Universiteit Leiden

nl en


How can ethnography contribute to the study of daily life multilingual practices? Small talk and authority in a tree nursery of the Iringa region, Tanzania

  • Nathaniel Gernez (IFRA Nairobi)
Thursday 27 September 2018
Cleveringaplaats 1
2311 BD Leiden


Tanzania is a country of great linguistic diversity that has built its national unity from promoting and ideologizing one specific language: Kiswahili. The success of this linguistic policy has often overshadowed the reality of Tanzanian’s concrete plurilingual practices. Hence the need to focus on speaker’s linguistic practices, not only in town but also in villages where the majority of Tanzanians still live.

The present communication will focus on an interaction filmed in a village called Lulanzi, on the Highlands of Iringa region. It takes place in a tree nursery owned by Chesco, a man in his mid-forties, working with his little brother, his eldest son and a worker. While the discussion about their work and the lunch break may seem to be only small talk, we will analyze how languages (the local language, Kihehe, and the national language, Kiswahili) are used to negotiate authority. In this particular situation of work, the use of Kiswahili indexes its socially dominant value to dissociate what has to be interpreted as a friendly discussion and what must be understood as boss-employee injunctions. This practical example will help us demonstrate how the ethnographic approach can serve the analysis of multilingual practices by allowing (through knowledge of speaker’s interrelations and shared representations) a deeper understanding of what is at stake in a common everyday life talk.

This website uses cookies.  More information.