Sunday, January 25, 2004

Seriously thinking I don't get it with regard to blogs. Anyway here's another shot...

Trainees are back from "demyst" (demystification) which is basically their first trip out to see what volunteer life is really like. Will find out what their impressions are.

Wrapping up a lot of intangibles - mainly in the form of letters - while the tangibles of packing go slowly. Mainly there are things to tie up.

Multilingual_Literacy has a better description (see link at left). Postings to A12n-collaboration.

And this item which proves I haven't lost my touch in rattling off bad French (it was quickly done, here just an excerpt of a letter to a correspondant working on language preservation in Burkina Faso):

Je dois ajouter que je ne suis pas spécialisé en linguistique mais je me suis longtemps occupé par des questions de langue. J'ai mon doctorat en développement des ressources (avec accent sur l'agriculture et GRN) mais j'ai aussi travaillé sur un lexique du peul (Maasinankoore) et je parle mandingue (Bamanankan). Donc je me trouve toujours à travers deux domaines que le plupart du monde considère totalement séparés, l'un de l'autre. Mais je trouve que langue et expression (et donc l'imagination) sont aussi important que les techniques agricoles ou autres - sinon plus important considérant que le "développement" est d'abord une question d'éducation et d'ésprit, et après cela une question d'adapter ou adopter qqch.

Je reviens à la définition de base pour "développement" en langues latines - (desenvolare), déplier ou réveler les potentialités. C'est ça la fondation sur laquelle on peut bâtir, peut-être durablement, l'amélioration des conditions de vie, croissance de production etc. Et c'est dans cette optique que j'arrive a m'adresser aux questions de langue et de développement agricole sans voir ni contradiction ni division.

(Je me rappele qu'en Bambara on a tendance à traduire développement comme "ɲɛtaa" qui ressemble pour mois "progès," qui malheureusement porte un sens négatif à ce qui existait avant. Je ne sais pas s'il y a un autre mot qui donnerait un autre sens que croissance qui se nourris toujours des racines, tout en incorporant les éléments neufs.)

Toutefois, n'étant pas expert en linguistique je suis obligé de chercher à apprendre avec des experts comme vous.

Avec ça je vais terminer. Je crois devoir ajouter que je quitte Niamey définitivement dans 4 semaines, mais je continuerai à lire mes courriels.

Merci encore pour avoir écrit et à bientôt.

Saturday, January 24, 2004

Contribution today on ILAT (finished & posted today). Other work.

Phones out over much of Niamey at midday, almost certainly connected with a power outage in parts of town.

Balɗe sappo e jetti heddi.

Friday, January 23, 2004

Golle ana heewi ɗe balɗe. Ndara ko mi waɗii joonin, toon:

Langues Togolaises et les NTIC

... ɗum gaɗi-mi faa mi walla neɗɗo goɗɗo ley leydi Togo.

Students on the street and bridge today.

Trop à faire ... contributions pour aujourd'hui sur Multilingual_Literacy, AfricanLanguages, ILAT, et AfriqueGlobalization (liens à gauche)...

Wednesday, January 21, 2004

Student demonstrations this morning in Niamey. Happens just often enough that one loses track of exactly what the issue is - generally something with the bourses, that is the student living stipends, but sometimes politics.

On the national scene the local elections have been postponed from March to June. Not sure if there is a connection. (The curious can check out some of the links at J. Mayer's page - click on the link to that in the left column under "Niger" - for sources of news.)

