The place of the English language in the construction of a Cameroon Anglophone identity
Eric A. Anchimbe (University of Bayreuth, Germany) [BIO]
This paper seeks to show at what point the anglophones in Cameroon are united through their use of English. Although Cameroon is officially bilingual in French and English, its over 200 identified ethnic groups use a total of 285 native languages, a Pidgin English, and four regional lingua français. Besides the native language identities, which are too many and sometimes less decisive on the greater national platform, two major identities can be noticed. These are basically built around the official languages, English and French. Our focus in this paper is on English and how it has been used by those in the former British Southern Cameroons as a major icon of their identification. Occupying just two of the ten provinces, the Anglophone Cameroonians use English to define themselves, to fight for their rights, to exclude non-group members and above all to refurbish the links of unity created by colonialism. As Wolf (2001:223) rightly puts it, "the feeling of unity is so strong that 'being Anglophone' denotes a new ethnicity, transcending older ethnic ties". If English happens to be taken away from this rather multicultural and multilinguistic group, it would be left with more differences than similarities. But due to the overriding place of English as an identity marker, the strings of unity and similarity are stronger given competition from the other major group, the francophones, the ever growing strength of English internationally and the quest for lasting political, economic and social alliances. Grievances like the Anglophone problem, the Southern Cameroons Secession, among others have been resolutely hinged on a linguistic identity centred on the English language. The Buea Declaration (1993) that sanctioned the First All Anglophones Conference, touched significantly on the unequal use of French and English. This inequality is interpreted as intricately representative of the marginalisation of the Anglophones who are defined in no other specific qualities than the use of English.
The above discussion will be based on the premise that the claim to any identity is incomplete if it is not accompanied by a language in which such an identity is expressed or transmitted. Since the late 19th century when imperialism was authorised at the Berlin conference of 1884, many European languages found their way into other parts of the world, especially Africa, Asia and the Caribbean. One of the outstanding outcomes of this expansion has been the creation of more identity attachment avenues in these languages, which today act as official media of transaction in most of these countries. The attachment to these languages (English being one) comes amid attachment to, above all, the indigenous languages, which generally are acquired before English.