Language Ideologies, Conservation Ideologies: Communication and Collaboration at a Cameroonian Wildlife Sanctuary
This dissertation investigates the politics of multilingual communication at a renowned wildlife sanctuary through the analysis of how Cameroonian animal keepers, French NGO workers, and foreign volunteers work together to rehabilitate chimpanzees. For over twenty-five years, the Limbe Wildlife Centre (LWC) has been caring for hundreds of animals confiscated from the illegal wildlife trade in addition to serving as a popular tourist destination. Due to both Cameroon’s inherent linguistic diversity and the transnational nature of wildlife conservation, this work involves three main lingua francas: English, French, and Cameroonian Pidgin English (‘Pidgin’), alongside several other African and European languages. Despite ideological, cultural, and linguistic differences, as well as the historical, cultural, and (neo)colonial baggage they entail, the LWC maintains an international reputation for success, and every day, its staff are able to carry out the physical and communicative work involved in feeding animals, cleaning cages, maintaining enclosures, and rehabilitating animals.
Drawing from fieldwork in Limbe between 2017 and 2018, this dissertation utilizes approaches in linguistic and sociocultural anthropology as well as conversation analysis to explore the collaboration and communication involved in the rehabilitation of a group of young chimpanzees, and how this work is accomplished in the midst of great inequalities and ideological contestation. Combining ethnography with in-depth analysis of video-recorded workplace interactions, this dissertation examines language ideologies in action, as participants’ beliefs about both communication and conservation intersect in, are reflected by, and contested through the multilingual, multimodal communicative practices involved in creating knowledge, making decisions, and caring for chimpanzees. Through the analysis of how animal keepers, NGO managers, and foreign volunteers work together in trainings, meetings, and interactions with animals, this dissertation argues that the conservation of Cameroon’s biological diversity requires a negotiation of its linguistic diversity, as different linguistic abilities and ideologies serve to magnify racial, neocolonial, and epistemic divides. By clarifying the pragmatic and ideological processes at play at the LWC, this dissertation offers a new perspective on how global environmental problems are negotiated in transnational, multilingual, multipolitical settings.