Sociolinguistic Documentation of Language Shift and Maintenance in Iyasa

Belew, Anna Kathryn
Drager, Katie
Campbell, Lyle
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This dissertation examines language shift and maintenance in Iyasa, an endangered Coastal Bantu language spoken in southern Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea. By combining sociolinguistic language documentation with qualitative and quantitative sociolinguistic methods—including experimental variationist work, ethnographic interviewing, and assessment of linguistic vitality using different scholarly metrics—I aim to provide a more holistic understanding of the processes and causes of shift away from Iyasa and factors supporting the maintenance (and possible revitalization) of the language, as well as creating a body of documentation about the Iyasa language and its current context. Language shift cannot be understood without close attention to the context in which it occurs; therefore, this dissertation also situates language shift and maintenance within the historical, social, and geographic contexts in which Iyasa speakers currently live. In addition, this dissertation aims to foreground the perspectives, opinions, language practices, and experiences of the Iyasa community themselves, and to ground its study of language shift within the lives of the individuals involved. Findings show that, like languages in many other parts of Africa, the Iyasa language faces growing pressure from an official ex-colonial language (French), increasing economic hardships, urbanization and rural exodus, ideologies of subtractive multilingualism, and the challenges of sustaining a language with a relatively small speaker population which is surrounded by demographically larger languages. In addition, speakers report changes in the structure of the language, which they perceive as being related to language attrition among younger speakers; experimental work confirms these changes as being correlated with younger speakers, but not with reduced Iyasa proficiency. Finally, this dissertation examines factors which contribute to the maintenance of the Iyasa language, and which may be drawn upon to support language revitalization efforts. It presents a successful youth-led language revitalization initiative, which was designed in response to the understandings of language shift gained from sociolinguistic work within the Iyasa community, and provides recommendations for implementing youth language revitalization programs in similar contexts. By combining a number of sociolinguistic approaches with language documentation, this dissertation provides a detailed case study of language shift and maintenance in an African context, as well as methodological recommendations for other researchers interested in documenting processes of language shift and maintenance.
Linguistics, Cameroon, endangered languages, language documentation, language revitalization, language shift, sociolinguistics
193 pages
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