I wrote an e-mail with a quick take on my interests (a networking/jobhunting thing important even as the clock ticks down...) which I'll revise part of a bit for this venue:

In effect I have one foot in language & multilingual ICT and the other in agriculture, environment and rural development. What links the two are

  • a conviction about the nature and importance of agriculture in human society (goes beyond the obvious; the relentless focus on production is leading to some very questionable results), and an interest in enhancing opportunities for smallholder farming families in poorer countries

  • an approach to land & resource management that emphasizes "putting the mind on the land" beginning with local knowledge (not stopping there, of course) and using various low & high tech tools of spatial imaging

  • a view of "development" that goes back to its core meaning of "unfolding, revealing potentialities" (if you start from there rather than the usual usages of the term, you get a much broader set of goals)

  • seeing education or "learning" as the dynamic thread linking these interests (with a Freirian accent - though this is pretty mainstream now)

  • understanding of the importance of one's first language in learning, "owning," and generating knowledge (but for various reasons most of education & development approaches in Africa minimize this)

  • the strong impression from experience that multilingual societies function differently from monolingual ones in ways that people used to monolingual living (or even alternating from one to another more or less monolingual setting using different languages) don't easily appreciate

  • recognition of the importance of language skills in life success and social skills, and that current education systems and economic factors are producing in Africa many people with what one might call "impaired bilingualism" (no schooling in the first language(s) and more or less limited acquisition of the language of instruction - the worst of both worlds when in fact the best of both is possible)

The latter is an interesting line of reasoning I have only recently begun to really think about - the suggestion being that inadequate skills in self-expression lead to social and psychological problems esp. in men (?), and that lack of words, of language skills, effectively equals inadequacy. A quote I ran across by Australian author John Marsden a couple of months ago got me thinking along these lines: "Language impoverishment can lead to frustration, impotence and/or rage."

Is lack of language education, within the broadly recognized "lack of education" (which tends to get reduced to the also important but different domain of vocational education - as if young people don't need to think as long as they learn to do), an underappreciated factor in problems in disadvantaged communities? And lack of good bilingual language education a factor in polyglot societies? A lot of the youth caught up in the violent armed groups in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Côte d'Ivoire, for instance, are probably really fluent in no language - whether there is any link or not I think is is a valid question to look at. Obviously all the violence plays out in a context of social, political and economic issues - but
how it is playing out may have something to do with a rootless/hopeless generation that speaks neither maternal language nor external language well. George Packer's descriptions of the youth in CI are worth rereading in this context.

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

Training sessions yesterday and tomorrow - for new PCVs. Big group, great attitude. For those familiar with Peace Corps and the traditional 3-month pre-service training, we have departed from that model, with a little over eight weeks training in basics before going out to post and then after a couple of months an intensive supplemental technical training. Niger is one of the first to try this in Africa.

Another item - Unicode-Afrique, a Yahoogroup I set up two years ago, marks two years of existence. A modest success, I think, with promise. It is far from the most active Africa & ICT list, but it seems to be filling a niche:

Il y a deux ans aujourd'hui qu'on a crée Unicode-Afrique comme instrument d'éducation, échange d'information, et même collaboration sur les potentialités de l'Unicode pour faciliter l'emploi des langues africaines dans l'informatique et sur l'internet.

Je voudrais prendre l'occasion de rémercier toutes et tous pour votre fidélité au groupe et pour avoir contribué vos questions, reponses et points de vue sur l'Unicode et les langues et écritures d'Afrique.

Que la prochaine année vous porte du succès dans vos travaux et nous permette de continuer et avancer les débats concernant l'Unicode et l'Afrique!
. . .

Back to Peace Corps ... APCDs, and Peace Corps staff generally, have their role described sometimes as in loco parentis, which is not really accurate since PCVs are are all well of age, but it does reflect our role in looking after basic safety & security, making sure that living conditions meet a certain minimum, etc.

A lot of what we APCDs do relates also to aspects of work and even providing advice/mentoring and other info. I had an interesting set of questions from one volunteer recently on vacation westward from Niger in West Africa which let me act momentarily in loco professoris. Anyway the questions and imprompt answers follow:

1. What role did peanuts play in the local economy before the French turned them in to a cash crop? How has the average Nigerien's use of the peanut and it's products changed?

