Theme 3: Literature in African languages, literary theory and linguistic practices

Coordinators of the programme: Sandra Bornand and Mélanie Bourlet

Participants: Mélanie Bourlet, Sandra Bornand, Henry Tourneux, Marie Lorin and Aboubakry Sow

The theme has the following objectives:

  • Discussing methodological and theoretical questions that are relevant for all our projects
  • Analysing oral and written literature and linguistic practices in a multidisciplinary approach
  • Ensuring direct links between our projects to gain a global view on the complex of problems.

The projects of the theme are complementary with regard to their objectives and their scientific methodologies :

  • Project 1 is organised around a representative complex of problems – the processes of appropriating writing – in an example language (Peul);
  • The theoretical reflection on a topic – canonical discourse – is carried out in Project 2;
  • The transmission of knowledge in African languages is studied from a practical perspective in Project 3, which does not organise regular meetings.


The participants of the projects come together at a fixed date once per month at LLACAN. Collective reflections of all members of the programme are made possible by the organisation of annual workshops, which allow us to refine our theories.

Project presentations

Project 1: Processes of appropriating writing, the example of Peul

Coordinator: Mélanie Bourlet

The Peul project engages in reflections on the appropriation of writing and the relationship between orality and writing; the project thus continues reflection which we have already started in the past five-year project. It is also linked to the projects ELLAF and Canonical discourses in their linguistic modalities.

Being a transnational language with different sociolinguistic statuses across the countries where it is spoken, Peul raises questions with which also other African languages are confronted: (a) What are the means of transmission of the language and of the knowledge transported by the language? (b) What are the linguistic practices in the context of migration? (c) Which multiple writing practices exist in the absence of regulatory institutions and reference works? (d) Which orthography issues does the language have? The expected results of the project are the following: 1) an edited collection of oral and written texts in Peul, 2) reference works for Peul.

Project 2: Canonical discourses in their linguistic modalities

Coordinator: Sandra Bornand

External collaborators: Marie-Rose Abomo-Maurin (Université de Yaoundé), Alice Degorce (IRD-IMAF), Abdoulaye Keïta (Université Cheikh Anta Diop de Dakar, IFAN), Cécile Leguy (PARIS III-Lacito), N’Diabou Séga Touré (Université Cheikh Anta Diop de Dakar-IFE), Françoise Ugochukwu (Open University).

The objective is, firstly, to better define the literary productions with by considering their sociocultural, linguistic and enunciative particularities and their relation to other linguistic practices. Secondly, the project intends to analyse these texts in reference to the circulation of the texts and to intertextuality. We are interested, in a general way, in the linguistic modalities of all canonical utterances, which allows us to understand the relations between the modes of expression that are labelled “literary” and other linguistic practices, especially from an enunciative viewpoint. Therefore, we discuss – in an interdisciplinary way – the works carried out in ethno-linguistics and in literary studies. This helps us question the boundaries of literariness. The domain that is labelled “literary” has in fact – depending on the culture in which we find it - weak boundaries, and it can thus never be considered a closed box. On the contrary, it finds its meaning and its function in constant interaction (not only through collages and citations) with all linguistic practices.

Project 3: The transmission of knowledge in African languages

Coordinator: Henry Tourneux

The objective of this project is to reflect on language use in "development” projects. The sociolinguistic situation in so-called “francophone” Africa requires that African languages and French are taken into account simultaneously. Due to the influence of the media (radio, television) and due to country-internal migration, French becomes more and more part of the linguistic repertoire of Africans in their respective countries. Paradoxically, its use raises as many linguistic problems as African lingua franca (problems of variation, discrepancies between non-standard and standard varieties).

In an earlier study, we have tried to find a methodology that would allow to transmit local knowledge in African languages in a school context (Tourneux Henry, 2011, with Boubakary Abdoulaye and Hadidja Konaï, La Transmission des savoirs en Afrique: Savoirs locaux et langues locales pour l’enseignement, Paris, Karthala, 304 p. + 1 DVD). It focussed on the knowledge of the land, which adults have hardly any opportunity to transmit to their children, whose relation to their parents has been profoundly changed through modern school.

In a current project, we intend to transfer modern and exogenous knowledge from those who developed it (agronomic engineers) to the learner (students at agricultural schools) and to farmers. Starting off with about 60 technical topics, which have already been written up in technical French, we have to produce a new version in simplified French and in Fulfulde (on a level as it is spoken as a lingua franca). We base ourselves partly on an earlier study (Tourneux Henry, 2006, La Communication technique en langues africaines: L’exemple de la lutte contre les ravageurs du cotonnier (Burkina Faso / Cameroun), Paris, Karthala, 158 pp.), which was itself based on experiences made in Cameroon and Burkina Faso.

Financial support from the PRASAC (Pôle régional de recherche appliquée au développement des systèmes agricoles d’Afrique centrale), an institution of the Central African Economy and Monetary Community (CEMAC, about to be fused with the CEEAC) alloweds us to realise the work with two local collaborators (one of master 2 level, one of baccalauréat level).