Summary: Reading Group #2

The reading was: Juffermans, K. and McGlynn, C., 2009. A sociolinguistic profile of The Gambia. Sociolinguistic Studies 3(3), pp.329-355. 

We had around a dozen participants. 

Our Gambian participants usefully shared their thoughts on the extent to which the article was representative of the language situation in The Gambia. Overall, they agreed that it was a fairly accurate description despite the challenges of the limited amount of linguistic data available to sociolinguists interested in The Gambia’s multilingualism. The issue of assuming a correlation between ethnic and linguistic backgrounds in particular was raised.

The lack of information regarding the methodology underpinning the article was raised, with reference, for example, to the fact that the authors did not talk much about their own linguistic repertoire. 

The richness and complexity of multilingualism in The Gambia was explored at length. The virtual absence of research into some of the language varieties spoken in The Gambia, e.g. Balanta and Bainuka (Bainuk people are said to be the first inhabitants of Casamance; in The Gambia and elsewhere Bainuk people are now largely Jola-ised and tend to speak Jola). The issue of language endangerment was also evoked, e.g. while discussing the Manjago language. Some of our members also alluded to two  language varieties encountered in The Gambia about which not very much at all is known, namely: Koñaajinka, a language spoken by seasonal workers coming from Guinea Bissau, and Mansoanka, a Gambian language (the Mansuanka tribe, originally from Guinea Bissau is said to face extinction – you can watch a video about it here).

As might be expected the importance and challenges of language ideologies—inevitably informed by The Gambia’s colonial past—in conducting research into a highly multilingual society such as The Gambia underpinned some of the discussions. The issue of the unspoken yet tangible hierarchisation of languages, with English often perceived as better, more powerful, etc. was discussed. The impact of politics on language policy (including but not limited to language-in-education policy) was also briefly discussed.

Last but not least, the imminent introduction of national languages in the curriculum of the University of The Gambia in 2021-22, i.e. the introduction of option modules for several national languages which will be taught as additional languages (for speakers not fluent in these languages and for literacy development purposes for fluent speakers), was also evoked during our meeting.

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