Language and Society in the Sahel

Language and Society in the Sahel

Fiona McLaughlin

In addition to her work on the phonology and morphology of Atlantic languages (Wolof, Pulaar and Seereer-Siin), Fiona Mc Laughlin works on various sociolinguistic aspects of language in the Sahel, including language contact and the emergence of urban languages in Senegal’s cities, as well as on the sociolinguistics of vernacular literacy in both Latin and Arabic alphabets.

Language and cities

The cities and languages project focuses on the African city as a site of linguistic contact, change, and endangerment, as well as on the dynamics of language practices in urban settings. Urban ways of speaking in contemporary Africa are central to the formation of new urban identities which are inextricably intertwined with emerging social and political movements and processes of realignment of ethnic and religious identities, thus they merit serious consideration if we are to understand the African city. The first stage of this project, entitled ‘The languages of urban Africa,’ was funded by a grant from the University of Florida’s Office of Research, culminating in an international workshop and the publication of an edited volume by the same name in 2009. This stage of the project looked at language in ten African cities, focusing on several key issues; the emergence of urban contact languages (eg: Wolof, Lingala, Nouchi); contact phenomena such as borrowing, codeswitching, and language shift; and on the city as the source of authoritative ideological discourses about language.

Currently, and in collaboration with Minna Zhou, Mc Laughlin is working on Dakar’s newest language, Centenaire Pidgin. This is a pidgin language used between Chinese merchants and their Senegalese employees and clients at their shops along the Boulevard du Centenaire in central Dakar.

In addition to a continued focus on the conceptualization of multilingualism in the wake of recent developments in the study of language ideology and language practices, the current phase of this project builds on the UF Department of Linguistics’ strengths and growing focus on the documentation of endangered languages to explore the African city as a site of language endangerment.

Vernacular literacy

This project, currently in its beginning stages, looks at writing in its various informal forms in urban and rural Senegal. Mc Laughlin presented a first paper on this research at the TASIA2 conference: “The Arabic script in Africa: Synergies resulting from the study of a writing system” held at the Université Libre de Bruxelles, in April 2013. The paper was entitled “Grassroots literacy at the port of Niodior (Senegal)” and discussed the digraphic panel displaying the port taxes in Roman and ajami scripts, pictured above.

Representative publications on urban language