Trans Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften 15. Nr. April 2004

7.1. Entlehnung und Übersetzung am Kreuzweg von Sprache und kulturellem Kontakt
HerausgeberIn | Editor | Éditeur: George Echu (Université de Yaoundé I, Cameroun)

Buch: Das Verbindende der Kulturen | Book: The Unifying Aspects of Cultures | Livre: Les points communs des cultures

Influence of Contacts between Western and African Cultures on English in Cameroon

Jean-Paul Kouega (University of Yaounde I, Cameroon)



This paper discusses the reflections on English of the contacts between British, French and African cultures in Cameroon. Firstly, the contact between English and Cameroon indigenous languages resulted in the creation of a new language called Pidgin, which was used for out-group communication purposes. The co-habitation between Pidgin and English, on the one hand, and between English and French, on the other hand, revealed a number of realities that were specific to each of these languages and cultures. For the English language to express some of these realities, it had to undergo a number of adjustments. These adjustments manifest themselves today in the form of borrowing, which subsumes direct loan, loan translation and loan blend. Semantically, French loans generally refer to government procedural practices, whereas Pidgin loans refer to traditional practices. The lexical items thus created have proved to be a reliable tool for effective and quick communication among Cameroonians; these items, however, need to be codified for intelligibility to be preserved in a global context.



This paper examines the lexis of English in Cameroon, dwelling on those features which result from the interactions within the country of three different cultures, namely, British, French and African. These interactions have enabled language users to realise that there are a number of gaps in each of the languages involved and that these gaps need to be filled for certain realities to be expressed. In language, one common technique to which users resort to fill such gaps is borrowing, which Dulay et al. (1982: 113) define as "the incorporation of linguistic material from one language into another". The English language in Cameroon borrows extensively from two major languages, namely French and Pidgin. In the sections below, we first discuss the relationship between English and these two languages in Cameroon (1). This is followed in turn by an overview of the research method adopted for the study (2), a description of the results (3) and a discussion of the findings (4).


1. Relationship between English, French and Pidgin in Cameroon

Cameroon is a Central African country, which from 1884 to 1919, was part of the vast German colony in Africa (Neba 1987). When Germany lost the First World War, its possessions were shared between the winners, namely, France and England. In the territory under French administration, French was made the official language, and so was English in the British territory. Over the years, French has been developing faster than English, thanks to the numerical weight of francophone people in the country(1). Today French supremacy over English is observed at all levels of the life of the nation, including the domain of language use (Kouega 1999a).

Concerning the relationship between English and Pidgin, it should be noted that Pidgin had been used in Cameroon long before the introduction of Standard English. Actually, during the slave-trade period, 1400-1800, Cameroonians living in the coastal regions were in contact with British people, who were enlisted in Portuguese boats as privateers (Mbassi-Manga 1976). As the negotiations were carried out by these British agents on behalf of the Portuguese traders, who sat in their boats, a slave trade language containing elements of English gradually developed.

In the 19th century, slave trade was abolished, and Britain embarked on two loosely related activities, namely, the development of free trade and the dissemination of the Christian religion: vast plantations of tropical products were set up in the coastal areas of the country, and these attracted labourers from the hinterlands. These labourers, who spoke different indigenous tongues, picked up the budding Pidgin language that was evolving, thus increasing the number of its speakers. When the missionaries began to settle in 1843, there already existed "a reasonably well-formed Pidgin English in coastal areas..." (Todd 1982a: 7) used for the teaching of the Gospel. Thus, the missionaries contributed to the dissemination of Pidgin in the hinterlands, where they also attempted to develop a few regional home-language lingua francas, like Douala, Ewondo and Bassa, into which the Bible was translated. They also set up a few English-speaking schools, "which were highly regarded by Cameroonians and where the aim was to teach Standard English" (ibid. p. 9). When the Germans settled in the territory in 1884, Pidgin was so widespread that its speakers were employed to implement the German colonisation programme.

Following this historical overview, I will now discuss the relationship between English and Pidgin in Cameroon. This relationship has been described by various researchers as one "of diglossia", "of separate languages" and "of language continuum". One supporter of the first view - that of diglossia - is Constable (1977: 249), who points out that in Southern British Cameroons before independence in 1960, "a typical situation of diglossia obtained ... English was taught in schools and used in official and formal situations while pidgin and/or the vernacular were used in informal situations." One argument against this view is that in present-day Southern British Cameroons, there are two high varieties, namely English and French, and two low varieties, namely, Pidgin and the indigenous languages (see Kouega 2001 for details).

