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The role of the local language in sustainable development
A preliminary summary of results
with special emphasis on the Tura case (Ivory Coast)
[1]

Outline of the LAGSUS project. The LAGSUS [2] Project, sponsored by the Volkswagen Foundation, as the outcome of a call for research proposals concerning key themes in the human sciences, approaches the problematic of “Language, Gender and Development” from an inter- and transdisciplinary viewpoint. It consists of a longitudinal, in-depth study undertaken with the support of local populations in the context of rural development projects in progress [3]. By means of comparison of results obtained from different parts of the world, it should allow conclusions of a general nature to be drawn. The project brought together research expertise of various linguistic, sociological and agronomic specializations of the Universities of Kassel, Frankfurt, Munster and Zurich, as well as their partners in Ivory Coast, Indonesia, Namibia and Uganda.

The Tura project. Research into language and development among the Tura (or Wεεn
[4]) population, situated north of the town of Man in the west of Ivory Coast, was undertaken with a view to providing a fully documented case study within an emerging paradigm for communication and development in multilingual contexts, where language is deemed to be a major resource for development. Its outcome should allow the elucidation of what has come to be called communicative sustainability and its relevance as a pre-condition for sustainable development.
With regard to the issue of gender, the research attempted to elucidate the apparent contradiction observed among the Tura - as in other traditional societies - between, on the one hand, the widely recognized role of women in promoting development, and, on the other hand, their absence from public discourse with regard to development related decision making. Its outcome in this respect should allow a better identification of the impact of gender variables on sustainability. {LINK PUBLICATIONS}
A comparison of results from the Tura project with those from parallel projects in the other above-mentioned regions of Africa and the world should allow the establishment of an inventory of practical indicators able to serve as criteria for ensuring sustainability in the planning and implementation of development projects.
Research was carried out with communities and individuals in the Tura home area (Tura-North, Tura-South, LINK TO MAP) and with a diaspora community in Abidjan (AGRA: women’s agricultural project).
Pending full-fledged publication of the results of LAGSUS research on these and related topics (LINK TO Bibliography), the following sections present a summary of preliminary conclusions from the Tura project, with a main focus on the role of the local language in achieving sustainability.

The Tura in the Ivorian crisis. The duration of the project, from 2002/03-2007
[5], roughly covers the period of civil war in Ivory Coast. As a result of the crisis, the Tura found themselves isolated three ways: cut off from export avenues for their men’s cash crop produce, deprived of access to local markets for their women’s orchard products, and holed-up in the mountains at the end of barely passable roads. While the latter proved to be as much a natural shield against aggression during the war, it was and still is a handicap for economic recovery. This unforeseen situation led to an adjustment of the research focus which now was to be “development in crisis”: What kind of development if any can be expected under such conditions of protracted crisis and institutional failure? This question became all the more ineluctable as the vicious cycle of poverty and unchecked exploitation of those natural resources that were still available – such as palm-leaves for the fabrication of brooms as the only revenue-generating activity {PBI, LINK}– threatened to jeopardize the future of both the present generation and generations to come.
The Mount Sangbé National Park (PNMS, LINK) to the north-west of the territory, just established before the war started, and now threatened in its essence, might have been the worst casualty of the crisis in environmental terms had it not been for a compensating fact, observed during investigations conducted within the framework of LAGSUS: As a consequence of the threat, there was unprecedented support for the idea of the park at the level of the local populations, materializing first as protective action, spearheaded by the remnants of the CODIV
[6] { LINK}, the inter-village committees for the development of the PNMS periphery originally appointed by the park authorities, which in what might be called the pre-post-crisis phase became an autonomous source of development initiatives for the Northern Tura area.
Meanwhile, self-management resources, of which language and the art of negotiation are the trump cards for communicative sustainability {LINK}, will have allowed Tura society to survive on a day-to-day basis. In the very crucible of that crisis, Tura society will have affirmed the vitality of its culture having transformed itself into a research “laboratory” for new options and new prospects for the future. Certainly this is a wager that remains to be won at the local level but in which the stakes are much higher for the wider region, and possibly in the broader context of the African continent and of crisis-stricken populations elsewhere.
Overall, the confirmed results and provisional hypotheses of the LAGSUS project, as far as the local language and its role in development is concerned, can be summarized by the Tura proverb which says:

It is only by sitting on an old mat that you can weave a new one.

