Miguel Gonzalez: Studying the Emerging Woubikan Language

The tenth of July marks one month since I arrived in Côte d’Ivoire, West Africa. The first days were difficult as I faced a new reality. Fortunately, given the time I have passed with my grandparents over the summer breaks In Colombia and Cuba, I have been able to quickly adapt to a similar lifestyle that I have lived before. Ivorians have accepted me as a brother of the family, and some even call me “ The white Ivorian”, in a loving and accepting way. I have become attached to the most welcoming and hospitable people I have ever met, and I know leaving will be hard for both of us. I am currently halfway through my research, and I will leave Côte d’Ivoire the eighth of August, with hours of interviews and qualitative data. I will use the linguistic and cultural data collected to defend my honors in the major thesis in the spring of 2023. I will also write two to three academic articles on the actuality of LGBTQ culture and the tolerance in Côte d’Ivoire.   

Miguel Gonzalez, Senior, International Affairs

Abidjan, where I am currently doing fieldwork is the economic capital of Côte d’Ivoire, and one of the few cities in Africa where Le Gromoya can express themselves without fearing legal punishment.  There is currently no law against homosexuality in Côte d’Ivoire unlike neighboring countries Ghana, Guinea, and Liberia where is it condemned. Over the last four weeks, I have collaborated with three queer NGOs to learn about LGBTQ culture in Cote d’Ivoire and a codified language spoken by the community called Woubikan. These NGOs have put me in contact with key people and allies of the community. In safe spaces, I have conducted two focus groups, four Lexical free listings and five life history semi structured interviews. My supervising professor Dr. Jacques N’goran Kuaku at the Institute of Applied Linguistics has aided me in obtaining an Ivorian research permit and has lectured me on Côte d’Ivoire’s high linguistic diversity, where over 60 languages are spoken and overlapping aspects that influence Ivorian French. This information has been key in understanding Ivorian French, a variation that that I had to quickly adapt myself to.

As well as speaking to my interviewees for research purposes in the LGBTQ community. I have assisted various organized queer events where I have witnessed the usage of Woubikan. Various allies have also allowed me to shadow them for a day where I have witnessed the daily obstacles they face as LGBTQ West Africans. Last week, I was invited to an LGBTQ shelter where queer Ivorians shared with me their cultural hardships. As an ethnographer I am always working, even if my friends think I am simply  “hanging out” with them. As soon as a LGBTQ topics arise, I begin taking mental and physical notes in a discrete manner. Over the past month I have documented over twenty-four participant observations and personal experiences.

During the remaining three weeks, I will reach out to other NGOs that the United States  Embassy and local allies have put me in contact with to complete five to seven more life history semi structured interviews and five free listings, with Les branchés ,Bakaris, and Tras. If time permits, I will conduct another focus group. I will continue to document participant observations when I witness LGBTQ affairs. During my last week, I will transcribe all Woubikan words and expressions as well as two songs that use the language into the International phonetic alphabet.

My supervising professor will help with transcriptions and analyzing Woubikan words and expressions to see the possibility of a derivative to a local African language. On my last day, I will present my final research results to the director of the Institute of Applied Linguistics, faculty and doctorate students.  I would like to finally thank FSU for making this once in a lifetime opportunity a reality. In such a short period of time I have learned so much about the LGBTQ community in Côte d’Ivoire, West African culture, and myself.

Photo by Eva Blue on Unsplash

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