Trans Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften 16. Nr. Juni 2006

1.5. Cultural Dynamism and Language Contact
Herausgeber | Editor | Éditeur: George Echu (University of Yaounde I)

Dokumentation | Documentation | Documentation

Pidginization of the French Language in Cameroon

George Echu (University of Yaounde I, Cameroon)



Since the 1980s, some studies carried out in Cameroon (Dang, 1986; Chia, 1990; Chia and Gerbault, 1992) seem to support the idea that Pidgin French is a reality in the country. Chia and Gerbault (1992) consider Cameroon Pidgin French and Camfranglais as two new speech forms of city dwellers in French-speaking Cameroon.

Refuting the existence of Cameroon Pidgin French, our study posits that Cameroon Popular French and Camfranglais are two pidginized local varieties of French that have developed in Cameroon, the first out of the necessity to communicate among people from heterogeneous backgrounds and the second as a secret code among young people. In fact, the two varieties of French come about through two distinct pidginization processes - one involuntary and the other voluntary. In spite of this basic difference, the two varieties have much in common in terms of users and their linguistic structure. And because both varieties are still undergoing pidginization, they may not be aptly considered as pidgins in their own right.

In all, the two pidginization processes operational in the two varieties clearly illustrate the relationship between language contact and cultural dynamism, the two speech forms being an expression of the culture of the highly multicultural Cameroonian setting.



A little over 30 years ago, Pierre Alexandre (1972) was of the opinion that nothing like Pidgin French exists in Cameroon, arguing that the only known pidgin in the country was Pidgin English (cf. Chia & Gerbault, 1992: 263). However, with the evolution of the language situation in Cameroon, certain significant changes have been observed. Some recent studies (Dang, 1986; Chia, 1990; Chia & Gerbault, 1992) clearly support the idea that Pidgin French is a speech reality in the country. In their work, Chia & Gerbault consider Cameroon Pidgin French as one of the new speech forms of city dwellers in French-speaking Cameroon, the other one being Camfranglais.

Our opinion is that these two varieties are still undergoing pidginization. Because they have not yet reached the level of being considered as languages in their own right, it would perhaps be rather mistaken to consider them as pidgins. Furthermore, these two varieties of French come about through two processes of pidginization (one involuntary and the other voluntary). Our study posits that Popular French and Camfranglais are two pidginized varieties of French that have developed in Cameroon, the first out of the necessity to communicate among people from heterogeneous backgrounds and the second as a secret code among young people. In spite of this basic difference, the two varieties have much in common: they are used principally in urban areas and have the same basic stucture in terms of lexical and morphosyntactic composition. In fact what Chia & Gerbault (1992) call Cameroon Pidgin French is not really a pidgin language in its own right. It is a type of spoken French widely used in the country either by school dropouts or by people who have not had an opportunity to learn French in a formal school setting. This variety of French will be referred to in our study as Cameroon Popular French (CPF)(1).


1. The French Languge in Cameroon

Although an official language in Cameroon since 1960 when the country became independent, the presence of French in Cameroon can be traced as far back as 1916. In that year, following the defeat of Germany by the allied forces in Cameroon during the Second World War, the territory was partitioned between the British and the French. The French obtained four-fifths of the country and administered it as an independent territory, while the British annexed their share to neighboring Nigeria.

In the new French territory, referred to as ‘French Cameroon’, French was not only taught in schools but was also used for the administration throughout the colonial period. At independence, French was logically adopted as the official language of the country not only because the linguistic diversity of the country did not permit the emergence of an indigenous language likely to play the role of official language, but also for reasons of national unity. French thus became the language of education, administration, politics, culture, the media, etc. In short, it became the language of communication for an important component of the population.

As an official language of the country (alongside with English), French is taught in school. This implies that its acquisition is primarily made possible within a formal framework, a fact supported by the literacy rate of the country that stands at 65% and the school attendance rate that stands at 70% (cf. Chumbow & Simo Bobda, 2000: 46). These figures indicate that a good number of Cameroonians can read and write French and/or English. In spite of the relatively high literacy rate compared to other Francophone African countries, many Cameroonians are still considered illiterate because they can neither read nor write in any of the official languages(2). Nevertheless, many Francophone Cameroonians who live in urban centers can speak a form of French, acquired mainly in informal situations. Of course, in the absence of a lingua franca that ensures nationwide communication, the French language functions as a language of wider communication in towns and cities of the francophone part of the country(3). We will refer to this variety as Cameroon Popular French (CPF), the French used by the common man (whether among the uneducated or school dropouts) and widely promoted in sketches of such popular humorists as Jean Miché Kankan, Daniel Ndo, Essindi Mindja and Dave K. Moktoi. Renaud (1976: 23) makes a distinction between what he refers to as dialectes regionaux et de "quartier" and français commun. According to him, the former is spoken by illiterates and school dropouts, while the latter is spoken by those who have limited educational background - usually incomplete secondary education. In our opinion, the distinction between these two categories or varieties is a difficult one from the practical point of view, especially when one takes into consideration the present language situation of the country. This explains our use of the term CPF to refer to the French spoken by the uneducated, dropouts, and all those who do not have adequate mastery of the language. Researchers have generally referred to it in the literature as le français de l’homme de la rue or simply le français populaire.

In recent years, another pidginized variety known as Camfranglais has cropped up in urban centres among the young active population. Created as a language in its own right through a mixture of French, English and indigenous languages, it is used as a secret code for intragroup communication while remaining virtually incomprehensible to non-speakers. An exclusively oral phenomenon employed in informal interaction (Fosso, 1999; Biloa, 1999b; Echu, 2001), Camfranglais is used for a wide range of subjects such as love, food and entertainment, family affairs, school life, day-to-day issues and sports discussions. Linguistically, it is characterized by the excessive simplification of morphological, lexical and grammatical structures (Echu, 2001), as well as the extensive use of neologisms (Tabi Manga, 2000: 168). Camfranglais in Cameroon is in several ways similar to Nouchi Abidjanais that was originally used by illiterate populations in Côte d’Ivoire trying to speak French, the language of prestige. Created by school dropouts, it soon became the language of marginal populations: delinquents, petty criminals, drug dealers, but also university students and other speakers (Chumbow & Simo Bobda, 2000: 52). Thus while people of various ethnic, social and linguistic backgrounds use CPF; Camfranglais is employed by young city dwellers (students, unemployed and hawkers) as a means of creating and consolidating intragroup awareness. While the first is natural and closer to Standard French, the second is artificial and limited to an age group ranging from 15 to 25 years. Furthermore, while the pidginization process in CPF could be described as involuntary, that in Camfranglais is voluntary (Chia, 1990: 122). Nevertheless, the pidginization strategies adopted by these two varieties of French are in many ways similar, as will be observed in the present study. Although both CPF and Camfranglais are basically oral varieties employed for informal interaction, they are sometimes written. Such is the case when used by humorists to create fun, by writers in creative works, or by researchers. In such instances, the written text is simply a reflection of the oral text. And because their orthography is not standardized, there exists a lot of divergence in spelling. From our study, there is every indication that Mühlhäusler’s (1986) stages of pidgin development (via jargon, stable pidgin, expanded pidgin and creole) are somehow inadequate in describing both CPF and camfranglais. While CPF is situated between a jargon and a stable pidgin, camfranglais is essentially a slang.

