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Conference Proceeding

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Language obsolescence -- West Africa, Atlantic languages, Languages in contact -- West Africa, Endangered languages, Multilingualism


This paper catalogues the forces at work threatening the Atlantic languages of Guinea and Sierra Leone. Compared to Mande, the other major language group in the area, and to figures for Africa in general (Sommer 1992), the Atlantic Group is beset by ominous forces. These include what could be considered ecological features (e.g., Mufwene 2001): the Mande Expansion (Niane 1989), colonialism, the spread of Islam, and globalization. There are other forces to be sure, such as the influence of Christian missions (Welmers 1971; cf. Mühlhäusler 1990), urbanization (a sub-category, perhaps, of globalization), and climatic changes (Brooks 1993, Fairhead and Leach 1996). The forces chosen here have been selected because they are the most significant for the languages under investigation, those most threatened (see the papers in Muthwii and Kioko 2004). In no way, however, does the discussion purport to examine any of these forces in depth, an impossible task in a paper of this length.


Paper delivered at the Joy of Language: a symposium honoring the colleagues of David Dwyer on the occasion of his retirement. May be found at

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