Multilingualism as it unfolds; on-line mapping of language repertoire in five-hour naturally occurring conversation among Bati (btc) female speakers

Dr. Emmanuel Ngué Um, Endangered Languages Project & University of Yaoundé I

UH Mānoa Linguistics Tuesday Seminar on March 7, 2017

Abstract:
Bati (btc – ISO 639-3) is spoken in Cameroon by a relatively small community of approximately 500 to 1000 speakers. The Bati speech community is originally located in three distinct villages namely Kelleng, Mbougue and Nyambat, all belonging to the same Canton within the Sanaga Maritime Division, Littoral Region of Cameroon. Each of these villages is host to distinct sets of language repertoires. This variation in language use, though not a critical impediment to mutual intelligibility across speakers of the overall Bati community, is a leverage to micro-identity construction and sub-community demarcation, as much as it nurtures sociolinguistic meta-discourse relating to language purism and correctness. To this effect, each village overtly claims to speak a separate tongue which is named after each respective village (Kelleng, Mbougue and Nyambat).

Given a language repertoire in usage in the Bati speech area namely in the Kelleng village, this study will seek to investigate the likeliness of a given language variety to be resorted to by a speaker in the course of a naturally occurring conversation, as well as its frequency. The study is based on a sociolinguistic experiment conducted over five-hour orally recorded speech documenting two sessions of naturally occurring conversation in Kelleng, one of the three villages of the Bati Canton. All participants featuring in both sessions are female speakers living in Kelleng but originating from Kelleng as well as from various neighboring communities. Participants are regularly involved in the same social networks, which made it possible to follow them from one social activity to another, namely farm cultivation and cassava paste preparation. Both sessions were video-recorded and eventually annotated for both the language repertoire and the socio-cognitive network in which each bit of turn taking (as reflected by the nearly arbitrary segmentation of annotations using ELAN) may be inscribed (public, private, gossip and business). Data frames have been further created for each recording. R is used as a tool to compute both probability and frequency of language variety using linear regression analysis. Based on the scope of the experiment, results show predictable likelihood for choice of specific language varieties depending on the conversation momentum.

Introduction & Methods:
1.    Introduction
Bati (btc – ISO 639-3) is spoken in Cameroon by a relatively small community of approximately 500 to 1000 speakers (Ngué Um et al., on-going language documentation project ). The Bati speech community is originally located in three distinct villages namely Kelleng, Mbougue and Nyambat, all belonging to the same Canton within the Sanaga Maritime Division, Littoral Region of Cameroon. Each of these villages is host to distinct sets of language repertoires. This variation in language use, though not a critical impediment to mutual intelligibility across speakers of the overall Bati community, is a leverage to micro-identity construction and sub-community demarcation, as much as it nurtures sociolinguistic meta-discourse relating to language purism and correctness. To this effect, each village overtly claims to speak a separate tongue which is named after each respective village (Kelleng, Mbougue and Nyambat).

In addition to being a linguistically diversified community, Bati is an inherently multilingual group. This state of affairs is due to geographical, social and historical factors. Geographically, Bati territory is situated at the junction of four major yet dominant speech groups namely Basaa (bas – ISO 639-3), Bisoo/Bakoko (bkh), Eton (eto – ISO 639-3) and various sub-communities belonging to the Yambasa group such as Nubaca (baf – ISO 639-3) and Mbule (mlb – ISO 639-3). Geographical proximity with neighboring groups yields regular social interaction between Bati and these communities; a typical illustration of this interaction being inter-ethnic mariages. At the historical level, German colonisation has instituted the use of Basaa as a medium of instruction in schools, and as a means of diffusion of the Holy Gospel.

These factors have brought a repertoire of various speech varieties into the daily language usage of the Bati people, to the extent that every adult speaker who has lived continuously in either of the villages which make up their speech area is fluent in a least five different language varieties.

Bati speakers enjoy a unique “gift” for multilingualism among their broad geographical location which overlaps between the Mbam-Nkam, the Basaa and Beti speech areas. However fluency in more than one language variety is a common skill which many individuals beyond the Bati community have naturally acquired or developed over the course of their social life elsewhere in Cameroon and in Africa. Indeed in many regards, it is safe to say that “multilingualism has been a fact of social life in Africa for a very long time” (Whiteley 1971: 1).