The history of peanuts has been more prominent in countries west of Niger it seems. In Senegal as you saw it was big time economically and socially. Somewhat less so in Mali. In Niger there are not a lot of areas which can produce the crop that well. There was a peanut oil factory in the east of Niger, but either the crop production apparently couldn't support it or it was otherwise unprofitable.

Peanuts of course are native to Brazil, and like other new world crops (like corn) long ago found places in farming systems and foodways. The colonial emphasis on it in some areas may have increased its cultivation and use, but offhand I can't think of any study on this.

2. Why do Fulans and Wodabes seem so much less religious (Islam) in Niger than they do in Cameroon, Mali, Senegal?

Interesting question re Fulɓe and Islam. Up until the 1700s many Fulɓe were pagan (for lack of a better word). For various reasons there was a series of independent "revolutions" or reform movements in which Muslim Fulɓe took power in Fuuta Jalon (Guinea), ~1776; Sokoto & the Hausa states ~1804; Maasina (Mali) 1818; and Fuuta Tooro (Senegal River valley) mid-1800's. For a while you could actually talk of Fulaphone West Africa much as you do Francophone West Africa today (though nobody did).

The character of each was different. Fuuta Jalon was a theocracy with almost feudal hierarchy but an interesting system of rotation of power between two clans (which proved their undoing when the French could play them off against each other). Maasina also maintained the traditional "caste" system in the much more varied ethnic palette of the inland Niger delta, but is mostly known for a far-sighted reorganization of the herding system and interaction with agriculture.

I know less about Sokoto, but the Fulɓe involved apparently became pretty much absorbed into the Hausa state system (at the top), such that you'll sometimes read of Hausa-Fulani states (and one poorly researched article recently mentioned the "Hausa-Fulani tribe" of northern Nigeria). Between the Hausa states and Maasina (which includes Liptaako, Dori, western Niger), the Fulɓe were not as much caught up in it, and even less so in the open expanses to the north.

Fuua Tooro produced Al-Hajj Umar who battled the French in Senegal and when he lost a key battle in Medina on the Senegal River in 1852(?) turned his attentions eastward, conquering Kaarta (Bambara kingdom in western Mali) in 1860(?) and Segu (another more powerful Bambara kingdom) and Maasina in 1862. This is complex and the latter was the cause of some bitter blood and decades of chaos before the French took over.

I'm not as up on the situation in Adamawa (N. Cameroon) or why the Fulɓe are more Islamized there.

3. In Cameroon, the French left the Fulans in power when the country was granted independence? Did the colonizer favor Fulans in other countries as well? Why?

The relationship between the French and the Fulɓe was complicated in part by romantic notions of the origin of the latter and practical issues in that they found them in power in many places. I don't know my Cameroonian history well enough to say why Ahmadu Ahidjo et al were in power when the French left. I am aware that historically the Fulɓe in the north subjugated other peoples (and in fact ran across an interesting article once on the use of tree and bush plantings in that region for village defenses in that area - militaro-forestry?).

In other countries it was really a question of convenience. The Fulɓe had a bit of an advantage with the French in Guinea (they are still the largest group by a small margin) and indeed tended to vote for the French in the famous 1958 referendum in which the rest of the country didn't and which led to Sekou Touré's "non."

4. Why are grazing lands decreasing? Is it because of desertification, Hausas moving north and taking the land for farms, bigger herds, or some combination of these factors?

Combination of factors. More people either owning more animals or looking for more farmland, plus land-degradation and longer term trends in rainfall. I usually shy away from using "desertification" as it covers more than it reveals.

Monday, January 19, 2004

Niamey, c'est une ville polyglotte. Comme tout le pays et toute l'Afrique d'ailleurs. Ici la langue offiielle est le français, pour les raisons de l'histoire de la sous-région et aussi de besoin de langue franque. Mais promener en ville c'est d'écouter "Fofo" et "Sannu," par exemple, plus souvent que "Bonjour." C'est normale, vu le fait que le Zarma et/ou le Haoussa sont les langues maternelles de la grande majorité de la population.

