Professor Lutz Marten, School of Oriental and Asian Studies (SOAS), University of London

Contexts of claiming digital space for African community languages

The talk develops an analysis of the use of African community languages in digital space against the historical and contemporary contexts of the use of African languages in public spaces. It draws a broad historical background of processes of, on the one hand, marginalisation and devalorisation of African languages, and, on the other hand, the celebration and promotion of linguistic and cultural diversity. It then develops a set of parameters of language development (such as geographical scope, social scope, agency, organisation, management, identity, and corpus) and based on this distinguishes three contexts of language development and agency:

  1. institution-driven language development, which is typically a large-scale, official, planned activity driven by government, state, or major official institutions
  2. community-driven language development, which typically includes planned or semi-spontaneous, grass-roots activities by advocacy and interest groups
  3. crowd-driven language development, which is typically unplanned, individual and spontaneous, but which can also be co-ordinated, and indeed manipulated, in particular through social media

Based on examples from different African contexts – although focussing on Eastern and Southern Africa – the talk then shows that the use of African community languages in digital space is rarely institution-driven, although on occasion enabling legislation supports community languages, and, importantly, there are several digital archives for endangered languages. There is considerably more community-driven activity, for example through radio or video, although the work of, for example, community language committees is also often focused on non-digital space and outputs, such as printed material, workshops, or school activities. Probably the strongest claims on digital space for community languages are made by crowd-driven activity, through mobile phones and social media, the use of which has increased over the last decade.

Against this background, the talk proposes that a challenge for language revitalisation of community languages in many African contexts is to connect the various agents involved in the process, and the different resources they can draw on. In particular with respect to the domain of digital space and new media, the talk will highlight the work of digital language repositories and how these can be harnessed better by communities and activists, thereby combining the strengths of institution, community, and crowd-driven language agency.


Lutz Marten is Professor of General and African Linguistics and Dean of the Faculty of Languages and Cultures at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London. His research focuses on the description and analysis of structural, social and functional aspects of language, with a specific focus on African languages. His current work includes theoretically informed linguistic analysis (morphosyntax, semantics, pragmatics) as well as language description, comparative and historical linguistics (especially Bantu languages), language contact and questions of language and identity. He has conducted fieldwork in East, Central, and Southern Africa, working on Bemba, Herero, Luguru, siSwati and Swahili and is currently directing a Leverhulme-funded research project on morphosyntactic variation in Bantu. He is the founding chair of the International Conference on Bantu Linguistics, and was the editor of the Journal of African Cultural Studies from 2007 to 2009. In 2014 he was an AW Mellon Research Follow at the Centre for African Language Diversity, University of Cape Town.



Dr Jonathan Morris, Cardiff University

New Media and Welsh-language Socialisation among Young People

This paper examines the factors which affect Welsh-language use among teenage Welsh-English bilinguals and asks to what extent new media can facilitate Welsh-language socialisation. I begin with an outline of the sociolinguistics of Welsh-English bilingualism in general. This is followed by an overview of the current Welsh new media landscape and previous research on the use of Welsh in new media and technology (e.g. Cunliffe et al. 2013; Evas & Cunliffe 2016). I then present the results of a thematic analysis of 63 interviews conducted with Welsh-English bilinguals aged 16-18 in four areas of North Wales. In particular, this study aimed to ascertain the extent to which speakers’ linguistic background and community influence their orientation toward the Welsh language and their use of Welsh outside of the classroom. The results indicate that while the use of Welsh is normalised among those from Welsh-speaking homes, particularly in areas where the majority of the local population speak Welsh, the language reamins confined to the classroom and plays a marginal role in the lives of many ‘new speakers’ (e.g. O’Rourke et al. 2015). I discuss the extent to which new media, along with other efforts, might influence the use of Welsh both during speakers’ teenage years and, perhaps more crucially, after they have moved on from Welsh-medium education.


Cunliffe, Daniel, Delyth Morris and Cynog Prys. 2013. Investigating the differential use of Welsh in young speakers’ social networks: A comparison of communication in face-to-face settings, electronic texts and on social networking sites. In: Elin Haf Gruffydd Jones and Enrique Uribe-Jongbloed (eds), Social Media and Minority Languages: Convergence and the Creative Industries, 78-86. Bristol: Multilingual Matters.

Evas, Jeremy and Daniel Cunliffe. 2016. Behavioural economics and minority language e-services: The case of Welsh. In: Mercedes Durham and Jonathan Morris (eds), Sociolinguistics in Wales, 61-91. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

O’Rourke, Bernadette, Joan Pujolar, and Fernando Ramallo. New speakers of minority languages: the challenging opportunity. International Journal of the Sociology of Language 2015 231: 1-20.


Dr Jonathan Morris is a Coleg Cymraeg Cenedlaethol Lecturer in Linguistics at the School of Welsh, Cardiff University. His research focuses on sociolinguistic aspects of bilingualism and second language acquisition. In particular, he is interested in phonetic and phonological variation in Welsh-English bilinguals’ speech and completed his PhD on this subject (University of Manchester). He has recently published on attitudes towards Welsh in the International Journal of the Sociology of Language and on phonetics and Welsh-English bilingualism in the International Journal of Bilingualism. He is also the co-editor of the forthcoming volume Sociolinguistics in Wales (Palgrave Macmillan).