‘Community’ collaboration in Africa: Experiences from Northwest Cameroon
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A prominent feature of the literature on language documentation has been the importance of designing documentary projects in ways that allow speaker communities to benefit from the work of an outside researcher. Canonical examples of useful activities in this regard tend to involve things like the creation of materials that can be used for language development or offering training opportunities to assist local language maintenance programs. The idea that activities like these are appropriate has generally emanated from linguists’ experiences in places like the Americas and Australia, and it is important to examine the extent to which models coming out of such parts of the world are appropriate in the very different contexts of sub-Saharan Africa. This paper explores the problem of community collaboration in applied language documentation in Africa, drawing on experiences from a documentation project currently underway in Cameroon. Three points will be highlighted: (i) the fact that outside linguists benefit from the support of a number of distinct communities, all of which are under-resourced and which can be assisted in ways specific to their needs, (ii) the importance of coming to a detailed understanding of the social significance of a given language in its local context in order to discover the most appropriate ways to support its maintenance, and (iii) the extent to which the primary assistance offered to a community should be narrowly ‘linguistic’ in nature.