The local language (a “mat” on which to seat sustainable development) is essential as:

1) A cognitive basis for decision-making. The local language, that is to say the language used by actors in their daily life, is irreplaceable as a tool for local analysis. The local analysis – that which actors make of their own situation – is decisive for both the quality of the implementation of development and for its sustainability.
LINK. Women facing the consequences of war (Yorola and others); Slash and burn cultivation: conflicting actor analyses (AGRA Project)

2) A means of integration of expert knowledge. External input is an irreplaceable source of innovation. The accumulated know-how of specialist organizations, whether governmental or non-governmental, is necessary to ensure coherent development of a region. Local knowledge can only be the vehicle for a more prosperous future if its bearers are also prepared to assimilate and integrate the expert advice which complements and, where necessary, rectifies it. Yet the amalgamation of exogenous and endogenous sources of knowledge is necessarily mediated by the local language.
LINKS: Interim Report on Tura tour (February 2007); Action-Research: Participants speak (Yaloba, Sept. 15, 2007).

3) A medium for negotiation. It is not enough to receive information, even when it is communicated in the local language. It is only when it is allowed to be challenged that information can become a source of reflection and action. Often a “no” or a “yes, but” precedes a “sustainable” yes. In short, sustainable communication presupposes in-depth negotiation which cannot be achieved other than through a common language of which all participants have mastery and which is, as a general rule, the language currently used in daily interactions by the target-group.
LINKS: Women’s association Filles de Kpata (Abidjan); Case studies around the PNMS (Kokealo vs. Gouané); CODIV.
EXAMPLES:
The kónó – a procedural infrastructure for public debate and decision-making.
LINKS: KONO case studies; The Kono of Ditomba: a model case; Bearth/Fan 2006; Ki-Zerbo 2004.
The sónó – a procedural infrastructure for in-depth negotiation.
Communication for development: The elders speak (Yaloba, 15 Sept. 2007).

4) A key to culturally sustainable development. Local forms of knowledge – which include oral tradition – are endangered by the joint effects of modern media and globalisation. The danger to their survival will only be deflected and turned into a process of re-appropriation when modern media are themselves co-opted into the service of local know-how and local culture, thus constituting the latter as an operational basis for development that is rooted in the local culture, in a way that generates as a by-product a significant contribution to the mosaic of a national culture of development.
LINKS: DG-206, Meta-discourse (language education in the city); Text 1 (sharing maxim); Kono’s from Benomba (Feb. 2004, Feb. 2005).

5) Strategic support for local integration. When confronted with local linguistic reality, what is referred to as a “language of integration” – such as French in Ivory Coast – can become a source of discrimination or even desintegration. Typically, in a peripheral and predominantly monolingual situation such as the Tura setting, recourse to the so-called “language of integration” as the main language of development, can exacerbate a social divide between a minority who have mastered it perfectly and others (often the majority) who either have only a limited access to it or are excluded from it and for that reason are deprived of a communicative resource which would enable them to become fully entitled actors. Furthermore, social cohesion as a major precondition and priority for sustainability can only be ensured by recourse to the local language which thus becomes the language of integration at the local level and simultaneously ensures social sustainability as one of the most important conditions for sustainability as such.
LINKS: Communication with heteroglossic expert (AGRA); Tura or French? A women’s association facing the language question in Abidjan; Tura North: Integrating literate and illiterate participants (Yenggbesso), Video.