One expounder of the second view - namely, that Pidgin is a separate language - is Alobwede (1998: 56), who asserts that:

Pidgin English is not a type of English as American or Australian Englishes are types of English, nor does it have a diglossia relationship with English as High and Low Arabic have to Arabic. It is simply a hybrid African language - a language which English-speaking missionaries had to learn as they learnt Douala, Ewondo and other home languages in Cameroon for evangelical purposes.

The compelling evidence against this view is that each of the indigenous languages of Cameroon is the ancestral tongue of a specific traditional tribal grouping, and it therefore carries with it "a network of cultural values" (Reyhner, et al, 1995: 279). Pidgin lacks these underlying cultural values, and it therefore has no place in the spirits and hearts of its speakers, hence their rejection of its introduction into the school curriculum (Kouega 2001). There is no denying that Pidgin provides sustenance for the bodies of its illiterate/rural speakers, but this function alone does not suffice for the language to be viable. In other words, Pidgin and European languages belong together, as they do not have any ethnic representation in the country. They also belong together linguistically, as they have contributed to the re-lexification of many ancestral tongues in the country: Pidgin has lent to them a high number of words including beer, box, church, cigar, doctor, fever grass, flower, school, sugar, Sunday, to name only these few (Fasse Mbouya 2000). In short, Pidgin in the minds of Cameroonians is not an African language: it does not "represent a people" (Blackledge, 2002: 70), as it is spoken by a conglomerate of users sharing no cultural value or group identity.

In view of the above arguments, it can be stated that, as past works on Cameroon English show, there is a continuum of English in the country, ranging from Pidgin at one extreme to educated English at the other extreme. Pidgin, "an almost exclusively oral language" (Todd 1982a: 18), tends to be the only out-group language at the disposal of illiterates and people of low education, whereas educated people have at least two codes at their disposal, namely, English, used in formal situations, and Pidgin used in informal situations or when speaking with people of low education (Kouega 2001). These educated people, it should be emphasised, are potentially capable of keeping apart English and Pidgin. In-between the illiterate people and the educated ones are the semi-educated people, who do not always succeed in rephrasing in Standard English an idea they have expressed perfectly well in Pidgin. Such people, who speak what Kouega (1999b: 541) categorises as Pidginised English, are mainly primary school leavers and secondary school dropouts, who end up being trained on the job in fields such as motor mechanic, woodwork, metalwork, shop keeping, photography, to name only these few. In sum, English in Cameroon is one of the country's official languages and it is the medium of instruction of anglophone people (Kouega 2002), who also speak Pidgin in a variety of contexts. French, on the other hand, is the other official language; it is the medium of instruction of francophone people and is at the same time the language in which government action is conceived and implemented (Kouega 1999c).


2. Research Method

The textual material collected for analysis includes readily accessible documents such as private and official correspondence, students' essays, literary productions, newspapers(2) - of which some are available on the internet, like The Herald and Cameroon Tribune - and The Official Gazette, which is a magazine recording the activities of the government on a daily basis. These documents were read carefully, and, in the process, a number of new lexical items were identified. These items were recorded, together with the sentences in which they occurred. Both the items and their contexts of use constituted the broad corpus for the study. To facilitate the process of data analysis, these items were grouped into their respective semantic domains such as the army, education, sports and others listed in the tables below.

To check the degree of integration of each item into the lexicon of English in Cameroon, the researcher adopted the techniques of sentence construction. Selected respondents were asked to compose illustrative sentences with a sample of these items. When most respondents skipped a word, it was assumed that this word was uncommon. When, on the contrary, most of them composed sentences with a given word, it was assumed that this word was a common one. For a given common item to be regarded as an integrated Cameroon English word, its meaning as expressed in the respondents' sentences had to be similar to that expressed in the broad corpus from which this word was extracted. The preliminary count revealed that out of a total of 572 new words identified, 344 were cases of borrowing.


3. Results

A close inspection of the 344 loan words shows that these items result from three borrowing processes, which can be labelled direct loan (3.1), loan translation (3.2) and loan blend (3.3). These are taken up in turn.

