Our History and Prospects
The work of the African Anaphora Project (AAP) was initially supported by NSF grant BCS 0303447, a small, one year exploratory grant (2003) that was renewed for 2004. This preliminary support, timed for the joint meeting of ACAL and WOCAL at Rutgers in 2003, enabled us to explore the potential that our method of elicitation and our website resources might hold for future research. Because our funds were limited, we restricted ourselves to the development of only five case files in order to hone our methods, our mode of operation and the presentation of data on our site. The future of the project, however, depended on further funds to extend our investigations to the widest possible range of languages and to improve the information technology that supports our site so that participation in our project and access to our results could be maximally facilitated. In March, 2005, we introduced a provisional website with five languages presented at various stages of preparation.
In the summer of 2005, NSF approved new, broader funding for our project and we set about expanding our research to additional languages (see Become a Consultant) and developing the site technology in order to include an interactive database that would permit our data to be explored in the most opportunistic ways. The development of the database turned out to be a difficult task, and in the meantime, few changes were made in the website as much went on behind the scenes, particularly with respect to research into languages that were not posted on the site. In the spring of 2006, two new case files were introduced (Ikalanga and Kinande), but many other files were being developed. After two fall starts, a general database design provided to us in March, 2008, by Alexis Dimitriadis of the University of Utrecht, finally met our requirements.
Accelerated activity began at that point, around March, 2008, as we worked to customize the database to our needs and as we began entering data from languages that we had been working on for several years, but which had not yet been presented on the site. The first ten languages that have complete enough data sets have now been entered into the database and work of this kind is ongoing, both for several languages already represented in the database and for quite a number of others for which we do not yet have complete data from our anaphora questionnaire. As work on the new site and database reached a certain threshold, we were finally ready to abandon the provisional site and open the new website you see now (in November, 2008), which integrates the interactive database which we present as a feature of our site for the first time.
Data collection has been steady since 2004 and work continues on an ever-expanding set of languages. We also continue to refine the database parameters and to expand the range of website features offered in our case files. The collection of detailed data sets and the process of follow-up investigations into each of the languages we explore takes many months for each language and more typically, it takes years of stop and start work. As a result, we anticipate that further changes to our site will be incremental, but occur at a steady rate.
Although Afranaph began as a project to explore anaphora questions, a goal to which we are still committed, we now also see that our specialized interest in anaphora questions provided us with a constant focus around which the infrastructure for broader fieldwork of this kind could be developed. As our plans for the future indicate, the next stage of the project will involve expansion of our investigations to empirical domains outside the anaphora questions (i.e., new questionnaires will be devised), an expansion of the community of scholars that participate in directly in our project and/or that use our resources.
Welcome to the Afranaph Project
This website was initiated with support of NSF grants BCS 0303447, BCS 0523102, BCS 0919086 and is currently supported by NSF BCS 1324404, Ken Safir, Principal Investigator
The main goal of the Afranaph Project, as it is presently constituted, is to develop rich descriptions of a wide range of African languages in order to serve the interests of linguistic research into the nature and distribution of empirical patterns in natural language. The first project of our website, and still the one that is the mainstay of our research, has been to explore the distribution of anaphoric morphology and interpretation, but recent initiatives to expand the role of our empirical investigations to other sorts of linguistic phenomena have resulted in sister projects, autonomous, but linked to Afranaph in spirit, by infrastructure, and with respect to a common database (see Afranaph Sisters). The latest stage of our funding is for the expansion of our sister projects and to develop new ones, while integrating access to all the data collected by the sister projects, both language internally and crosslinguistically.
Although our project is informed specifically by the research goals of generative grammar, it is our intention to make the data we collect as accessible as possible to any linguist with an interest in these languages or more general issues in cross-linguistic comparison. The data we present is collected on the basis of complex and comprehensive questionnaires that are to be filled out by native speaker linguist consultants, and are designed to elicit data that can bear on research questions of interest to a particular Afranaph Sister Project. Subsequent follow-up work between the consultants and project investigators explores interesting details and patterns that appear to be comparatively or theoretically significant. This project has become more feasible at this point in history not only because there are an unprecedented number of trained African linguists who are potential participants in our project, but also because the resources of the web and the internet make it possible for more efficient remote participation.
More on the organization of our site