The corpus collected for this paper comes from a wide range of contexts: informal conversations recorded in Yaounde by the researcher, oral texts cited by other scholars, and excerpts of oral speech from some published literary works by Cameroonians. In analyzing the corpus, we do not loose sight of the fact that all popular varieties of language essentially reserved for communicative purposes are to some degree pidginized (Manessy & Wald, 1979: 22). Such pidginization entails the simplification of lexical and morphological structures, lack of rigidity in the application of grammatical rules, approximations, absence of concord, extensive borrowing from Cameroon Pidgin English (CPE), indigenous language calques, etc. In the study that follows, some of these processes will be analyzed so as to highlight their contribution to the pidginization of the French language in Cameroon.


2. Extensive Borrowing from Cameroon Pidgin English

As has been noted earlier, CPE is one of the main lingua francas of Cameroon, if not the most widely spread language of wider communication. Its influence is not only limited to the English-speaking part of the country; it extends to the Littoral and West provinces, as well as the major towns and cities of French-speaking Cameroon(4). Consequently, speakers of French borrow extensively from it, as can be observed in the following CPF and Camfranglais texts.

  1. CPF (Calixthe Beyala, 1987, p. 15)
    Bad luck! s’exclame le chauffeur indigné ! Tu as vu mon taxi? Aller dans un trou pareil? Jamais! 

  2. CPF (a politician speaking over the National Radio)
    Nous admirons le courage des bayam-sellam.
    (We admire the courage of foodstuff retailers)

  3. CPF (a street hawker addressing his friend)
    Beta  je vend au marché.
    (It is preferable for me to sell in the market)

  4. CPF (a 55 year-old woman greeting a medical doctor)
    Bonjour dokta.
    (Good morning doctor)

  5. CPF (In (a) a houseboy is talking to a fellow colleague, while (b) is taken from a novel by Lydie Dooh-Bunya, 1977, p. 270)
    a. La fille de mon patron est vraiment une mami-wata.
    (My boss’ daughter is a real beauty)
    b. C’est une mamie water
    (She is a beauty!)

In (1) above, bad luck signifies ill luck. It is used as an interjection to express unexpected situations, and is often articulated ‘barlok’ or simply ‘balok’ in CPF. Thus ‘bad luck’ used in the above text is closer to the Cameroon Standard English variant. In (2), the compound noun bayam-sellam refers to a small foodstuff retailer in urban centers; it comes from the English verbs ‘buy’ and ‘sell’. In (3), beta is the simplified form of the English word ‘better’ used in French to mean "preferable’. It should be noted here that the English word ‘better’ undergoes some form of simplification at the morphological level, the number of letters passing from six to four. This simplification is first perceived at the phonological level as observed below:

The case of dokta   in (4) is rather interesting in that this CPE word is not only used affectively to refer to medical doctors but also used generally for all medical personnel (nurse, mid-wife, laboratory technician, nursing aid, etc.). In (5), although the compound word ‘mami-wata’ has two different meanings in CPE (‘myriad’ which is the primary meaning and ‘woman of exceptional beauty’ which is the secondary meaning), the French language seldom makes use of the primary meaning of the word. It is the secondary meaning as seen from the examples above which is exploited in everyday French usage by Cameroonian speakers. In addition, because CPE is not standardized, one notices two different spelling forms of the word: mami-wata and mamie water.

Some other commonly used CPE words include motor boy, ngomna, poto-poto, and sita. The word motor boy is a compound noun which comes from the English words ‘motor’ and ‘boy’. Literally it refers to the assistant of a public transport bus driver. The motor boy is sometimes in charge of handling passengers’ luggage and collecting transport fare from passengers. Generally, he is someone who has no real professional skills, but may be an apprentice driver in some cases. The word ngomna is derived from the English word ‘government’. This word is polysemic in nature, given that it is sometimes used to mean the institution (government) or someone who work for the institution (administrator)(5). It is observed that in course of its integration into CPE, the word undergoes some morphological transformation, giving rise to a simplified version. In the same way, sita is a pidginized form of the English word ‘sister’. It is a respectable and affective way of referring to a woman, whether she is one’s sister in the real sense of the word or not. Depending on the way it is articulated, there are two different forms of the word observed in current Cameroon French usage: ’sita’ and ‘sista’. Generally, the use of CPE terms in Cameroon French contributes to the pidginization of the language, a type of pidginization that is necessary and positive in the lexical and semantic enrichment of the French language.