3.1. Direct Loan

A direct loan can be defined as a word drawn whole from one language to designate a new object or practice in the donor language. This process usually takes place when a language happens to be in contact over a period of time with another language. In most new English countries, English co-exists with other languages, which obviously have words for certain notions or practices unknown in the English cultures. For lack of an adequate standard equivalent, speakers of English resort to borrowing these words from the local languages. Such direct loans abound in the registers of food (like makan for meal in Singapore), dress-making (like chitenge in East Africa), regional tools (like parang for knife in Malaysia), transport (like danfo for bus in Nigeria), administration (like okyeame for head spokesman in Ghana), occupations (like dhobi for laundry-man in India), feelings (like kurot for pinch in the Philippines) and other domains cited in works like those of Todd (1982b), Platt et al (1984), Schmied (1991, 1996), Gorlach (1991, 1998), McArthur (1992, 1999), Simo Bobda (1994) and Schneider (1998), to name only these few.

As far as Cameroon English is concerned, a total of 118 integrated loan words are identified in the present study. Below are reproduced a sample of 21 of them, together with an instance of their usage.

Accoucheur: male or female maternity ward nurse
TheYaounde school of nursing trains accoucheurs, nurses and pharmacists..

Achu: pounded cocoyam tuber eaten with yellow soup
I could have only plantain, but the guests will surely ask for achu. I hope Mary will help me to pound it.

Commandant: head of a gendarmes' office
Inhabitants of Furu-Awa in Menchum Division were recently shocked and scandalised to discover a gendarme, Atangana, making love to the wife of Wirsiy John Ngalim (... in the church)... He (the catechist) alerted the Brigade Commander and the sub-prefect who had been drinking with Atangana in the nearby bar ... The DO and the commandant rushed to the church and intercepted the act with snake-beating on Atangana, who was subsequently locked up in a gendarmerie cell.

Concours: competitive entrance examination
Some university graduates write more than five concours in a year and, of course, they keep on failing

Dossier: file
My promotion dossier has been in the same office for months. I wonder why it has not been forwarded to the next office.

Egusi: edible seeds of a melon-like plant
Don't forget to keep yam and egusi aside for special guests.

Fon: traditional ruler in the West and Northwest provinces of Cameroon
The Minister ... distanced himself from the May 30 assembly that led to the creation of the NOWEFU, Northwest Fons' Union, and ... reportedly visited Fon Chafah who initiated the Fons' assembly.

Fufu/foofoo: a way of cooking consisting in pouring flour into boiling water and stirring the paste till it gets done
What would you like to have for lunch today: fufu cassava or fufu garri?

Licence: bachelor's degree, obtained in Cameroon after three years of university education
She got to the university in 1994 and obtained the Licence four years later; you know she repeated Year One.

Ma Cecilia: polite way of addressing a respectable woman called Mrs Cecilia Ntuba
In her speech, Ma Cecilia Ntuba advocated women's emancipation, but warned that development should not be mistaken for unnecessary competition with men.

Makadju: dried cod fish
What are we making the egusi with: makadju or meat?

Mallam: Muslim figure who organises the work of the mosque in a religious district
On Monday the President (of the Republic) met with social and cultural groups in Kribi. The mallam of Kribi wished him many more years in power.

Mandat: post-office money order
One of the documents for the concours dossier is a 5000 Francs mandat to be made payable to the Registrar.

Mbanya: common word used by a wife to refer to another wife in a polygamous set-up
I'm fine, but you know, my only problem is my mbanya. She is young and educated, and so my husband does not have time to attend to me any more.

Ngombe: alligator
A young fisherman killed a ngombe yesterday. By the time I reached his house, women running restaurants had bought it all.

Njangi: (money obtained from) a traditional savings and loans scheme
When I win the njangi in two months' time, I'll pay my daughter's school fees and offer a new TV set to my husband.

Nkang: corn gruel
Last night, I went out on a drinking spree. So today I will have only some nkang and nothing else.

Nwerong: notability title in the Northwest province of Cameroon
Quifons and Nwerongs were responsible for security and discipline in traditional societies.

Pa Manfred: polite way of addressing a respectable man called Mr Manfred Mukete
Pa Manfred Mukete called on women to educate their children and discuss issues like Aids, indecency and reckless sexual behaviour

Procureur: magistrate appointed by presidential decree to act as a public prosecutor in a law court
My classmate was recently nominated procureur at the Buea first instance court.

Vignette: road tax disc
The price of vignette has been put up. Small cars are now to pay what trailers used to pay.