C'est aussi normale ici et dans le plupart de l'Afrique d'écouter et parler plusieurs langues au cours d'une journée. J'ai l'impression qu'on ne peut pas parler une seule langue dans la journée sans se borner socialement et intellectuellement.

Handicap ou avantage, vivre avec ce multilinguisme? J'ai l'impression que ce n'est pas un désavantage a priori, et il y a des aspects positives. La communication passe bien par les voies (et voix) plurales si on est habitué. Le problème arrive si on ne maitrise aucune de ces langues - et les possibilités d'expression sont ainsi limités. Mais si on a une connaissance un peu approfondie dans au moins une langue, on peut, je crois, aller plus loin avec des autres langues.

En fin, ce sont quelques réflexions. J'ai l'impression sans avoir vraiement recherché la question que les dynamiques des sociétés multilingues de l'Afrique - et les implications pour l'éducation, la culture, le développement, etc. - ne sont pas très bien compris jusqu'au présent.

Sunday, January 18, 2004

Balɗe noogay* e joyi faa mi egga (yaltina kaaki e suudu); cappantati e jeegon faa mi dillan ley laana pirooha.

Another weekend too busy to do as much packing as planned. Among other things, correspondence with various folks re Tifinagh, N'ko, Yoruba, and Akposso. One letter is worth sharing (most of) - it concerns whether or not a local language version of a tourist pamplet &/or web material should be done - I respond to someone who says that it hadn't been thought of:

In projects such as this, a lot of the focus is outward, which is not bad as far as that goes, but eclipses inward dimensions. And the inward dimensions, if you will are only partly covered by the official language, better in Togo than in Niger, but not complete. Which is to say that potential Togolese visitors, as you suggest, could make do fine with the French version, but there are things that that version can not do.

First, the French version cannot give the same message about the value of the cultural heritage of the area. Having a brochure and/or web content in Akposso (&/or Ewe?) alongside those in European languages has a significant symbolism - to yovo visitors as well as to local people.

Second, beyond symbolism the local language content will have some impact. Putting the material in the local language opens another dimension to the project and the resource in question. So much of the discourse in this region relegates certain things to the vernacular (local "indigenous knowledge," customs, home life) and others to the official language (scientific knowledge, laws, interaction with the outside). To a degree this is functional, but it is also artificial. Putting something onto people's first language(s) that they aren't used to seeing that way breaks that boundary at least a little, perhaps raising new possibilities of thinking. This may sound terribly abstract, but new ways of thinking is part of development, and new ways of thinking may involve the maternal languages.

Third is the link or bridge between local "indigenous knowledge" and environmental education (EE) - a more focused possibility of the second point. I understand now that the PCVs are concerned mainly with the economic aspects of tourism development. I don't know the current program in Togo well enough to know if there is something like EE, but translating a brochure and/or web material about the environment into the vernacular is a beginning to talk about the environment in a different way. Can new concepts about environment be incorporated into the same medium used to discuss local knowledge (i.e., the local language(s))? Here in Niger if there is new PCV work (e.g., website) on the "Park W" the suggestion of including material in the two principal local/national languages has been raised.

Fourth, there's the angle of how validating the use of the printed local language might help encourage people to write things down (this is also related to the second point above). An example: My cook and her husband here in Niamey are Akebu from Togo. The husband, has some interesting stories - for instance he and one of his brothers in Togo who have long wanted to publish the Akebu calendar (similar to the Akposso calendar you may have seen in Togo, which is still published annually there and I put on the web last year). He also told of his father, who apparently had a wealth of information on local species and medicines such that the sons wanted to record it somehow, but their father passed away and the opportunity was lost (one of the proverbial "libraries burning" of Amadou Hampaté Ba). How many opportunities like this are lost? My point here is not that a brochure or webpage in Akebu (in this case) would have saved such knowledge, but that it might be an important encouragement to people who could.

