge) book Globalising sociolinguistics. Challenging and expanding theory. To this end, a basic condition must be met: both target languages and societies must be well known. This is not the case in much of Central and West Africa: with only few exceptions, here local languages and societies are generally under-researched and sociolinguistic studies have focused mainly on urban contexts, in most cases targeting the interaction between local and colonial languages. With regard to individual multilingualism, this urban-centered perspective risks to limit scholarly attention on processes that, while valid in cities, may not apply everywhere. For one thing, there might still be areas where one can find instances of endogenous multilingualism, where speakers’ language repertoires and ideologies are largely localised. The case in point is offered by the sociolinguistic situation found in Lower Fungom, a rural, marginal, and linguistically highly diverse area of North West Cameroon. The analyses proposed, stemming from a strongly ethnographic approach, lead to reconsider basic notions in mainstream sociolinguistics – such as that of the target of an index – crucially adding spiritual anxieties among the factors conditioning the development of individual multilingual repertoires in local languages.

Keywords: multilingualism; rural Africa; ethnography; language ideologies; spiritual insecurity


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About the article

Published Online: 2018-09-26

Published in Print: 2018-10-25

Citation Information: International Journal of the Sociology of Language, Volume 2018, Issue 254, Pages 139–163, ISSN (Online) 1613-3668, ISSN (Print) 0165-2516, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/ijsl-2018-0037.

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