As the illustrative sentences above show, these loan words pertain to various semantic domains (see Appendix A). One of these domains is traditional practice, which includes the ancestral ruling system (fon), notability titles (nwerong), kinship terms (mbanya), greetings (ashia), heritage economic systems (njangi), dances (juju), and foodstuffs (egusi) to name only these few. Other lexical domains include administration (dossier), army (adjudant), education (licence), finance (bordereau), health (accoucheur), law (procureur), post-office (mandat), public service (concours), technology (vignette) and the like. A distribution of the 118 direct loans into their respective semantic domains is plotted in Table 1 below.

Table 1. Distribution of direct loans in the corpus

Lexical domains Borrowing: Direct loan Percentage
Traditional practices 54 45.7
Administration  1 0.8
Army 5 4.2
Education 32 27.1
Finance 7 5.9
Health 1 0.8
Law 5 4.2
Police 3 2.5
Post-office 2 1.5
Public service 1 0.8
Sports - -
Technology 6 5.0
Territory management - -
Total 118 100

As the table above shows, the highest proportion of direct loans is found in the domain of traditional practices (45.7%). This can be accounted for by a number of factors, as will be shown below. By way of preview, it can be noted that users of English in Cameroon, as in other new Englishes, need words to refer to local things and traditional practices; as the English language does not always have words for such things, users resort to importing foreign words into their English. The situation of Cameroon is much more complex because it borrows foreign words referring not only to local things, but also to received things such as its institutions, which are French-based. The system of education alone has supplied as many as 27.1% of the total number of direct loans.

A look at the origin of these direct loans shows that they come from two major sources namely French and Pidgin. French, the other official language, has donated words such as "commandant", "dossier", "licence". Pidgin, the most widespread lingua franca, has donated items such as "fufu", "makadju", not only to Cameroon English, but also to the various indigenous languages of the country, as was noted above. In fact, indigenous language words seem to have entered Cameroon English via Pidgin (Kouega 1998), and conversely, Standard English words seem to have entered the indigenous languages via Pidgin. Below is presented the proportion of French and Pidgin loans in the corpus:

Table 2. Proportion of French and Pidgin loans in the corpus

Lexical domains Pidgin French Total
Traditional practices 54 - 54
Administration - 1 1
Army - 5 5
Education - 32 32
Finance - 7 7
Health - 1 1
Law - 5 5
Police - 3 3
Post-office - 2 2
Public service - 1 1
Sports - - -
Technology - 6 6
Territory management - - -
Total 54 (45.7%) 64 (54.2%) 118 (100%)

As this table shows, of the 118 loan words in the corpus, 64 come from French and 54 from Pidgin; in fact, these two languages are the most widely spoken languages in the country. However, as one of them is an essentially oral lingua franca and the other a dominant official language, it is evident that they will contribute words to different registers: actually, all the 54 Pidgin loans fall under the domain of traditional practices, while the 64 French ones refer to the French-based government institutions and procedural practices such as education, finance, administration and the like.

These loans play an important communicative function. Those referring to traditional practices are used to solve a major linguistic problem, namely, to designate objects and concepts for which the English language does not cater. One of these concepts is the ancestral ruling system still extant in the country. Cameroonians need words to refer to their tribe chiefs such as "fon" and palace notables such as "nwerong". Another set of concepts consists of forms of address, where words such as "pa" and "ma" are obviously more expressive than their standard counterparts "daddy" and "mummy". Actually these loan terms are words of respect, used to address even people with whom the speaker does not have blood relation (Kouega 2001). In the same vein, women sharing the same husband in a polygamous set-up call themselves "mbanya"; as this practice is uncommon in the British culture today - the pattern set up by King Henry VIII not having been followed - so is this term borrowed from Pidgin. To simplify the elaborate British greeting system, which changes according to the time of the day from "Good morning" through "Good afternoon" to "Good evening", Cameroonians prefer the term "ashia", which is used throughout the day. Besides, this same term expresses empathy and can be used in place of utterances like "I am sorry to hear that!" and "What a pity!" In other words, economy seems to have motivated the borrowing of this term and similar ones.

Tag questions, which are a universal linguistic feature, are constructed in English with a variety of expressions such as: ... could you?, ... will they?, ... can't she?. These multiple tag forms are rendered by the Pidgin expression na?, as in the sentence "She didn't tell you na?" (She didn't tell you, did she?), "You can lift it na? (You can lift it, can't you?). The traditional savings and loans system called "njangi", operates like a modern banking system: a group of people who trust one another meet at regular intervals to contribute a given amount of money; this money is given to one member on each occasion till the last member gets it, after which a new cycle begins.

