Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2019
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Belonging Out of Place: Hausa Linguistic Practice in Accra's Immigrant Neighborhoods

My dissertation research explores how residents of Nima, an immigrant neighborhood in Accra, Ghana, disrupt colonially imposed categories of language and space through creative linguistic and place-making practices. European-derived colonial values imposed on countless African communities reduced variable linguistic practices into objectified languages, cultural practices into reified ethnicities, and communal spaces of dwelling and gathering into bounded territories. While these ideologies of one language, one nation, one people persist in popular imagination, I argue that we can observe contestation of these categories in Accra's present-day immigrant communities. Here residents creatively circumvent, subvert, and problematize lingering erroneous and destructive categorizations through linguistic and spatial practices that defy reductive connections between language, territory, and ethnicity. Accra's immigrant neighborhoods, called zongo, were a British colonial fabrication used to marginalize and segregate Muslim residents. Nowadays, these zongo are extremely diverse, and host tens of thousands of residents with varied religious affiliations, languages, and places of origin from across West Africa. While other Ghanaian languages dominate in spheres outside the zongo, Hausa has been adopted as the community's lingua franca due to historical Islamic trade and subsequent settlement. Hausa is a language most closely associated with northern Nigeria, but it has become the common language for immigrants in Nima. Here Hausa linguistic practice thrives, even amongst non-Muslims and immigrants who have no history of speaking Hausa in their places of origin. I therefore ask how alternative ideologies of language and space might result in the increased resiliency of immigrant languages, like Hausa, and how residents use Islamic values and Hausa linguistic practice to reimagine zongo as places of inclusivity and belonging.