In the case of Camfranglais, virtually all the CPE loans observed in CPF are also present in this slang. However, the process of pidginization here is pushed even further as one notices other pidgin forms that are not normally used in CPF. The examples below illustrate this.

  1. Camfranglais (Fosso, 1999: 186)
    On tok que la wa qui long à côté de notre haus est au ngata.
    (It is said that the girl who lived close to our house has been imprisoned)
    ‘On dit que la fille qui habitait à côté de notre maison est en prison’

  2. Camfranglais (Fosso, 1999: 185)
    Nous sommes commot de la maison ensemble.
    (We left the house together)
    ‘Nous sommes sortis de la maison ensemble’

  3. Camfranglais (Fosso, 1999: 185)
    Je vais work trong pour win mon bacho.
    (I am going to work hard in order to succeed in the Baccalaureat examination)
    ‘Je vais travailler avec acharnement pour reussir au Baccalaureat’

  4. Camfranglais (Fosso, 1999: 185)
    Il y a une big resse qui est cam me falla au school l’autre day.
    (There is an elder sister who came to look for me the other day in school)
    ‘Il y a une soeur ainée qui est venue me chercher à l’école l’autre jour’

  5. Camfranglais (Fosso, 1999: 180)
    How bindi, tu mimba que j’ai de l’argent?
    (Younger brother, do you think I have money?)
    ‘Comment petit, tu penses que j’ai de l’argent?’

In the above Camfranglais utterances, there is extensive borrowing from CPE as can be observed in the use of words such as tok (‘talk’ or ‘say’), wa (‘wife’ or ‘woman’ in general), haus (‘house’), commot (from Standard English ‘come out’ meaning ‘to go out’), trong (from Standard English ‘strong’ meaning ‘hard’), cam (to come), falla (from Standard English ‘follow’ meaning ‘to look for’) and mimba (from Standard English ‘remember’ meaning ‘think’). Mention should be made of the fact that while CPF restricts its borrowing to indispensable lexical items such as nouns and interjections, Camfranglais extends such borrowing to include items such as verbs (tok, commot, cam, falla, mimba) and adjectives (trong). In an earlier study, Echu (2001: 216-220) highlights this phenomenon, pointing out many other recurrent lexical items from CPE that characterize the Camfranglais text such as fap (five), gi (give), lap (laugh), lep (leave), wat (white), wet (wait), cona (corner), djoum (jump), fia (fear), guip (give), hia (hear), loukot (look out), waka (walk) and wanda (wonder). Such accrued usage contributes to the pidginization of this French-based slang.

In all, extensive borrowing of lexical items by CPF and Camfranglais from CPE only goes a long way to contribute to the pidginization of the French language in Cameroon.


3. Reduplication

Both CPF and Camfranglais utterances are strongly marked by reduplication, which is the repetition of morphological and lexical elements within an utterance. Such repetition may be used to emphasize the intensity or duration of an action, express argumentative and diminutive values, or simply constitute an inherent feature of one of the indigenous contact languages. The following lexical structures are recurrent examples: doucement doucement (very slowly or very gently), nayor nayor (very slowly or very gently), penya penya (very new or in very good state), beaucoup beaucoup (in great quantity), un peu un peu (very little or in very small quantity), depuis depuis (a very long time ago), nyamanyama (very small; of little significance or value), keleng keleng (a local type of spinach), zouazoua (illicit fuel sold clandestinely in Cameroon and believed to be smuggled from Nigeria) and poto-poto (mud or something of no value). A few examples will be examined below.