Other culture-bound domains include dances (juju), clothing (kaba) and most importantly foodstuffs. Cameroonians feed on meat from both domestic animals and wild ones, such as "makadju" (cod fish). They also consume leafy vegetables like "ndole", tubers like "achu", fruits like "kenekene", seeds like "egusi", and enjoy beverages like "nkang". As for ways of cooking, food items may be fried, like "dodo" (fried plantain chips); they may also be cooked in the "fufu" form, that is, stirred in boiling water, like "fufu" cassava. Some, like "achu", are cooked and then pounded in a mortar. In short, Cameroonians have found that the English language is incapable of expressing certain aspects of their culture and, in a bid to enrich its lexical repertoire, they have borrowed a number of expressive words from a widespread background language, namely, Pidgin, which dominates the various regional home language-based lingua francas in the country.

The second set of loans, namely, those referring to government procedural practices will be considered next. These words are all borrowed from French, which is the other European language having co-official status with English in Cameroon. Actually French is a dominant language in the country: not only are its speakers estimated at around 4/5 of the population, but also the country's administration is conceived in French and then translated into English. This dominance is reflected in the types of words borrowed. In the domain of administration, for example, civil servants prefer the term "demande d'explication" to the standard word "query". Finance terms such as "bon de caisse" (payment voucher) have supplanted their English equivalents. In the legal domain, words such as "procureur" (state prosecutor) and "greffier" (court clerk) are so assimilated into Cameroon English that their standard equivalents are unknown to most people.

In summary, direct loans are used in Cameroon English to solve at least four major linguistic problems. First, they are used to designate objects and concepts for which the English language does not have a name, like "njangi" (a loans and savings scheme) and "mbanya" (wives in a polygamous set-up). Secondly, they are used when the English word for an object or concept does not describe it effectively, is less expressive or is unsatisfactory. An example is the word "accoucheur", which refers to a person, female or male, trained to help women in childbearing; the standard word "midwife" seems to associate profession and sex, which feminism activists and theorists have been trying to combat. Thirdly, they are used when their English equivalents are too wordy or lengthier than the loan counterpart, like "bordereau" (mail enclosure slip), "concours" (competitive entrance examination). Lastly and most importantly, they are used by anglophone Cameroonians to facilitate effective and quick communication with their francophone counterparts, since sentences containing French-sounding terms are easier to make sense of. To take just one example, Sentence a) below is less effective in the Cameroonian context than Sentence b):

a) Where do you keep the mail enclosure slip in this office?
b) Where do you keep the bordereau in this office?

Here, the French loan "bordereau" can be understood by everybody, whereas "mail enclosure slip" is not very common even among anglophone Cameroonians.

3.2. Loan Translation

Loan translation or calque (Crystal 1987) can be defined as a process whereby a new word is formed from the word for word translation of the individual parts of a donor language word. It is part of loan shift, which is a type of borrowing where an existing material is moved from one set of circumstances to another. In Cameroon English, loan translation does not only yield words which are literal translations from French, like "minister of State" (French: ministre d'Etat) "chief minister"; it also causes most French words which are similar in structure to be used as equivalents, irrespective of the standard meaning of these words. For example, the English words "controller", "align" are instantly used as equivalents for the French words "contrôleur", "aligner", irrespective of the context of use. Needless to say that such translations sometimes interfere with existing words; for example, the word "secretary of state" renders the French word "secrétaire d'Etat" (official occupying second position in a Cameroon government department) and therefore differs from the standard word "secretary of State (which refers to the official occupying the top position in a British/American government department).

A count of such items in the corpus gives a total of 225, a sample of which are listed below, together with an instance of their usage.

Align a child (French: aligner un enfant): to register the birth of a child so as to be granted family allowances
Civil servants rush to align their children so that their taxes are reduced

Attestation of presentation of the original of a diploma (French. attestation de présentation de l'original d'un diplôme): document attesting the origin of a diploma; authentication
Candidates' file shall comprise the following documents: a copy of birth certificate, a 5,000 money order, copies of secondary school diplomas, and an attestation of presentation of the original of the highest diploma.

Gendarmerie territorial brigade (French: brigade de gendarmerie territoriale): gendarmes' office at the divisional level
The assailants attacked ... a gendarmerie territorial brigade where its commander Samaki was shot dead and arms carted away.

