African Languages, Development and the State

By Richard Fardon; Graham Furniss | Go to book overview

10

Healthy production and reproduction

Agricultural, medical and linguistic pluralism in a Bwisha community, Eastern Zaïre

James Fairhead

INTRODUCTION

Conversations in one Bwisha village often mix Kinyabwisha (Kinyarwanda), Kiswahili and French, within as well as between words, phrases and sentences. This paper examines this linguistic pluralism in the context of medical/agricultural pluralism and political pluralism. Rather than focus on languages per se, the paper examines discontinuities in the ways Banyabwisha 1 understand and respond to human and crop health problems, and on related discontinuities in the ways they claim legitimacy in political action. The analytical strategy, therefore, is to focus on the frames of reference which orientate language use (cf. Pardon and Furniss) and to show what this reveals about the articulation between the different ‘languages’ which Banyabwisha draw on and mix.

The paper looks at some specific developments in linguistic practice associated with the articulation of different ‘languages’ such as the use of loan words and new constructions. It shows why these need to be understood in relation both to changing technical knowledge (e.g. in crop health therapy), and to the political and economic changes in which technical understanding is embedded.

Such an ‘ethnography of linguistic interaction’ should contrast with and complement discussions of the pros, cons and possibilities of policies to promote particular languages as part of ‘development’. This example of how linguistic interaction is locally politicized and the roles which technological issues play in conditioning this, will help us consider both how language ‘development’ issues interact with technological ones, and how local people might interpret language policy.

The paper examines the idioms and frames of reference which cultivators use to describe soil fertility and crop health, drawing a strong

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