Central Africa’s Congo-Ubangi watershed spans multiple ecozones in the northern margins of the rainforest. It is a major hotbed of linguistic, cultural and human genetic diversity with deep occupation history. This linguistic accretion zone is home to a complex mosaic of genealogically and typologically diverse languages spoken by small-size communities with different societal organizations, material cultures, and subsistence specializations. Despite the myriad of new insights it could generate about language evolution and deep human past, it is poorly known due to difficulty of access and an astonishingly intricate configuration.
The aim of CongUbangi is to understand the present-day interconnections between language, material cultures and genes in the Congo-Ubangi watershed and project them as far back into the past as possible through a holistic, localized and locally-enforced interdisciplinary approach. The project team’s core scientific expertise covers linguistics, ethnoarchaeology, and archaeology. Genetic and paleoenvironmental expertise is added through inter-university collaboration. CongUbangi will realize a breakthrough in our understanding of how linguistic diversity correlates with cultural and genetic diversity and why it originated and persisted in this specific ecoregion for millennia. New bodies of evidence from mutually-feeding disciplines will be integrated to determine whether (i)
language shift is an adaptive strategy in response to environmental stress and (ii) past environmental changes impacted the synchronic distribution of linguistic enclaves. By untangling one of the most historically intricate areas of the continent, it will contribute to scores of theoretical and methodological issues in a large array of disciplines and blaze research trails in previously unimaginable directions. Beyond research, it will foster the preservation of small-scale autochthonous languages and cultures facing increasing extinction threats.