Financial controller (French: contrôleur financier): auditor
The former treasurer was appointed financial controller of the Ministry of Agriculture

Co-wife(3) (French: co-épouse): wife in a polygamous set-up
The secretary phoned this morning to tell you that her co-wife got a baby last night and that she was attending to her. So she may not come to work today.

Decision (French: décision): work contract for low level State employees like drivers, cleaners, porters, etc.
Immediately his decision was signed, he took up duties, and since then he has been receiving his salary every month.

Delegation (French: délégation): branch of government employment which handles, at the level of a province, the affairs of a given State department
The former head of the Examinations service was recently appointed delegate at the Littoral provincial delegation for Education.

Dispensary (French: dispensaire): medical establisment headed by a State registered nurse
There is no need staying indoors and drinking such concoctions. You better go to the dispensary.

Life certificate (French: certificat de vie): certificate indicating the size of one's family
As for your family allowance file, you should include the birth certificate of each child and a life certificate, which can be obtained from the police station of your area of residence

Nomination (French: nomination): appointment
Did you follow the nominations on the radio last night? It appears John is nominated chief of service?

Prolongation (French: prolongation): extra time
The match ended in a draw, and so the two teams were called upon to play prolongation for 30 minutes

Receiver (French: receveur): State revenue paymaster for a division
If you can't cash your pay voucher, why don't you go to the treasury and talk to the receiver?

Sub-prefet (French: sous-prefet): officer in charge of a third-level territorial unit (see commandant above)

Text d'application (French: texte d'application) standing orders
Mr Arrey, who represented the GCE Board registrar at the conference, said that the Board operated within the legal instruments provided by the text of application that created it.

As the sentences reproduced above show, there are many calques in Cameroon English. These calques fall into some 15 domains including traditional practices (co-wife), administration (decision), and sports (prolongation), to name only these few. A count of the calques pertaining to these domains gives the results presented in Table 3 below:

Table 3. Distribution of calques in the corpus

Lexical domains Borrowing: calques Percentage
Traditional practices 2 0.9
Administration 42 19
Army 19 8.6
Decorations 10 4.52
Education 22 9.95
Finance 29 13.12
Health 10 4.52
Law 5 2.26
Police 19 8.6
Politics 19 8.6
Post-office 5 2.26
Public service 10 4.52
Sports 9 4.07
Technology 7 5.43
Territory management 12 8.0
Others 1 0.45
Total 221 100

A close look at Table 3 shows that calques are rare in the domain of traditional practices (0.8%), where cases of direct loans abound (45.7%), as Table 1 above revealed. It also shows that calques abound in the domains of government institutions and procedural practices such as Administration (42 words), Finance (29 words), and Education (22 words), to name only these few.

This high number can be attributed to the fact that in Cameroon, government policy is conceived in French and then translated into English. As there are many Romance and French words in Standard English, speakers of English in Cameroon use structurally related English words to render French terms, especially where there are no direct equivalents. For example, where French words such as "receveur", "dispensaire" are used, they are likely to be rendered in Cameroon English by the calques "receiver", "dispensary". This habit of English users in Cameroon of constantly translating from French has affected Cameroon English lexis in at least three significant ways: first, this variety contains several false friends, as can be instanced by words like "brigade" (gendarmes' office), "nomination" (appointment). Secondly, this variety contains several English-sounding words which are not always meaningful to other speakers of English, like "text of application" (standing orders), "attestation of presentation of the original of a diploma" (certificate of authentication of a diploma). Thirdly, this variety contains several ambiguous words, which do confuse unaccustomed users, like "decision" (work contract), "secretary of State" (vice-minister).

It follows from the above that loan translation plays a major communicative role in Cameroon English. This process seems to be used to satisfy at least four major linguistic needs. First, loan translation is used to fill a cultural gap. Take for example the phrase "good appetite". In the French culture, polite people are expected to wish diners "a good eating", whereas in the English culture, diners prefer not to be disturbed. To solve this problem, English users in Cameroon have coined the phrase "Good appetite!", which has now become part of their lexical repertoire.

In the same vein, the word "co-wife,"(3) together with its Pidgin counterpart "mbanya" above, is used to designate wives in a polygamous household. As the British culture is inherently monogamous, no provision has been made in the language to refer to this practice. As the French language has a word for it, this French word has simply been translated literally into Cameroon English. The translated word "co-wife" is commonly used in formal contexts while the Pidgin loan "mbanya" tends to be used in informal contexts.

