The West African Linguistic Society (WALS) was formed in 1965 with the aim of fostering and encouraging research in the languages of West Africa and providing a permanent forum for interaction and exchange of ideas among scholars of African languages. Membership of the Society is largely drawn from teachers and researchers in Universities and Research Institutes and they include scholars from Africa, Europe and the USA.
The governing body of the Society is a Council, which is elected by the membership every two years. Prior to the formation of WALS, a research body known as the Survey of West African Languages had, with the support of the Ford Foundation, been responsible for sponsoring and funding research in specific West African languages by appointing fellows to carry out research on specific languages, and by initiating two major publications: The Journal of West African Languages (JWAL) and the West African Language Monograph Series. The Survey was also responsible for initiating the West African Language Congresses, the first of which was held in Accra, Ghana in 1961. Under the chairmanship of the distinguished Africanist linguist, Professor Joseph H. Greenberg, the Survey’s field activities were conducted under the supervision of its field director, Professor Robert G. Armstrong. On the occasion of the Fifth Congress held at the University of Ghana, Legon, on April 6 -10, 1965, the decision was taken to replace the Survey with a scholarly society which would be responsible to the membership. The erstwhile chairman of the Survey, Professor Greenberg, was elected the first President of the Society and Dr. Ayo Bamgbose, was elected the first Secretary-Treasurer.
WALS took over the former activities of the Survey (other than the fellowship program), but it also proceeded to set up working groups, which are interest groups for specific areas of language research. The initial funding of WALS came from two major grants awarded by the Ford Foundation ($ 140,000 in 1966 and $75,000 in 1972). Largely through this generous support, WALS was able to fund most of its activities, including stimulating interest in linguistic study and research, especially among African scholars and students. In addition to this type of funding, members of WALS pay an annual subscription, and the Society has received periodic support from governments, universities and the private sector at the time of its congresses. At practically every Congress, the government of the host country provides assistance by subsidizing hotel accommodation and providing transportation and other facilities. UNESCO has also provided grants in the past for simultaneous interpretation at some of the earlier congresses.
The major achievements of WALS in its 52 years of existence are: accelerated development of linguistics and linguistic study in the West African sub-region, stimulation of the training and production of African scholars in the field of linguistics, regional cooperation across the Anglophone and Francophone language divide, more intensive linguistic research, and maintenance of the two key activities of the Society, i.e. the congresses and publication of the Journal.
The last West African Languages Congress (WALC) was held in Winneba- Ghana between July 29th and August 5th 2017. The next Congress is scheduled to hold in L’Université Felix Houpouet-Boigny-Cote d’Ivoire between July and August.