Natalie Tarr, MA


Natalie Tarr obtained her Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree from Allegheny College, PA, USA in social anthropology and sociology with a minor in Black Studies. After several years of work experience in Brazil and Côte d'Ivoire she continued her education in social anthropology at The New School in New York City and at the University of Hamburg, Germany. In 2015 she finished her Master of Arts (MA) at the interdisciplinary Center for African Studies at the University of Basel with a focus on social anthropology and history. For her MA thesis she conducted fieldwork in Burkina Faso, particularly in Bobo-Dioulasso and Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. Natalie wants to continue researching and gaining a better understanding of language use in French West Africa and has thus enrolled in the PhD program at the Center for African Studies, specializing in linguistic anthropology. Her research interests include interpreting, multilingualism, language ideology, language and power, la Francophonie, and world Englishes in the life-world of students in Burkina Faso and French West Africa more generally.

MA-Thesis, abstract:

"Le Message Choisit La Langue" Language Choices and Attitudes Among University Students in Bobo-Dioulasso, Burkina Faso

The Frech language was imported to West Africa with colonialism. Soon, the colonizers institutionalized a European-style educative system and pursued aggressive language politics, promoting the French language. In schools, African languages were systematically depreciated and marginalized and their use severly punished. Today, teaching methods have not changed much: use of African languages is still largely prohibited and punished. French is the official language in Burkina Faso and as such is the only medium of communication in administration and education.

The principal aim of this MA research is to understand how university students in Bobo-Dioulasso, Burkina Faso make language choices and which attitudes they develop towards the languages they are in contact with daily. There are a number of young people, mostly re-migrants from Côte d'Ivoire, who claim to speak no African language; both these students as well as those who speak African languages in addition to French, give us insights into their language attitudes and choices and, by extension, into language ideologies and hierarchizations.

The research carried out for this MA-project was both qualitative and quantitative: interviews were conducted with twelve students and three professionals in addition to observation and participation and a quantitative survey carried out, which 105 students answered. The main research question was, as in the qualitative part, which language students use where, with whom and why. A thorough literature review accompanied the entire research process.

Preliminary findings showed that the education university students had received has had a first, significant influence on their choices in language use. They create their identity as intellectuals and academics by portraying themselves as speakers of French - they name French as the only language they use daily with peers and friends. But when asked which language they consider to be their mother tongue, they all name an African language - also those students who had stated not to speak an African language. They seem to feel obliged towards an African language as mother tongue for reasons of belonging. Their attitude towards French and African languages is ambivalend at best; this was analyzed through the concept on language insecurity, an expanded version of Labov's concept of linguistic insecurity

So, students say they choose French for all conversations outside the home in order to create an identity for themselves as intellectuals, academics. They believe that the use of African languages portrays them as people not to be taken seriously. But many also regret not being able to speak an African language and to thus not be able to fulfill daily communicative needs. They try to overcome this ambivalence by an idealization of their parents' languages, which, they believe, allow them to connect to what they perceive to be their "roots". They thus perpetuate language ideologies going back to colonial constructions, which connect a language to an ethnic group.