Gerard Preira teaching a LILIEMA class to children in Agnack. ©

Ekaterina Golovko

Friederike Lüpke (Department of the Languages and Cultures of Africa, SOAS, University of London) has a research focus on the Mande and Atlantic languages of West Africa. In addition to the basic description and documentation of these languages, her research investigates language use in the multilingual configurations in which these languages are spoken. She currently leads the Crossroads Project investigating organic multilingualism in rural Casamance.

Local solutions for local situations: LILIEMA (Language-independent literacies for inclusive education in multilingual areas)

Language-independent writing in Africa is both centuries old and very new. Such writing characterises the many pre-colonial writing traditions using the Arabic script and Arabic as a lead language that exist in the sphere of influence of Islam. This form of writing is omnipresent in text messages, on social media and in the linguistic landscapes. In all these contexts, boundaries between languages created through standard orthographies are absent; writers use their entire multilingual repertoires by transferring the conventions of a lead language to them. In short, multilingual writing without boundaries between languages is the most practiced form of writing of African languages.

Yet, this type of writing remains invisible to many observers, most notably to language planners, language advocacy groups and education researchers. The cultural capital of standard, language-based, literacies blocks even the writers of language-independent literacies themselves them from recognizing their writing as a valid literacy practice.

We are therefore very excited to bring a pioneering LILIEMA case study from rural Southern Senegal to the Language and Development Conference. In two multilingual villages in Casamance, LILIEMA is being piloted in supplementary school classes. We hope that our pilot, which offers inclusive education not excluding any language in linguistically diverse areas with great mobility, often across state borders, can contribute to addressing several sustainable development goals: SDG 4 on inclusive and equitable education, SDG 5 on gender equality, SDG 8 on sustainable economic growth and decent work for all, and SDG 16 on peace and justice for all.

If you want to find out more about LILIEMA, come to my talk and visit our stall at LDC! 

Participatory development initiatives: inventing basic literacy bottom-up

As the Language and Development Conference in Dakar draws closer, the Crossroads research team is getting ready to present its take on multilingualism management in basic education. That we are able to present a pilot on LILIEMA (Language-independent literacies for inclusive education in multilingual areas) was only possible because of a transformation of our research team. What was initially a UK-based research team conducting research on village-based multilingualism in the Lower Casamance in Southern Senegal has turned into a collaborative team including local community members, who work with us as transcribers, research assistants, and, most recently, as literacy trainers and teachers. It was their amazing multilingual skills of transcribing a corpus of language use data collected in three villages and containing 19 named languages that inspired us to develop LILIEMA together. Most of them had declared not being literate in any language of Senegal (despite writing them informally on their mobile phones and Facebook walls), and here there were, able to transfer their existing, but unrecognized informal literacy skills to an open-ended number of languages. This experience motivated us to take the existing grassroots literacies as the basis for a basic literacy programme that breaks with the idea that literacy always needs to be based on one language in a standardised orthography. While useful for larger languages, such forms of literacies turn multilingualism into a burden and always require the selection of a limited number of languages to be used in education. Standard, language-based, literacies therefore always exclude many of its intended beneficiaries in contexts of high linguistic diversity. Multilingual African writers have already found a solution for their multilingual contexts – one that does not necessarily correspond to Western imaginations of literacy, but one that is a social practice tailored to their own needs. Perhaps by paying attention to solutions of this kind, development can become more participatory and sustainable?

We’d love to have you try out LILIEMA for yourself – come to our stall and learn more about it in my talk.