Manufacturing Multilingualisms of Marginality in Mozambique : Exploring the Orders of Visibility of Local African Languages

Abstract: Colonial era language policies and practices in Mozambique sought to render native African languages (and their speakers) invisible in public space. This ‘order of (in)visibility’ was later adopted by many African states, including Mozambique, by choosing the ex-colonial language as the one and only official language and prohibiting or ignoring the use of African languages in the interest of so-called national unity. Recent postcolonial democratization of African countries is seemingly beginning to change the colonial heritage of local linguistic underdevelopment, with the introduction of language policies that – on the surface at least – give more value to local African languages. This thesis argues, however, that African languages remain marginalized in systematic ways that replicate historical linguistic inequities. The three studies that make up the thesis focus on the technologies, spaces and mechanisms whereby these languages have been manufactured as marginalized from colonial times until the present. The studies build on a combination of ethnographic and archival data. A theoretical framing in a sociolinguistics of globalization approach broadly defined, and complemented with an explicit emphasis on temporality provides the conceptual framework and methodological toolbox for analysis. Study I explores the impact that colonial politics had on the management of multilingualism focusing on how local African languages were ideologically constructed as frozen in the past, whereas Portuguese was depicted as a modern, state-bearing language of progress. This ideology was later assimilated by the postcolonial regime always placing the local African languages in a position of inferiority in relation to Portuguese. Study II analyses how public space was used in chronologically different political regimes to produce different orders of visibility for local African languages and Portuguese in the semiotic landscapes of urban Maputo. The focus of this paper is on artifacts of memorization and public discourses that made local African languages invisible in public spaces until early 1990, when political changes introduced new orders of visibility for these languages in public space. However, ‘archaeological’ traces of Portuguese remain in the orthographic and linguistic forms in which local African languages are authored, testimony to its continued hegemony in public space. Study III explores how local African languages are now used in practices of hip hop relocalization, where ‘keeping it real’ and authenticity as features of the genre simultaneously serve to ideologically resuscitate political individuals such as the incorruptible President Samora Machel (1920–1986). In this way, the very marginalization – past-ness – of these languages carries a vibrant contemporary protest. The main thrust of the thesis is to argue that local African languages are discursively produced in temporal frames distinct from the mainstreaming of Portuguese. It is this that continues to reproduce the relative marginality of these languages. 

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