Language and Societies

ANT/LIN 5320 at Wayne State University

Minority language orthography and literacy: A case study of Swo in Cameroon

Minority language orthography and literacy: A case study of Swo in Cameroon

Shannon Yee

Literacy and linguistic prestige are often related to language standardization practices. Thus, orthography development plays an important role in language development particularly for minority languages in Africa. Various scripts traditions are potentially available to any indigenous community where there are a variety of influences on that selection. This paper examines the elaboration of writing systems in minority languages in Cameroon and the way those decisions interact with linguistic identity, looking closely at one language as a representative case, as well as briefly considering the literacy that should flow from orthography development. Fieldwork with Swo, a Narrow Bantu language with approximately 9000 speakers, provides a case study of a small language group in Central Cameroon. Through participatory workshops with members of the community over the course of two years, an orthography was proposed and revised, and an introductory adult literacy program was implemented in four villages speaking two varieties of Swo. The discussion of the Swo writing system covers the currently limited extent of its use, as well as the broader sociolinguistic context which impacts literacy and minority language development in Cameroon and beyond. Socioeconomic considerations, multilingualism, and community motivation play key roles in the integration of orthography into the life of the language community; without such integration, an orthography will likely remain unused.

April 16, 2020 - Posted by | abstract

1 Comment »

  1. I am sure this paper will apply concepts and bring new insights into literacy and orthography. You mention that “community motivation” is one of the key role into the integration of an orthography. Do you mean that “community motivation” is their motivation to become literate, or are their other concerns with community motivation?

    Comment by Jeff Dempsey | April 20, 2020 | Reply

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