Secondly, loan translation is used when an English cognate word, because of its similarity with a French word, is chosen as the equivalent of this French word, irrespective of context. This practice has extended the list of French and English false friends in Cameroon. To take just one example, the Cameroon English word "prolongation", which renders the French word "prolongation", is used in place of the standard word "extra time" in football. In Table 4 below are listed a few illustrations.

Table 4. Some false friends in Cameroon English

Cameroon English words French words Gloss
brigade brigade a gendarmes' office
decision décision work contract
dispensary dispensaire health centre
nominate nommer appoint
prolongation prolongation extra time

Lastly, loan translation is used to facilitate communication between the anglophone and the francophone communities of the country. In fact, an English structure interspersed with loan translation words is potentially easier for Francophones to comprehend than one with standard words and expressions. Actually, the use of native and colloquial words is likely to blur communication with Francophones and can eventually lead to antagonistic behaviour. This explains why the phrase <to align a child> obtained from French "aligner un enfant" is communicatively more effective than the standard phrase "to register the birth of a child". The same can be said of the phrases <life certificate> (French: certificat de vie): "certificate indicating the size of one's family", and <text of application> (French: texte d'application): "standing orders".

3.3. Loan Blend

Loan blend can be defined as a type of borrowing, where part of a word is imported and the other is restructured from existing material. An example from Standard English is the word "priesthood", which comprises the Greek stem "priest" and the English suffix "hood". An example from the data is "fondom", where the English suffix "dom" is added to the loan "fon" as described below:

- fon: traditional ruler of a tribe in the West and Northwest provinces of Cameroon
- dom: English suffix indicating a country run by a king, as in "kingdom"
- fondom: land and property under the jurisdiction of a fon.

Below is an illustration of its usage:
He congratulated the fon on the impressive development projects that have been implemented in the fondom during his 15 years on the throne

Other cases include:
<letter-mandat> (French: mandat lettre): money order to be posted as an ordinary mail to a beneficiary in the country

<capacité-licence> (French: permis catégorie capacité): professional driving licence for taxi-driving in big towns

Only five attested cases were identified in the corpus, which means that this process is unproductive.


4. Discussion

The results from this study suggest that when languages and cultures get in contact, the possibility for linguistic items to be borrowed is relatively high. In the context of English in Cameroon, three classes of borrowed items are identified. These are labelled above as direct loan, loan translation and loan blend. In Table 5 is plotted the contribution of each class:

Table 5. Classes of borrowing in the corpus

Lexical domains Direct loan   Calque   Loan blend   Total
Traditional practices 53   2   1   56
Administration 1   42   -   43
Army 5   19   -   24
Decorations -   10   -   10
Education 32   22   -   54
Finance 7   29   -   36
Health 1   10   -   11
Law 5   5   -   10
Police 3   19   -   22
Politics 1   19   -   20
Post-office 2   5   3   10
Public service 1   10   -   11
Sports -   9   -   9
Technology 6   7   1   14
Territory management -   12   -   12
Others 1   1   -   2
Total 118

As this table shows, of the 344 cases of borrowing in the corpus, 118 are direct loans (34.3%), 221 are calques (64.24%) and 5 are instances of loan blend (1.45%). This clearly shows that loan translation is by far the dominant type of borrowing in this variety of English.

Regarding the sources of these loans, it should be recalled that two major lexifiers were identified above, namely Pidgin and French. In Table 6 is recorded the contribution of each source language. Note that under the label "Other sources" are entered the cases of identified loan blend, such as "fondom", which combine a Pidgin element "fon" and an English suffix "dom".

Table 6. Sources of loans in the corpus

Lexical domains Pidgin   French   Other sources   Total
Traditional practices 53   2   1   56
Administration -   43   -   43
Army -   24   -   24
Decorations -   10   -   10
Education -   54   -   54
Finance -   36   -   36
Health -   11   -   11
Law -   10   -   10
Police -   22   -   22
Politics -   20   -   20
Post-office -   7   3   10
Public service -   11   -   11
Sports -   9   -   9
Technology -   13   1   14
Territory management -   12   -   12
Others 1   1   -   2
Total 54

It can be inferred from the results in Table 6 that French is the major donor of borrowing in Cameroon English (82.8% of the cases identified) while Pidgin gives only 15.6%. Pidgin loans pertain to the domain of traditional practices, while French ones refer to the domains of government institutions and procedural practices such as Education (54 words), Administration (43 words) to name only these few.


