Multilingualism in Under-resourced Languages for Sustainable Development in Rural Communities

Rural multilingualism, under-resourced languages, sustainable development


  • Rachel Ayuk Ojong Diba
    PhD. Assistant lecturer, Linguistics Department, University of Buea, Cameroon
July 14, 2021


Cameroon, a central African country, is one of the most linguistically diverse countries in Africa with about 280 living languages (Ethnologue 2020), for an estimated population of 26,727,521 people (Worldometer, 2020). Cameroon is second only to Papua New Guinea in terms of its multiplicity of languages for a relatively small population. Contrary to popular opinion, multilingualism exists even in rural communities; in fact, it is even more intense. In Lower Fungom, an incredibly linguistically diverse rural community in the Northwest region of Cameroon, high rates of individual multilingualism are the norm; it is common to find individuals who use more than seven distinct native languages to navigate through their daily lives. However, this multilingualism is usually neglected as a resource by foreign experts in the transmission of knowledge in linguistically diverse communities such as Lower Fungom. In their attempt to transmit knowledge in almost all ramifications including in the global pursuit of sustainable development, experts foreign to the target community typically focus only on the ‘understanding’ of their message, meanwhile ‘understanding’ could be totally inconsequential as far as the acceptance of a people is concerned. Sustainable development with trends away from the (socio-cultural and linguistic) norms of a community would be a complete farce. This paper aims at highlighting two key features indispensable for development to be extended to rural communities in Cameroon and for it to be sustainable. These aspects are the active collaboration with community members to obtain culturally appropriate interpretations and the use of all the languages existing in the community in transmitting knowledge. Data for this paper comprises recorded natural speeches, interviews, and observation notes due to prolonged stays in the area and resultant informal discussions with its indigenes. This study will not only add to the handful of studies on rural multilingualism. It will not also only promote multilingualism that has become an endangered practice, but it will also be a crucial addition to efforts of sustainable development in Cameroon.