TRANS Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften 17. Nr. März 2010

Sektion 2.3. Minoritäre Sprachen und Kulturen
Sektionsleiter | Section Chairs: Raschid S. Alikajew (Naltschik, Russische Förderation) | Fritz Peter Kirsch (Universität Wien) | George Guţu (Universität Bukarest)

Dokumentation | Documentation | Documentation

German Influences on Cameroon Pidgin English

Brigitte Weber (Alpe Adria University) [BIO]




This paper examines possible German influences on Cameroon Pidgin English (CPE), otherwise known as Kamtok, a rich variety of West African Pidgin English spoken in Cameroon. The rich and diverse sources of CPE reflect the historical conditions of this multiethnic and multilingual country. Research on CPE has tended to focus mainly on sociolinguistic issues, while neglecting German influences on the language. In her work, Loreto Todd (1984) briefly considers German sources in the lexicon of CPE but does not explore the link comprehensively. Our study attempts to examine possible relics of German at the lexical and grammatical levels of Kamtok, given that German colonial influence in Cameroon lasted from 1884 to 1916 during which time this language was used as a lingua franca.



For an historical analysis of the language a study of its sources is essential. The character of CPE during the period of more than thirty years of German presence has been described in several documents which give some insight into its use between 1884 and 1916. Germans used CPE extensively and left their mark on it. My research involves a comparison of this older variety at all linguistic levels with modern spoken and written texts.

Contact with German has certainly left its traces on CPE. It is sometimes difficult to be certain whether a vocabulary item, for example, is derived from German or English. It is often the case that Dutch, English and German have similar etymologies. As one would expect, results vary according to speakers and texts. The research shows the variety and creativity of CPE and its speakers.

This paper comprises two main aspects. The first throws light on the situation of CPE under German administration and the second discusses possible influences from German on present-day CPE. The analyses are based on a study of recorded ‘Narrative Interviews’ and modern written texts. A large part of this qualitative data collection was carried out for my PhD thesis (December 2008).


Cameroon Pidgin English under German administration
Historical background

A treaty on behalf of the German Chancellor Bismarck with the Duala Kings Akwa and Bell set their territories, the area opposite the island Fernando Po in the Bay of Biafra, under German ‘protection’. It was in July 1884 that this official occupation by Germany took place. This treaty was created on behalf of the German company Woermann (Wolf, 2001: 52). The settlement consisted of about three villages called after the Duala chiefs Akwa, Bell and Deido (even today quarters of the city of Duala are still named after the three chiefs.). The Germans called it ‘Kamerun Stadt’ and eventually ‘Kamerun’ became the name for the whole protectorate. The medical doctor Gustav Nachtigal, an explorer and formerly German consul in Tunis, had been sent to the Guinea coast by chancellor Bismarck to investigate the “state of German commerce” in the area (Le Vine, 1971:4) and finally signed the friendship-trading and protectorate treaties there. Before he continued his trip to Southwest Africa, he established Dr. Buchner as the temporary representative of the German Reich for Cameroon and Bimbia. Buchner was advised especially to win the trust of the native kings and chiefs, to understand their needs and desires, and assist them in the pursuit thereof (Tunis, 2002:98ff.). There was a serious native uprising in December 1884 against German authority by the people of Hickory Town, despite King Bell’s disapproval. Dr. Buchner summoned Admiral Knorr of the Kriegsmarine to suppress the rebellion. Admiral Knorr destroyed Hickory Town and threatened to expel anyone who was supporting the rebels.

German adminstration in the colony began under Soden (1885-1891), the first governor. Soden only had a handful of personnel and few troops and, thus, was not yet able to extend German influence into the interior. There were still only between ten and fifteen officials by 1890, including one teacher (Rudin, 1938: 207). At this time, colonial administration was taking shape. The country was divided up into ‘Bezirke’ under the authority of ‘Berzirksamtmänner’. A system of courts was established under the direction of these administrators. The first court, or ‘Schiedsgericht’ (court of arbitration) was under the authority of Soden’s chancellor, