Multilingualism and the City: The Construction of Urban Identities in Dakar (Senegal)

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Abstract

Although place and language are two key elements in the composition of social identities, they are often studied in separate academic enterprises. This article brings them together, and examines their role in the construction of multiple urban identities. Analyzing how urbanites in Dakar shape their identities, I illustrate how linguistic and geographical criteria contribute to the formation of “we” versus “they” alliances, which in turn produce a specific sense of spatiality. Examining the case of the suburban neighborhood of Yoff, I show how residents construct fluid identities that range from “urbanites” to “village people,” each one of which is linked to a particular linguistic and cultural context. This article contributes to an understanding of how life in a multilingual city like Dakar offers a broad choice of identities that urban resident employ and maneuver on a daily level.

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