Notebooks in a village. Writing practices and literate socializations in the cotton-growing area of Southern Mali.

This research is an ethnographic approach of writing practices in the cotton-growing region of Southern Mali. The setting is multilingual: different ways of acquiring literacy are available: adult literacy classes, schooling (bilingual or not), Islamic learning. These practices involve three languages: French, the official language is still dominant at school; Bambara, has been developed for adult literacy classes and bilingual schools; Arabic, though mainly used for religious purposes, is also an important written language. Becoming literate involves studying in one or more of these educational settings, and often other experiences, especially when migrating for work in urban places. Those different experiences of writing are analysed as different “literate socializations”. These paths to literacy are considered more specifically for one village.

The study of written pieces can give a more thorough view of the practices villagers engage in. This study relies on the analysis of a corpus of written documents, especially notebooks. They deal with various topics and display a number of types of text (recipes, accounts, chronicles, etc.), and they are often multilingual. One result of the research is that Bambara is actually used as a written language, but, writers who are also proficient in French tend to preserve the higher status of the official language.

Our analysis support the hypothesis that keeping a personal notebook is a way of objectifying the existence of a domain “of one’s own” (private but not intimate).The uses of literacy are essential to understand how is currently redefined, in this area, the line between public and private.

keywords: literacy practices/ written pieces/ memory/ socialization/multilingualism/ language policy/national languages/mali (west africa)