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Accepted Paper:

Swahili Semiotic Seascapes: Potentialities of Space and Subjectivities in the Swahili-speaking Gulf  
Franziska Fay (Johannes Gutenberg-University Mainz)

Paper short abstract:

Despite the strong presence of the Swahili language in Gulf countries today, ‘the loss and dissolution of the centuries of dialogue that linked these territories’ across the Western Indian Ocean, as Abdulrazak Gurnah laments, points to potentialities defining of a semiotic seascape.

Paper long abstract:

As Abdulrazak Gurnah (2015) has emphasized, Kiswahili – the ‘language of the coast’ and the most widely spoken African language today – is less prominent for also being a first language across the sea in, for example, Gulf cities like Muscat and Dubai. There, the existence of whole districts of Swahili-speakers – what Gurnah describes as ‘enclaves of people from the ocean’s Western shores’ – tells a story of the spread of Swahili across Western Indian Ocean societies. Despite the strong presence of Swahili in places like Oman or the UAE today and these places’ co-constitution through it, ‘the loss and dissolution of the centuries of dialogue that linked these territories’ across the Western Indian Ocean, as Gurnah laments, is also real. Among other reasons, this is a result of the confinement of this specific linguistic affiliation to private spaces amid a dominant Arabic language ideology.

I propose to think with the idea of a Swahili semiotic seascape as dealing with the discursive constructions of place and space across a network of Swahili-speaking communities along old routes of trade and empire in order to consider how longstanding oceanic connections continue to generate meaning to everyday life in the Arabian Peninsula. I follow some potentialities inherent in Swahili language practices, space and matter in the Gulf today by drawing on exploratory ethnographic research conducted in Oman between 2018-2022. I engage with subjectivities and temporalities that result from this linguistic scenario, and reflect on existing hopes and expectations of Omani Swahili-speakers.

Panel P055c
Potentialities of Semiotic Landscapes: Language Practices, Materialities and Agency [EASA network on Linguistic Anthropology] III
  Session 1 Thursday 28 July, 2022, -