Ideologies and typologies of language endangerment in Africa

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This chapter aims at redressing the deplorable fact that African languages,their social life and vitality, are assessed according to ideas of Africa groundedin Western language ideologies and based and on language criteria developedbased on American and Australian contexts of language endangerment. Thechapter challenges the validity of these ideologies to account for language usein African setting and starts out by providing the necessary background on thehistory of description of African languages and on assumptions on their vitalityas driven by colonial actors. It then paints a radically different picture of Africanlanguages by looking at them as codes in the multilingual repertoires of thelanguage ecologies in which they are used and by describing the social factorsthat nurture the astonishing linguistic diversity on the continent. In order todo justice to the specificity of African language situations, where settlementcolonies creating the conflictual polyglossic situations typical for Americaand Australia remain an exception, an alternative set of vitality parameters forAfrican languages is proposed. The chapter closes with the observation thatmultilingual language use as a socially embedded practice in complex linguisticecologies needs to become a focus of descriptive and documentary research onAfrican languages.


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