Being a hub of extensive social multilingualism, Africa has inspired a wealth of scholarly inquiries within the field of sociolinguistics. As Di Carlo  (2015) has noted it, early research works in this connection have been mainly concerned with urban settings (Juillard 1995; McLaughlin 2001; Myers-Scotton 1993). In the recent years however, there has been a growing interest for investigating rural multilingualism, as illustrated by Di Carlo (2015), Di Carlo & Good (2014), Connell (2009), Lüpke (2010a, 2010b), and Cobbinah (2010). Quite incidentally, both early and recent scholarly undertakings focussing on African multilingualism have relied on mainstream sociolinguistic and ethnographic approaches which fall within Irvin & Gal (2000)’s “iconization process”. Through this process, linguistic features and the social phenomena which index them appear to be in an iconic relationship. Iconization processes further lead to a methodological constraining of the inquiry into a bi-dimensional bundling: multilingualism being always stated as a default dependent variable for which such predictors as social structures, ideologies, identities or similar ethnographic variables, are called into play.
Without downplaying the importance of social and ethnographic variables in nurturing and shaping social multilingualism in Africa, inasmuch as multilingualism is “a fact of social life” (Whiteley 1971: 1), it is no less relevant to appraise its dynamics by tracking down the on-line distribution and choice of varieties through the randomness of the momentum of naturally occurring conversation. The issue of “who speaks what language to whom and when” (Fishman 1965), though not entirely overriden in the present study, is reconsidered in such a way that the outcome of our sociolinguistic experiment is stated in random rather than in constant terms.

2.    Research Question, Methodology and results
Given a language repertoire in usage in the Bati speech area namely in the Kelleng village, this study will seek to investigate the likeliness of a given language variety to be resorted to by a speaker in the course of a naturally occurring conversation, as well as its frequency.
The study is based on a sociolinguistic experiment conducted over five-hour orally recorded speech documenting two sessions of naturally occurring conversation in Kelleng, one of the three villages of the Bati Canton. All participants featuring in both sessions are female speakers living in Kelleng but originating from Kelleng as well as from various neighboring communities. Participants are regularly involved in the same social networks, which made it possible to follow them from one social activity to another, namely farm cultivation and cassava paste preparation. Both sessions were video-recorded and eventually annotated for both the language repertoire and the socio-cognitive network in which each bit of turn taking (as reflected by the nearly arbitrary segmentation of annotations using ELAN) may be inscribed (public, private, gossip and business). Data frames have been further created for each recording. R is used as a tool to compute both probability and frequency of language variety using linear regression analysis.
Based on the scope of the experiment, results show predictable likelihood for choice of specific language varieties depending on the conversation momentum.

3.    References
[1] Cobbinah, Alexander, The Casamance as an area of intense language contact: The case of Baï- nounk Gubaher. Journal of Language Contact», THEMA III, 2010; 175–201.
[2] Connell, Bruce, Language diversity and language choice: a view from a Cameroon market. An-thropological Linguistics; 51, 2. 2009; 130–150.
[3] Di Carlo, Pierpaolo, Multilingualism, solidarity, and magic: new perspectives on language ideologies in the Cameroonian Grassfields. In: Atti del XLVI Congresso Internazionale della Società di Linguistica Italiana – Siena 27-29 September 2012: 290 – 304.
[4] Di Carlo, Pierpaolo & Jeff Good. What are we trying to preserve? Diversity, change, and ideology at the edge of the Cameroonian Grassfields. In Peter Austin and Julia Sallabank (eds.) Beliefs and Ide- ologies. Oxford:Oxford University Press; 2014; 231–264.
Fishman, Johsua A. Who Speaks What Language to Whom and When?. Linguistique, Vol. I, No. 2; 1965; 67–88.
Irvine, Judith T. & Susan Gal (2000). Language ideology and linguistic differentiation. In Kroskrity (2000b); 35–84.
Juillard, Caroline. La vie des langues à Ziguinchor, Sociolinguistique urbaine. Paris, Presses du CNRS; 1965.
Lüpke, Friederike. Language and identity in flux: in search of Baïnounk. Journal of Language Contact THEMA 3; 2010a; 155–174.
Lüpke, Friederike. Multilingualism and language contact in West Africa: towards a holistic perspective. Journal of Language Contact» THEMA 3; 2010b; 1–11.
McLaughlin, Fiona. Dakar Wolof and the configuration of an urban identity. Journal of African Cultural Studies 14, 2;  2001; 153–172.
Myers-Scotton, Carol. Social motivations for code-switching. Evidence from Africa. Oxford,: Clarendon Press; 1993.
Whiteley, Wilfred H. Introduction. In W. H. Whiteley (ed.), Language Use and Social Change. Problems of multilingualism with special reference to Eastern Africa. Oxford: Oxford University Press; 1971; 1– 23.



Tuesday seminars are held in BIOMED T208 at 12:00pm unless otherwise noted.