6) A factor in the enhancement of the complementarity of the sexes. The entrenched inequality of the sexes together with unequal access to the means of communication represents a substantial economic loss at the local level and, beyond that, also in terms of national revenue. Although women are in many cases active forces in development, they are still largely excluded from decision-making and communication processes associated with development. Privileging the local language as an instrument of development at the local level thus potentially eliminates a source of discrimination and promotes the complementarity of the sexes in the interests of more effective and more sustainable development.
LINKS: North-Tura Action-Research: Women of Yenggbesso speak (Yaloba, 15 Sept. 2007); Abidjan-Diaspora: Filles de Kpata (Women’s association); Complementarity of sexes (Dantomba; Benomba;AGRA)

7) Written documents as a management option. Documents written in the local language and authored or co-authored by local actors are a dynamic factor in local development such that, by virtue of their local renown, they serve to:

a) emphasize the status of local language as a “partner language” to the official language, which since its introduction by the colonial school system had been the exclusive preserve of written expression;
b) reinforce the status and the negotiating power of local actors and particularly of those who have learnt to avail themselves of the ability to write;
LINK: South-Tura Action-Research: Joseph WAN (Gouréné) on writing and sustainability (Yaloba, 15 Sept. 2007); J. Baya, paper on North Tura Action-Research.
c) act as a multiplier for the sustainability effects associated with the local language, i.e. those effects listed in points 1 to 6 above.

Without neglecting the phenomenal capacity for memorization in oral culture, we can say that written documents in the hands of local actors provide:

d) an important source for the introduction, the implementation, the monitoring and, thereby, the perpetuation of development projects;
LINK: Action-Research: Participants speak (Yaloba, Sept. 15, 2007)
e) an effective means for the ongoing management of innovations and for creative reflection about them;
LINK: South-Tura Action-Research: Joseph WAN (Gouréné) on writing and sustainability (Yaloba, 15 Sept. 2007)
f) a bridge for the transfer of expert knowledge to local actors and thus the formation of local expertise which may itself become a source of innovation.

Thomas Bearth, November 2007
Contact: thomas.bearth@flashcable.ch
The Ivory Coast LAGSUS Team
Abidjan-Man-Yaloba, 15 September 2007
Contact: lagsusci@yahoo.fr

Selected publications (full listing see www.lagsus.de)

The LAGSUS web-site in three languages (English, French, German): www.lagsus.de
Bearth, Thomas & Diomandé Fan. 2006. The local language – a neglected resource for sustainable development. In: Ernest W.B. Hess-Lüttich (ed.), Eco-Semiotics. Umwelt- und Entwicklungskommunikation. Tübingen/Basel: Francke. 273-293.
Bearth, Thomas (dir.), 2007. Dynamiques du genre : le cas toura. Stratégies de survie en temps de crise. Abidjan : Editions Livres Sud. Avec des contributions de Joseph Baya, Thomas Bearth, Rose Marie Beck, Mohamed Doumbia, Douoh Honorine Guéli, S. Jacques Silué, Geneviève Singo. Préface François A. Adopo.

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[1] The original French version was circulated among LAGSUS researchers in view of its distribution to the participants at the validation session of the Festival . Thanks to Diomandé FAN, Joseph BAYA,, and Geneviève Douo SINGO for their input. English translation by R. J. Chadwick. Thanks to Dr. Chadwick for helpful suggestions.
[2] Language, Gender and Sustainability www.lagsus.de
[3] See below for the circumstances which led to a significant modification of the overall concept in the Ivorian context.
[4] The autochthonous term. The juxtaposition of the two terms is in line with a pledge formulated by an assembly of leaders of the village of Yaloba on 12th September 2007, in the presence of members of the LAGSUS team.
[5] The preparatory field inquiry was completed on 18th September 2002 in Abidjan, the evening before the beginning of the war. The research properly speaking was begun on 1st October, 2003.
[6] CODIV = comité de développement intervillageois.


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