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Personlig profil


Since August 2019 I have been Professor of African Studies at the University of Helsinki. My research and teaching focus on the description and documentation of West African languages in their cultural contexts. I am the chair of AfriStadi, the Africa Research Forum for Social Sciences and Humanities at the University of Helsinki, founded in November 2021. In my research, I specialise in the study of Mande and Atlantic languages, particularly in verbal argument structure and nominal classification. I have written a grammar of argument structure of the Mande language Jalonke spoken in Guinea, which also contains its first sketch grammar. Currently, I am conducting research on the Atlantic language Baïnounk Gujaher, a language of the Nyun cluster spoken in Senegal and Guinea Bissau. My initial focus was on the documentation of Baïnounk language within a language endangerment framework in a project funded by the DoBeS project of the VW foundation. A follow-up project investigated small-scale multilingualism in Southern Senegal in the Crossroads project funded by the Leverhulme Trust. This research on rural multilingualism in Senegal has been central for the emerging inter- and multidisciplinary field of small-scale multilingualism studies.

Since becoming aware of the exographic writing practice of Jalonke speakers in the Futa Jalon, many of whom write Fula Ajami, I have developed an interest in writing from a social perspective, especially regarding grassroots practices and writing choices in multilingual settings. This focus continues to inform action research related to my current research on the sociohistorical and linguistic aspects of small-scale multilingualism in village- and polity-based settings in Southern Senegal. Together with a local team of transribers, resesearchers and members of the association LILIEMA ("Language-independent literacies for inclusive education in multilingual areas") I am developing a repertoire-based literacy programm for highly multilingual situations that is currently expanding on the request of several local communities and community associations.

Multilingualism is not only a focal area of my research. What makes sustainable multilingual ecologies and how they can be nurtured in families, small-scale settings and international higher education environments is a question that underpins my teaching and interaction at the university and beyond.

As recipient of a Core Fellowship I am spending the academic year 2023/24 at the Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies.

Utbildning information

I started out at the University of Cologne (Germany), where I studied African linguistics, general linguistics and phonetics and graduated with an MA thesis on noun-verb distinction in the Mande language Bambara. My interest in Bambara led me to spend a year at the Institut National des Langues et Civilisations Africaines (INALCO) in Paris to take intensive Bambara classes and immerse myself more in the histories and cultures of the region where this Mande  language is spoken. Two months spent in Bamako with a host family solidified my interest in Mande languages in general, and I decided to work on the argument structure of an undescribed Mande language for my PhD. This research, on Jalonke, a small Mande language spoken in the Futa Jalon area of Guinea, was funded through a PhD scholarship at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in Nijmegen, in the Language and Cognition Group. I left Nijmegen for London in 2003 to embark on a PostDoc at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). I continued my academic career at SOAS until leaving for Helsinki in 2019, and maintain my connection to SOAS as a Professorial Research Associate.

Information om forskning och undervisning

During the academic year 2023-24 I am on research leave at the Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies. I generally teach courses on, e.g.,  multilingualism, language development, education and language learning from a multilingual perspective, language and writing, Atlantic languages, dynamics of language use in West African societies in two new study tracks the BA and MAprogramme in languages. These study tracks, AMY and KIGY, focus on  multilingualism as a social practice and focal languages in their social settings in one of the world's longstanding and dynamic multilingual settings: the Indian ocean space.

I am interested in supervising PhD students whose research topics are related to my areas of specialisation (Mande and Atlantic languages of West Africa; verbal argument structure and nominal classification systems; multilingualism in society and education; multilingual writing). I am not able to respond to supervision requests in any areas not listed here.

Externa befattningar

Professorial Research Associate, SOAS, University of London

1 aug. 2019 → …


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