Language in the Elephant's Stomach: National Identity, Local Ideology, and Linguistic Solidarity in Nima, Accra

Author: ORCID icon
East, Grace, Anthropology - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Danziger, Eve, Anthropology, University of Virginia

This dissertation spotlights a linguistically and culturally diverse community in Accra, Ghana called Nima. Predominantly home to Muslim immigrants and their descendants, this neighborhood, locally deemed a Zongo, serves as the backdrop to a deeper investigation of Ghanaian nationalistic dynamics and local ideologies around Hausa language and Zongo life. I use these overarching ideas to document and investigate the ways in which an emerging local variety of Hausa language has come to reflect the existential complexity and undergirding values of Nima’s community members. The Nima community is often playfully called tombin giwa (the elephant’s stomach) in the local Hausa language variety because it is said that one can find anything and everything inside. While this is often in reference to material items, such as spices, provisions, and housewares, that can be found at the thronging Nima Market, the neighborhood is also host to a pluralistic population that encompasses various languages, cultural backgrounds, and geographic origins.

First, I examine the extensive history of Hausa people and language as they moved across West Africa over the last few centuries, sharing their language, culture, and Islamic practices. Using both archival accounts and interviews with early settlers’ descendants, I construct a history of Hausa in Accra and the origins of the Nima community. Next, I consider the ways in which Hausa speaking people have been categorized in Accra as perpetually foreign and “Other” by their fellow Ghanaians despite deep histories in the region. I discuss the ways in which residents of Nima have thrived despite the resulting institutional neglect and how values of solidarity and accommodation become key in the community’s survival. Finally, I demonstrate how these values appear in the linguistic structure of Nima Hausa itself. I argue that practices of inclusivity can be seen in the language's phonology, morphology, syntax, and pragmatic functions by comparing the speech practices of Nima residents with accounts of Standard Hausa. I ultimately conclude that Nima Hausa’s linguistic features are not mere simplifications as contact language frameworks might dictate, but rather serve as accessible adaptations that invite a wide community of learners. This linguistic “on-ramp” serves as a parallel for Zongo life in general, where value systems of solidarity and adaptability prevail in order to ensure the survival and longevity of the community.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
linguistic anthropology, language, Ghana, Hausa, West Africa, Islam, identity, immigration, citizenship, belonging, contact languages
All rights reserved (no additional license for public reuse)
Issued Date: