Adams Bodomo: "I am an ethnographer in many ways"

He wants to stand up for his people – through language. Linguist Adams Bodomo – since August 2013 Professor of African Languages and Literatures at the University of Vienna – documents, records, and describes the cultures of Africa.

"I was born in a rural community in northwest Ghana and everyone spoke the same language: Dagaare. But as soon as I left my community, I was confronted with other languages", remembers Adams Bodomo, linguist at the University of Vienna. On his way, he picked up many other languages, such as Waale, Twi, English, French, and Swahili, later even Norwegian, Chinese, and German. "Ghana was a former British colony and by default English became our national language. We share this colonial history with other neighboring, mostly francophone, countries. My interest in languages grew because of this multicultural nature of Africa", says Bodomo.

Through language

When Bodomo was young, he dreamt of being a diplomat. "I figured that I can only achieve this goal when I go abroad, study foreign languages and cultures, so I left Ghana and went to Norway. I wanted to stand up for my people!" And this is what he finally does, not as a diplomat but as a linguist: "People tend to neglect Africa. I am documenting, recording, and describing the culture of my people – through language."

The picture shows Bodomo with his wife and new-born daughter in 1990 during his PhD-program in Linguistics/African Studies at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) in Trondheim, Norway.

Linguistics: a contribution to understand human nature

Bodomo, Professor of African Languages and Literatures at the Department of African Studies, tries to understand the process of learning languages, the aspects all languages have in common and the tools available to describe language. "This sounds abstract and philosophical, but I am convinced that linguistics provides a contribution to understand human nature."

In 1983, Adams Bodomo was a student in Senegal. The photo shows him (on the right) and his roommate.

People, languages, and cultures

"I am an ethnographer in many ways; I look at people, languages, and cultures", says Bodomo and smiles. This is what he did as a Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Hong Kong and what brought him into the field of the African Diaspora. Bodomo claims that Africa can no longer be studied in a bounded domain, since a lot of Africans are settling in other parts of the world. There are about half a million Africans in China, mostly living in big cities and having a vibrant community life. "When I came to Vienna I observed the same thing, so I carried on with this project at the University of Vienna. I felt that if I want to understand African languages and cultures, I need to understand the African Diaspora as well."

The Research Platform for Global African Diaspora Studies (GADS) at the University of Vienna, initiative of the founding Director, Adams Bodomo, is a research unit for the advanced study of the African Diaspora. The Platform creates a research synergy within the Faculty of Philological and Cultural studies and other sections towards creating a global center of excellence for the study of Africa and its Diaspora. The aim is to analyze the African Diaspora communities and the bridges they have built and are building to interconnect Africa and their host societies in Europe, Asia, North America, and many other parts of the world.

Between technology and literature

But linguistics is not Bodomo's only interest, he writes and analyses poetry, is an expert of francophone African literature and was one of the first to write about the "mobile phone novel": "To me it is fascinating how technology transforms literature and creates new genres. Online-Literature is not only the written word, but manifests itself in videos, photos and hyperlinks."

Adams Bodomo in 2006 at the Silicon Valley Marathon while he was Visiting Scholar at Stanford University, USA.

Committed to Africa

If this is not already enough, he goes hiking, writes poetry and runs long distances – last year he even ran the Vienna City Marathon. He started working for the University of Vienna in August 2013 and brought his wife and two of his three daughters along. He visited Vienna for the first time when he came for the job interview, but it turned out to be a good choice: "The work environment at the Department of African Studies is great and it is an important Institute in Europe. Austria has committed itself to understand Africa and I am happy to help with it." (hm)

Univ.-Prof. Dr. Adams Bodomo, BA MA MPhil PhD, since August 2013 Professor of African Languages and Literatures at the Department of African Studies, University of Vienna, holds his inaugural lecture "Exploring global interdisciplinary research trends in the humanities" on Wednesday, 10 June 2015, 17.00, in the Small Ceremonial Chamber (Kleiner Festsaal), University of Vienna.