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From documenting languages to documenting language dynamics: Experiences from Lower Fungom, Cameroon

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Title: From documenting languages to documenting language dynamics: Experiences from Lower Fungom, Cameroon
Authors: Good, Jeff
Issue Date: 02 Mar 2013
Description: The Lower Fungom region of Northwest Cameroon is noteworthy for its exceptional linguistic diversity: Seven languages, or small language clusters, are spoken in its thirteen recognized villages, which occupy a core area roughly the size of the island of Niʻihau and have populations ranging from a few hundred to a few thousand speakers. This situation prompts the consideration of not only standard documentary concerns, such as how to collect sufficient information to grammatically describe each of the region’s languages, but also raises the question: What factors have allowed Lower Fungom to develop and maintain its extreme linguistic diversity? Answering this question would not only be of relevance to linguistic scholarship but also has potential applications for addressing language endangerment in other parts of the world to the extent that the maintenance of linguistic diversity in Lower Fungom provides an obvious counterexample to dominant worldwide trends.
This talk will describe the ways in which the standard documentary toolkit has been augmented by an interdisciplinary research team studying the region to allow for the creation of a documentary record which covers both the synchronic features of the target languages and offers sufficient ethnographic and historical context to allow us to begin to understand what has allowed it to maintain such a surprising level of diversity. This has included: (i) collection of detailed geographic information, (ii) shallow archaeological exploration, (iii) ethnographic investigation aimed at cultural features most relevant to understanding patterns of language transmission and multilingualism, and (iv) examination of archival records.
By combining data from this diverse set of sources, it has been possible to model the devel-opment of diversity in Lower Fungom via a combination of historical migrations of speaker communities into the region over the last two hundred years—thus, in effect “importing” diversi-ty—and of the movement of formerly dispersed groups into compact villages resulting in the formation of clear-cut dialect boundaries which had not previously existed. A particularly signif-icant discovery has been the role of language ideologies in promoting linguistic diversity. In par-ticular, an emphasis on the role that having a unique “language” plays in justifying the political independence of a village has initiated a number of recent, abrupt processes of linguistic differ-entiation among many of the region’s villages.
In addition to outlining key results of this interdisciplinary research, this talk will provide concrete recommendations for linguists interested in engaging in similar kinds of work.
Rights: Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported
Appears in Collections:3rd International Conference on Language Documentation and Conservation (ICLDC)

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