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10 September 2019 | Story Rulanzen Martin | Photo Rulanzen Martin
Delegates at the workshop were provided opportunities that many larger conferences do not offer.

The growing body of work examining microvariation in African languages prompted Dr Kristina Riedel and Dr Hannah Gibson, from the University of Essex and research fellow, to work on a research project, “Variation in Sesotho and Setswana as spoken in the Free State”, to document the dialectal variation in the languages as it is spoken in the province. 

“Dr Gibson and I have a joint research project which is funded by a Newton British Academy mobility grant,” says Dr Riedel, Head of the Department of Linguistic and Language Practice at the University of the Free State (UFS).

The duo hosted a workshop on morphosyntactic microvariation (small structural differences that can be observed between closely related languages or dialects) on the UFS Bloemfontein Campus, as part of the Newton Fund research project.  

Research focus on dialectal variation 

Dr Riedel says there has been some linguistic work on both of these languages. “But for Sesotho, linguists have noted that there is no dialectal variation. This seems hard to believe given the size of the population who speak the language,” she says. 

They are looking at speakers in the Free State province for differences in both languages. Speakers themselves also report awareness of dialectal differences and variation between different regions. “We’re also interested in whether they have influenced each other – particularly in places where people speak both of these languages on a day-to-day basis, such as Thaba ’Nchu and Bloemfontein,” Dr Riedel says.

Dr Riedel believes that in the context of an African university it is important to contribute to the development, teaching and support of African languages. “Research on African languages can play an important part of this picture. Furthering our knowledge and understanding of African languages from a linguistic perspective also contributes to our understanding of the world’s languages and linguistic diversity.” 

Workshop creates space for training and skill sharing

The aim of the workshop was to bring together researchers, students and language practitioners to “provide them with some of the insights and training that is helpful when looking at morphosyntactic microvariation”, Dr Riedel says.

The workshop was conducted in two sets. At the first workshop the emphasis was on training and sharing of skills and the second part focused on more research-related presentations. 

The workshop, which took place on 19 July 2019, was attended by delegates from numerous local institutions (Rhodes University, University of the Western Cape and Stellenbosch University) as well as universities in the rest of Africa including the University of Malawi, Dar es Salaam University College of Education and Makerere University in Uganda. 

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