Multilingualism and the heteroglossia of ideologies in Lower Fungom (Cameroon)

Use and attitudes


  • Pierpaolo Di Carlo University at Buffalo, SUNY
  • Angiachi Demetris Esene Agwara University of Bayreuth
  • Rachel Ojong Diba University of Buea



small-scale multilingualism, multilingualism in rural Africa, nondiglossic ideologies, relational vs. categorical identities, Cameroon


Located at the northwestern edge of the Cameroonian Grassfields, Lower Fungom is a rural, linguistically highly diverse region (pop. ca. 12,000) where individual multilingualism in three local languages plus Cameroonian Pidgin English (henceforth CPE) is the norm, with a minority also speaking Cameroonian English. This article focuses on the different types of identity that can be projected via the use of English, CPE, and the local languages. Data come from language documentation projects and include self-reports, ethnographic observations, and analysis of language use. Such a diverse dataset allows us to uncover and discuss a number of aspects of the local language ideologies. Key here is the recognition that only exoglossic languages allow the representation of different identities qua membership in stereotypical categories – such as the case of English, which calls up stereotypes connected with authority and prestige – whereas the use of local languages is associated with village affiliation and, hence, relational rather than categorical identities. This ideological layer is not regimented by any form of prestige- or domain-based compartmentalization and, therefore, can hardly be captured by classical theories such as Fishman’s (1967) extended diglossia theory, whose limits in doing research on African rural settings are highlighted. Also, inspired by Jenks and Lee (2016), this article suggests the existence of a heteroglossia of ideologies of personal identity (relational vs. categorical) most likely determined by the relatively recent entry of English in the local language ecology.

Author Biographies

Pierpaolo Di Carlo, University at Buffalo, SUNY

Pierpaolo Di Carlo (PhD Linguistics, Florence) is a Postdoctoral Associate at the Department of Linguistics of the University at Buffalo, United States. He has recently published articles on multilingualism in rural Africa in journals like Language (with J. Good, 2017) and the International Journal of the Sociology of Language (2018). 

Angiachi Demetris Esene Agwara, University of Bayreuth

Angiachi Demetris Esene Agwara (BA Linguistics, MA Applied Linguistics, Buea) is a PhD student in Sociolinguistics at the Bayreuth International Graduate School of African Studies (BIGSAS), Germany. Her current research interests include how language ideologies shape the relationship between multilingualism, language attitudes, and language choice in rural Cameroon. 

Rachel Ojong Diba, University of Buea

Rachel Ayuk Ojong Diba epse Atighe (BA Linguistics, MA Applied Linguistics, Buea) is a PhD student in Sociolinguistics at the University of Buea in Cameroon. Her current research interests include code-switching, language contact, and the documentation of multilingualism (ELDP Small Grant). 


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How to Cite

Di Carlo, P., Esene Agwara, A. D., & Ojong Diba, R. (2020). Multilingualism and the heteroglossia of ideologies in Lower Fungom (Cameroon): Use and attitudes. Sociolinguistic Studies, 14(3), 321–345.