  1. CPF (a father advising his son)
    Il faut aller doucement doucement; cette mission est délicate.
    (Go very gently; this mission is a delicate one)
    ‘Il faut aller très doucement; cette mission est délicate’

  2. CPF (a shopkeeper talking to the police)
    Il est sorti nayor nayor .
    (He went out very slowly)
    ‘Il est sorti avec élégance’

  3. CPF (a secondary school pupil talking about his teacher to a friend)
    Notre prof a acheté une occasion penya penya.
    (Our professor has bought a very new second hand car)
    ‘Notre professeur a acheté une voiture d’occasion très neuve’

The word nayor nayor  in (12) got into CPE from the Duala language(6). Since nayor means ‘slowly’ or ‘gently’, nayor nayor means ‘gently gently’ that is ‘very gently’ or ‘very slowly’. Although the use of ‘nayor nayor’ above is metaphoric, it nevertheless describes the manner of movement adopted. Like nayor nayor, penya penya in (13) is also a CPE word of Duala origin. Given that penya means ‘new’ in Duala, penya penya means ‘new new’ that is to say ‘very new’. Normally, the equivalent Standard French utterance should have read ‘Notre professeur a acheté une voiture d’occasion entrès bon état’, since a second hand car cannot semantically be qualified as ‘très neuve’ (very new).

In all, while lexical items like doucement doucement, nayor nayor, penyapenya, beaucoup beaucoup, un peu un peu and nyama nyama are adjectival structures that express intensity, some like zouazoua (of Igbo origin) and poto-poto (CPE) are inherent to the structure of indigenous languages.


4. Simplification at the Morphological, Lexial and Syntactic Level

As earlier noted, CPF and Camfranglais are characterized by simplification at the morphological, lexical and syntactic levels.

At the morphological and lexical level, these two varieties of French commonly resort to abbreviation. The general tendency is for Camfranglais to borrow abbreviated lexical items from CPF and local slang. Below are examples of such abbreviations.

asso (from the French word ‘associé’): customer, client

aff (from the French word ‘affaires’): business e.g. Comment va les aff?

Bami/Bams ( Bamiléké): business-oriented ethnic group in Cameroon

bao (from ‘baobab’): infuential person. This word is used metaphorically, since ‘baobab’ normally refers to the kapok tree.

beau (from the French ‘beau-frère’): son-in-law

bh (from ‘beignets’ and ‘haricots’): a meal made up of daugh nuts and beans

Camer (from the French ‘Camerounais’): a Cameroonian

clando (from the French ‘clandestin’): illegal mode of transport popularly used in the country

cosh (from the French ‘cochambrier’): roommate

cops/copo (from ‘copains’): friends

dan (from ‘dangereux’): dangerous

do/dos (from the word ‘dollars’): money

merco (from ‘Mercedes’): Mercedes car

Ngoa (from ‘Ngoa-Ekélé’): residential area in Yaounde where the University of Yaounde I is situated

palu (from the French word ‘paludisme’): malaria

pan (from the French word ‘pantalon’): trousers

prof (from the French word ‘professeur’): professor

Abbreviations of this kind can be explained from the fact that users of the language consciously shorten word length because of their familiarity with these words or concepts. In fact, lexical items frequently abbreviated are those in common use within the Cameroonian context. It also goes without saying that the quest for economy and simplification undoubtedly encourages the use of abbreviations in language varieties undergoing pidginization. Examples:

  1. CPF (a university student talking to another)
    Les cops de Ngoa adorent le bh.
    (Friends from Ngoa-Ekele enjoy daugh nuts and beans)
    ‘Les copains de Ngoa-Ekele adorent les beignets-haricots’

  2. CPF (a school dropout discussing with his friends)
    Ce bao-là est chiche comme un Bams.
    (This influential man is as greedy as a Bamileke)
    ‘Cet homme influent est chiche comme un Bamiléké’

  3. Camfranglais (Fosso, 1999:184)
    Mon pater m’a dit de lui bring ma nden.
    (My father told me to bring along my identity card)
    ‘Mon père m’a dit de lui apporter ma carte d’identité’