This paper has shown how the lexicon of English in Cameroon is enriched by items drawn from other languages, namely, French, the other official language and Pidgin a popular lingua franca. These items fall into various semantic fields including education, army, sports and the like. Semantically, the French loans tend to refer to government procedural practices whereas Pidgin words tend to refer to traditional practices. Functionally, these borrowed words are used to solve specific communication problems: when they do not designate objects and concepts for which Standard English does not have a word, they are used to avoid wordiness and imprecision or to achieve economy and accuracy. When they are not used to fill in a cultural gap, they are used to facilitate quick and effective verbal exchanges among the anglophone and francophone communities of the country. In other words, borrowing and most specifically loan translation, can serve as a bridge linking people from differently linguistic and cultural backgrounds who are bound to co-habit in a civilised world.

© Jean-Paul Kouega (University of Yaounde I, Cameroon)


(1) In the absence of an official census, researchers estimate the anglophone population at around 20% of the total population.

(2) Newspapers like the following are now available on the internet: The Herald <>, Cameroon Tribune <>.

(3) The term "co-wife" is reported to be used in the anthropology literature, and to be popular among polygamist Mormons in the United States, who are obviously not exposed to French.

Appendix A: Lexical domains of the borrowed words in the corpus

Lexical domains Total
Traditional practices 56
Administration 43
Army 24
Decorations 10
Education 54
Finance 36
Health 11
Law 10
Police 22
Politics 20
Post-office 10
Public service 11
Sports 9
Technology 14
Territory management 12
Others 2
Total 344

Appendix B: Direct loans cited

accoucheur: male or female maternity ward nurse (midwife)
achu: pounded cocoyam tuber eaten with yellow soup
adjudant: non-commissioned Army officer
ashia: expression of greeting, of compassion and occasionally, of gut and defiance
bon de caisse: payment voucher
bordereau: mail enclosure slip
commandant: head of a gendarmes' office
concours: competitive entrance examination
demande d'explication: query
dodo: fried plantain chips
dossier: file
egusi: edible seeds of a melon-like plant
fon: traditional ruler in the west and Northwest provinces of cameroon
fufu/foofoo: a way of cooking consisting in pouring a flour into boiling water and stirring the paste till it gets done
greffier: court clerk
juju: medicine man, witch doctor
kaba: gown
kenekene: okra
licence: bachelor's degree, obtained in Cameroon after three years of university education
Ma (Cecilia): polite way of addressing a respectable woman called Mrs (Cecilia Ntubia)
makadju: dried cod fish
mallam: Muslim figure who organises the work of the mosque in a religious district
mandat: post-office money order
mbanya: wives in a polygamous set-up
na?: a universal tag replacing isn't it?, can't you?, shall we? etc.
ndole: leaves of a plant used as a vegetable
ngombe: alligator
njangi: (money obtained from) a traditional savings and loans scheme
nkang: corn gruel
nwerong: notability title in the Northwest province of Cameroon.
Pa (Manfred): polite way of addressing a respectable man called Mr (Manfred Mukete)
procureur: magistrate appointed by presidential decree to act as a public prosecutor in a low court
vignette: road tax disc

Appendix C. Calques cited

Cameroon English words   French words   Gloss
align a child   aligner un enfant   to register the birth of a child so as to be granted family allowances
attestation of presentation of the original of a diploma   attestation de présentation de l'original d'un diplôme   document attesting the origin of a diploma; authentication
brigade   brigade   a gendarmes' office
co-wife   co-épouse   wife in a polygamous set-up
controller   contrôleur   State auditor
decision   décision   work contract for low level State employees like drivers, cleaners, porters, etc.
delegation   délégation   branch of government employment which handles, at the level of a province, the affairs of a given State department
dispensary   dispensaire   medical establishment headed by a State registered nurse
financial controller   contrôleur financier   Auditor
gendarmerie territorial brigade   brigade de gendarmerie territoriale   gendarmes' office at the divisional level
good appetite   bon appetit   -
life certificate   certificat de vie   certificate indicating the size of one's family
minister of State   ministre d'Etat   chief minister
nominate   nommer   Appoint
nomination   nomination   appointment
prolongation   prolongation   extra time (in football)
receiver   receveur   State revenue paymaster for a division
secretary of State   sécrétaire d'Etat   vice-minister
sub-prefet   sous prefet   officer in charge of a third level territorial unit
text of application   texte d'application   standing orders


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7.1. Entlehnung und Übersetzung am Kreuzweg von Sprache und kulturellem Kontakt

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