JOPOL 2(2020)

Language and Spatiality in Urban Mozambique:
Ex-Colonial Language Spread “From Below”

Theoretically positioned within critical sociolinguistics this study combines census data from a forty years period, linguistic diaries and ethnographies of 24 young Mozambicans to probe into the dynamics invigorated by ex-colonial language spread in postcolonial times. The study foregrounds language and spatiality. Showcasing Mozambique, the paper uses these multilevel data to describe the changes to the linguistic ecology of Mozambicans living in urban spaces in and around Maputo, the capital city of Mozambique. These urban spaces have seen growing disparities between the wealthier and the poorer, alongside infrastructure development and gentrification as part of a growing and increasingly globalizing economy. The study shows how Portuguese does not replace African languages but broadens the repertoires and how the former colonial language has not remained a static entity but has acquired new social functions and has become endogenized in a radically different ecology of monolingual and fluid multilingual practices. Despite its new social functions, the former colonial language nonetheless retains its symbolic power and inculcates self-censorship which leave Mozambican youth in urban spaces with a perceived shrinking space for the expression of African sociocultural practices even in the most intimate spaces of social life.

Keywords: Mozambique, ex-colonial language spread, repertoires, lived experience, self-censorship, spatiality, multilingual practices