Presentation of the research unit
The research unit Langage, langues et cultures d’Afrique noire (“Languages and cultures of Sub-Saharan Africa”) (LLACAN, UMR 8135) was founded in 1994 and is affiliated to the National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) and the National Institute of Oriental Languages and Civilisations (INALCO).
LLACAN is one of the 13 research units that constitute the excellence cluster Empirical Foundations of Linguistics (Labex EFL), in which it is responsible for five projects. The research unit is a member of the Federation for Linguistic Typology and Universals (“Fédération Typologie et Universaux Linguistiques”) of the CNRS (FR 2559) since its foundation; currently, LLACAN leads 1 research project of the 2014-2018 programme of the federation. Our research unit is also a member of the consortium IRCOM (Oral and Multimodal Linguistic Corpora) – one of the current leaders of this consortium is a staff member of LLACAN – and a member of the multidisciplinary Association of Scientific Interest for African Studies (GIS Etudes Africaines).
LLACAN is organised around three interacting research themes: 1: Grammatical analysis and typology, 2: Comparison, typology and reconstruction and 3: Literature in African languages, literature theory and linguistic practices. At present, our research unit hosts 3 research projects funded by the ANR (French National Research Agency), 1 research project on an endangered language supported by the ELDP, 1 IDEX research project of the PRES Sorbonne Paris-Cité and 3 research projects sponsored by the QSAP in Sudan.
Research at LLACAN
Research at LLACAN is based on primary data collected during extended periods of immersion fieldwork in Africa. Our projects focus on (i) the documentation and analysis of the linguistic and ethnolinguistic features of languages of Sub-Saharan Africa, many of which are endangered, without a writing tradition and little known; (ii) the analysis of linguistic policies, the valorisation of African languages, and the reflection on the use of modern technologies for digitising and processing linguistic and literary data of African languages; (iii) the analysis of oral and written literature produced in local languages, allowing special access to the cultural background they convey. More than 100 genetically and typologically diverse languages and language groups, including extinct languages (Egyptian and Meroitic) and creoles, are studied at LLACAN.
Our research is embedded in the larger theoretical frameworks of comparative and historical linguistics, cognitive linguistics and typology. This enables us to contribute to the understanding of human language, culture and cognition. Following inductive methods, LLACAN carries out research that allows us to draw generalisations about the nature and the mechanisms of language competence and cognitive capacities. We also examine the relationships between African languages in terms of their historical development and genetic links as well as of contact-induced changes in languages of the same geographical zone. The example of African languages enables us to lay the ground for understanding the reasons and mechanisms of language change and language shift in general.
We develop our research projects in relationship with several academic bodies in France and abroad, i.e. European research networks and partnerships with African universities as well as with organisations such as the Institute for Research and Development (IRD). We try our best to ensure a fair exchange between North and South and – in response to the strong demand of the societies we work in – we contribute to the development of our partners, i.e. the speakers of the languages we study.
Several data bases (on lexicography, prosody, alphabets, typology and reconstruction) are freely accessible online on our website or via the TGIR Huma-Num. An augmented version of the open-access software Elan-CorpA of the Max Planck Institute in Nijmegen, ELAN-CorpA, which has been developed and extended in projects funded by the ANR, can also be freely downloaded.