SOAS University of London

SOAS’ £1 million funded ‘crossroads’ research project finishes its first year

7 January 2015

Professor Friederike Lüpke, a Senior Lecturer in Linguistics, is currently engaged in a five year research project that is being supported by a Leverhulme Trust funding grant of almost £1 million.

This unique project, now entering its second year, is examining multilingualism in and language contact between three languages spoken at the “crossroads” – a group of neighbouring villages in the Casamance area of Senegal, West Africa. Researchers are utilising a fourth language, Baïnounk Gujaher, as a control language. The results of the project will reveal in which areas the languages influence each other least and most in structure, lexicon and speech-accompanying gesture.

Professor Lüpke is working with an interdisciplinary team of researchers which includes PhD students, postdoctoral researchers and project coordinators.

At the end of the project’s first year the team has embarked on several field trips and utilised internal workshops to develop a methodology to create the infrastructure for the future fieldwork on the ground. The team members have also successfully familiarised themselves with the dauntingly complex multilingual settings of the Casamance area of southern Senegal. Find out more about this unique and exciting research project.

On 11 February 2015, Professor Friederike Lüpke will be delivering a SOAS Inaugural Lecture titled 'Language Diversity, African Style'. More information is available on our website. To attend this event, please register here.   

Crossroads project 1
The research team has lunch together at the field base in Brin.
Crossroads project 2

A local-translocal event: the initiation rites practised all over the Casamance region are deeply spiritual events, taking place once every 20 to 30 years, during which the male population of a whole generation is guided into adulthood.  The first year of the crossroads project had the fortunate luck of coinciding with an initiation year in Brin and Djibonker, two of the villages in which the project was taking place. Pictured above are some of the initiates. Alexander Cobbinah, who has been working in Djibonker since 2008 and is one of the field researchers on the crossroads project, was invited to take part in the initiation ceremony thus receiving the privilege of leaving the village as an initiated ‘Baïnounk man’.

Crossroads project 3

The influx of visitors and relatives from across the Casamance region, as well as the increased mixing of people from the local villages, created an intraregional melting pot, which gave the researchers a unique insight into the complex nature and flexibility of linguistic and ethnic boundaries within the region. Pictured here are some of the youngest initiates.