Multilingualism and modal expressions in South Africa

Last Friday, 26 November, I had the honor of giving the last webinar talk of 2021 for the new Southern African Linguistics Network.

Multilingualism and modal expressions in South Africa

The abstract of my talk is below. I was asked to give an overview of my current project and its methodologies. It was great to get feedback and ideas from the expert crowd of Southern African researchers, especially since in-person research has been put on hold for the time being!

Please send me an e-mail if you would like a copy of my slides or access to the talk’s recording.

Abstract: In this talk, I  describe the motivations, goals, and proposed strategies of the research project Accommodating linguistic diversity in conversation: Modal expressions and multilingualism in South Africa.

The project, which focuses on Bantu languages of South Africa came out of the parallel observations that (1) many South African speakers are proficient in numerous South African languages, and (2) these languages, even those that are closely related, have obvious and subtle differences at all linguistic levels. These conditions (which, of course, are old news to any South African speaker) create a fantastic environment for investigating how multilingual communication “works” when it is pervasive and largely naturalistic: multilingual discourse is the norm rather than the exception, and languages are often acquired outside of formal education settings.

The project aims to investigate how speakers deal with cross-linguistic differences by looking at modal expressions (such as English can, may, should, etc.), which show important distinctions across South African Bantu languages, are critical to polite communication, and which might present acquisition challenges for second-language learners.

The project is still in its early phases, and I am eager to receive feedback from experts based in Southern Africa!

(Title image modified from Mary Alexander’s graphic at