  4. Camfranglais (Fosso, 1999: 183)
    J’ai see un body hier qui m’a ask si j’étais en T au lycée.
    (I saw someone yesterday who asked me if I were in the final year of the high school)
    ‘J’ai vu quelqu’un hier qui m’a demandé si j’étais en Terminale au lycée’

  5. Camfranglais (Fosso, 1999: 183)
    Mon pater m’a gi le do de la bouf.
    (My father gave me the money for food)
    ‘Mon père m’a donné l’ argent de la bouffe’

Although we have simply referred to the morphological process that gives birth to the lexical items in italics above as abbreviation, the situation is much more complex. It entails in some cases regressive derivation, whereby syllables, letters or even entire words of the source language are suppressed. In (17) for instance, the abbreviation process retains only the first letter of the word ‘terminale’ which is T, while in (18) only the first syllable of the word ‘dollar’ (do) is retained. The case of nden in (16) is even more complex, since the French lexical item ‘carte d’identité’ undergoes morphological transformation in which it looses the noun ‘carte’, the preposition ‘de’, the letter ‘i’ and the two last syllables of the last word ‘tité’. And above all, through prefixation, the prefix ‘n’ is added to ‘den’ to give ‘nden’.

At the morphosyntactic level, Chia & Gerbault (1992) reveal in their study that CPF is characterized by reduction or simplification in verb conjugation, agreement, and the coordination and subordination system. Such forms of reduction or simplication are an inherent characteristic of pidgin languages or varieties undergoing pidginization. In short, CPF like Camfranglais often violates grammatical rules of the French language. Below are some examples.

  1. CPF (Chia & Gerbault, 1992: 273)
    Nous connais que le marché n’est pas.
    ‘Nous savons qu’il n’y a pas du marché’

  2. CPF (Chia & Gerbault, 1992: 273)
    Comment nous va faire?
    ‘Qu’allons-nous faire?’

  3. CPF (Chia & Gerbault, 1992: 273)
    Il faut que nous souffrez comme ça.
    ‘Il faut que nous souffrons ainsi’

The comic productions of Dave K. Moktoi and Jean Miché Kankan also provide interesting examples that have often been cited in this regard.(7)

  1. CPF (Dave K. Moktoi)
    -Taissez toi!
    -Je ne me taissez pas.
    ‘-Tais toi!
    -Je ne me tais pas’

  2. CPF (Jean Miché Kankan)
    Il faut que je pars lui voir.
    ‘Il faut que j’aille le voir’

A case like (22) above clearly violates the rules of agreement between subject and verb, while (23) reveals the speaker’s inability to properly use the French subjunctive form. He (the speaker) therefore resorts to the use of the present tense that is much simpler to handle, although grammatically the present simple fails to match with the structure ‘il faut que’. Other examples like (24) below constitute cases of grammatical irregularities in the French of uneducated speakers commonly heard on the street, in the market place, as well as in other situations of everyday interaction.

  1. CPF (Zang Zang, 1998: 371)
    J’ai beaucoup souffri.
    ‘J’ai beaucoup souffert’

In some other situations like (25) below, certain elements within the utterance are purely and simply omitted.

  1. CPF
    Il gentil quand même.
    ‘Il est quand même gentil’

We notice in the above utterance that the French verb ‘être’ used in the third person singular form is omitted. Utterances like these remind one of some French-based pidgins or Creoles spoken in certain parts of the world.

Since CPF varies from one region to another as well as from one class of speakers to another, while it may remain very close to Standard Cameroonian French in some cases, as those presented above, it may in other cases deviate enormously from the standard local norm(8). This is true of the subvariety of CPF spoken in the northern part of the country where the lingua franca is Fulfulde. The following excerpt from Séverin Cécile Abega’s short story entitled ‘Au Ministère du soya’ presents an interesting picture of CPF spoken by speakers from North Cameroon.