The main thing for your project is, I think, can local language content be added with little additional monetary cost - I think it can - and if so whether one is missing an opportunity by not making as much of an effort as possible in this direction.* Look at it this way - an unavoidable side aspect of the project is whether it reinforces the usual pattern (i.e., anything printed or technical being only in French & foreign languages) or opens some new possibilities (with printed &/or web material in the vernacular about an important local resource).

A lot of my thinking on this comes from my years in the region, and also from reading and thinking about rural development in other areas of the world. There is a lot of thinking and material out there about the importance of the maternal languages and linguistic diversity - which is not to say our role has to be to save every language, but neither should it be to overlook possibilities to work with them and their speakers in novel ways. (One organization linking language and biodiversity for instance is Terralingua, at .)

Let me close by returning to the symbolism issue with a story from PC/Niger - even though some of the realities here are different from Togo I think it is illustrative of the possibilities of doing more, even on a small scale, with local languages. We have the experience of printing up Peace Corps brochures in Hausa and Zarma as well as in French, in part at my suggestion over 2 years ago. One American staff at the time actually argued against it, since "people who can read, can read French anyway" (in actuality there is a small number literate in their first language but not French), but in the end we went ahead with it mainly with the thoughts that 1) the local language versions could also be read aloud if need be, and 2) the symbolic message was a natural in a program where volunteers often speak better local language than French. So now, when we have our nice color brochures available say for invitees at swearing in ceremonies, many of them take more than one version, and really look at the local language ones. And when PCVs facilitate literacy work, they can actually bring out the appropriate local language version when folks are advanced enough. And they're nice to present to people.

It was impossible to know what exactly would become of the Hausa and Zarma versions when we tried this, but it has turned out to be an easy, positive way to reach more people, be seen in a new way by people we deal with already, and perhaps open new possibilities. And I'm happy to say we're revising all 3 versions currently to reprint. My hunch is that if the project you are collaborating on finds a way to do something significant in one or more local language, it will get you a lot of positive attention locally and internationally.

* This same sort of "more bang for the buck" reasoning was behind including "same language subtitling" (SLS) as an element in a Hausa & Zarma AIDS education video proposal here (SLS being a literacy tool).

That's all for this sitting.....

* Ley Mali e Gine 20="noogay" ; ley Niizer, "leeso" ; ley Senegal, "noogas." Fulfulde/Pulaar ko ni.
I've already written that this is a bit of an experiment. That's on a few levels.

First I haven't used a weblog and frankly am not as excited about it as other web media. I like topical e-mail lists where I can visit and add thoughts & info, but which even for the few I started, don't center on me or my views or require my regular input. (I may add links to some of those I visit & contribute to so as to have a diffuse but confederated sort of blog with this serving as a personal node in it.)

Second I'm going into a transition as the title indicates and there are big time demands that don't permit much attention to this. So we'll see how much I post.

Third, my use of Fulfulde (ineloquent as I am in it) is another test of the medium. More about that later.

By way of introduction I work in Niamey as Assoc. Director for Agriculture with Peace Corps and as I am completing my contract (and extension) will leave next month after being here three and a half years.

Saturday, January 17, 2004

Thursday, January 15, 2004

Moƴƴii koy! ...

Haya! Ɗowtan-am faa mi witti Ɲamey. Gaa haa jonte joyi, tawan golle am timmotoo. Nden, mi dillan, so Alla jaɓii fuu! Ɲamey ana wellii e Ɲameynkooɓe, ɓe sahiiɓe sanne. Ka nokku fuu wellaa so jom suudu e ɓinngel walaa too.

Joonin, yo mi acca winndude Fulfulde (Fulfulde jiiɓude am). So a faamii haala am, gasii, s'a faamaayi, wanaa baasi. Ɗowtan-am faa mi witti Ɲamey...

This is an experiment -
Mi hoornan winndude ga faa mi ƴeewa so moƴƴii na moƴƴaa.
Un essai de caractères étendus ci-dessus.