Wednesday Seminar: Multilingualism, versatile linguistic repertoires and translanguaging in the Casamance, Senegal: the complexity of realities

Miriam Weidl (Postdoctoral Researcher, University of Helsinki) will discuss versatile and mutable multilingualisms in Senegal

Miriam Weidl

Miriam Weidl

This event is open to the public. Please contact organizers for meeting link.


Senegal, similar to other West African countries, is described as highly diverse and multilingual on a societal and individual level, which is visible in peoples’ everyday lives (Weidl, 2018). However, the high complexity of varied multilingualisms is neither represented in the country’s language policies, nor in many of the scientific publications on Senegal or neighboring countries (Di Carlo et al., 2019; Sall, 2009). One major issue therefore is the widespread understanding of multilingualism of the Global South, inspired by Western concepts, stacking several monolingualisms on top of each other (Léglise, 2017). However, a theoretical concept of several clearly delimited languages coexisting in the repertoires of multilingual speakers does not reflect their reality. Consequently, linguistic policies aiming to include multilingualism into institutional or educational sectors are unsuitable for the people they are created for and do, in certain areas, even trigger conflict.

In this talk, I will discuss versatile and mutable multilingualisms and give insights into the high linguistic and cultural diversity of Senegal that increases by taking a closer look at certain areas and by deviating from ‘standard’ language categories and becomes even more complex if we zoom into individuals, their backgrounds and social environments.

Based on empirical data collected in the Casamance since 2014 during the Crossroads project ( and the project LILIEMA (, the manifoldness of multilingualism and translanguaging practices are presented and discussed as an integral part of peoples’ everyday lives (Canagarajah & Wurr, 2011; Goodchild & Weidl, 2018; Jørgensen et al., 2011; Lüpke et al., 2020). Data that was triangulated in analysis, showing actual instances of language use and participants’ individual repertoires in their private surroundings as well as a teaching-learning environment during LILIEMA multilingual literacy courses is presented in detail.

Thereby, I aim to contribute to a better understanding of multilingual practice and contexts through establishing a more in-depth description of manifold linguistic applications in an African highly diverse context. This might lead to a broader understanding of multilingualism, its facets, transformability and diversity and in turn provide information that in the long-run, has the potential to enrich clear strategies for further research and language policies.


Canagarajah, S., & Wurr, A. J. (2011). Multilingual Communication and Language Acquisition: New Research Directions. The Reading Matrix, 11(1), 1–15.

Di Carlo, P., Good, J., & Diba, R. O. (2019). Multilingualism in Rural Africa. 1–47. 

Goodchild, S., & Weidl, M. (2018). Translanguaging practices in the Casamance. Senegal Similar but different: two case studies. In A. Sherris & E. Adami (Eds.), Making signs, translanguaging ethnographies: Exploring urban, rural, and educational spaces. Multilingual Matters. 

Jørgensen, J. N., Karrebæk, M., Madsen, L. M., & Møller, J. S. (2011). Polylanguaging in Superdiversity. Diversities, 13(2), 23–37.  

Léglise, I. (2017). Multilinguisme et hétérogénéité des pratiques langagières. Nouveaux chantiers et enjeux du Global South. Langage et Société, 23(N° 160-161), 251–266. 

Lüpke, F., Biagui, A. C., Biai, L., Diatta, J., Mané, A. N., Sagna, J. F., & Weidl, M. (2020). LILIEMA: Language-independent literacies for inclusive education in multilingual areas. In Language and the sustainable development goals (pp. 1–20). British Council. 

Sall, A. O. (2009). Multilinguism, linguistic policy, and endangered languages in Senegal. Journal of Multicultural Discourses, 4(3), 313–330. 

Weidl, M. (2018). The role of Wolof in multilingual conversations in the Casamance: fluidity of linguistic repertoires. SOAS, University of London, PhD.


Miriam Weidl: I am a (socio)linguist with a background in African Studies and Anthropology, currently working as a postdoctoral researcher and lecturer at the University of Helsinki. My research is based in West-Africa, with a focus on the languages and cultures represented in southern Senegal. My interest is aimed at multilingualism and languaging, the use of multiple languages in different situations of life, the diversity of individuals linguistic repertoires and the alternation of language during conversations which is highly connected to people’s social realties, experiences, aims in conversation and even momentary mood. In 2018 I finished my PhD at SOAS, University of London as part of the Crossroads Team ( in which I was concerned with the role Wolof as one among many other languages in the village of Djibonker. Resulting from experiences gained during the Crossroads project, I am a founding member of the LILIEMA association (‘Language-independent literacies for inclusive education in multilingual areas’), which constitutes the basis of my postdoctoral research. Through LILIEMA we distribute a writing system suitable to read and write all the languages represented in individual repertoires, adapted to the speakers’ needs.

Currently I am investigating (trans)languaging practices and the connectedness of multilingual language use and social settings. Through in-depth qualitative ethnographic research I focus on a better description and understanding of multilingualism linguistic realities. 



David Albert Natvig and Seyed Hadi Mirvahedi
Published May 3, 2021 2:22 PM - Last modified June 2, 2022 1:43 PM