  1. CPF (Séverin Cécile Abega, 1982: 125)
    -Vous pensez que vous n’a pas besoin aussi de quelqu’un? Sé vous à hôpital, vous ne soignez que ton frère, votre ami, vous ne pas soigner les autres. Quand zé souis véni, vous avez dit que zé dois mourir parce que moi zé ne souis pas ton frère, parce que zé n’a pas mouillé la barbe de vous. Vous ici, z’être aussi dans mon bureau. Moi zé refisé aussi de vous vendre les soyas, parce que vous n’a pas mouillé ma barbe. Vous refisez me soigner, moi refisé vous vendre. Allez dirre! - Vous commandez là-bas, moi aussi zé commandé ici. Allez m’ackiser.
    ‘-Vous croyez que vous n’avez pas besoin de quelqu’un d’autre? C’est vous que j’ai rencontré à l’hôpital. Vous refusez de soigner les gens, en dehors de vos parents et amis. Lorsque j’étais à l’hôpital dernièrement, vous avez refusé de me soigner parce que je ne suis pas votre parent, parce que je ne vous ai pas corrompu. Ici, vous êtes aussi à mon bureau. Parce que vous ne m’avez pas corrompu, je ne vous vend pas le soya. Vous avez refusé de me soigner; je refuse aussi de vous vendre le soya. Allez au ciel! Vous êtes patron à l’hôpital, moi aussi je suis patron ici. Allez vous faire foutre!’

The speaker, whose name is Garba, is a professional salesman of roasted meat commonly known in Cameroon as ‘soya’. In the text, he refuses to sell soya to a nurse who some days before refused to give him medical attention at the hospital when he suffered from an injury. We notice from his speech that pidginization is characterized by cases of interference at the phonological and morphosyntactic level, absence of agreement, omission of certain elements, etc.


5. Indigenous Language Calques

Indigenous language calques are another main source of pidginization. Here, the interference of indigenous languages on CPF is at the morphosyntactic level. In short, while speaking French, certain speakers simply translate verbatim indigenous language expressions. This results in the introduction of apparently strange constructions in the French language, constructions that can only be understood and appreciated within the local context. Examples:

  1. CPF (an uncle talking to his nephew)
    Tu cherche déjà les femmes à ton âge?
    (Do you make advances to women at your age?)
    ‘Tu fais déjà la cour aux femmes à ton age?’

  2. CPF (Zang Zang, 1998: 381)
    La maison regarde la route.
    (The house is situated opposite the road)
    ‘La maison est située face à la route’

  3. CPF (Zang Zang, 1998: 381)
    Même les professeurs gâtent aussi les filles d’autrui.
    (Even teachers have sexual relations with other people’s daughters)
    ‘Même les professeurs entretiennent aussi des relations coupables avec les filles d’autrui’

  4. CPF (Mendo Zé, 1999: 61)
    Ce football va tuer un cadavre.
    (This football match stands the risk of degenerating into a deadly scuffle)
    ‘Cette rencontre de football risque de dégénérer en bagarre mortelle’

The above utterances are calques from indigenous languages that the speakers transfer over to the French language. In (27) for instance, the indigenous language expression ‘chercher les femmes’ actually means ‘faire la cour aux femmes’ (to make advances to women). In (28), the utterance ‘La maison regarde la route’ gives the impression that the house is animate whereas what the speaker means is that the house is situated opposite the road. In (29), the expression ‘gater les filles d’autrui’ will appear bizarre to a native speaker; but it simply mean ‘to have sexual relations with other people’s daughters’. Finally, the utterance ‘Ce football va tuer un cadavre’ in (30) which is a calque from the Bulu language just means that the football match stands the risk of degenerating into a deadly scuffle.

Another interesting aspect of indigenous language calques is observed in the repetition of certain clause structures within the sentence for reasons of emphasis. The following examples with regard to usage among Basaa speakers of CPF illustrate this phenomenon:

  1. CPF (Biloa, 1999a: 71)
    Pour atteindre ma maison, tu marches, tu marches, tu marches,
    tu marches.
    (To get to my home, you walk a very long distance)

  2. CPF (Biloa, 1999a: 71)
    Mon père étant fâché, il gronde, il gronde, il gronde encore.
    (When angry, my father bullies a lot)

In the two utterances above, the repetition of the clauses ‘tu marches’ and ‘il gronde’ reveal the intensity of the action being described.

In all, if CPF speakers prefer indigenous language calques it is because while speaking French they naturally transfer linguistic elements they are already familiar with onto the target language for practical reasons. This process is made possible because of their inadequate mastery of the French language.



So long as French continues to assume the role of lingua franca in Cameroon, it will always be widely used by speakers of diverse ethnolinguistic backgrounds. Such accrued usage in informal contexts contributes to its pidginization. Although the pidginization of French is naturally associated with the existence of such varieties as CPF and Camfranglais, it should be noted that the multilingual situation of the country in itself is a factor that contributes to the pidginization process. The fact that CPF and Camfranglais texts reveal multiple infuences from various languages such as English, CPE and indigenous languages is a factor that facilitates pidginization. Finally, the existence of CPF and Camfranglais simply express the extent to which linguistic vitality, cultural dynamism and language contact may give rise to new forms of expression.

© George Echu (University of Yaounde I)


(1) This abbreviation should not however be confused with that used by Chia (1990) to refer to what he calls Cameroon Pidgin French.

(2) It should be noted that the literacy rate in Sub-Saharan African countries is determined exclusively through the use of European languages, a legacy of colonization. Competence in other languages like Arabic is often ignored as constituting a determinant of literacy.

(3) As a lingua franca, French is mainly used in the Centre, South, East, West and Littoral provinces, generally among speakers of different ethno-linguistic origins. This does not imply that it is not used in other parts of the country in the same capacity. Although Fulfulde is the dominant lingua franca in the three northern provinces and Pidgin English in the two Anglophone provinces, French is still used in these areas by a minority of the population.

(4) Cameroon is made up of ten provinces, two of which are English-speaking and eight French-speaking. The Littoral and West provinces are Francophone provinces neighboring to the Anglophone provinces, a situation which probably explains the high number of pidginophones in these provinces. As regards the major towns and cities in the other Francophone provinces, the influence of CPE can be explained by the movement of Anglophone Cameroonians and other pidginophones from countries like neighboring Nigeria to these urban centres.

(5) According to Séverin Cécile Abega (1982:13), the word ngomna is defined as follows: "administrateur en général, préfet, sous-préfet, maire ou tout autre fonctionnaire du gouvernement" (generally administrator, Senior Divisional Officer, Divisional Officer, mayor or any government official). However, the author’s definition is limited to those that work for the institution rather than the institution itself.

(6) It is interesting at this point to note that being a contact language, CPE derives many of its lexial items from indigenous Cameroonian languages. Thus lexical items like nayor nayor, penya penya, nyamanyama and keleng keleng enter CPF and Camfranglais through CPE. At times it becomes even difficult for language users in Cameroon to trace their origin beyond CPE.

(7) Dave K. Moktoi and Jean Miché Kankan are two Cameroonian humorists whose theatrical production is a reflection of CPF, as seen from the manner in which the main characters of their sketches speak. Their work has gained the admiration of the vast majority of Cameroonians, especially within the French-speaking community.

(8) It should be recalled that since the literacy rate in the north of the country is lower than that in the south, this affects the level of French spoken in the two regions. The more illiterate the speakers, the more pidginized is their speech. Thus the French spoken by northerners appears to be much more pidginized that that spoken by southerners.


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1.5. Cultural Dynamism and Language Contact

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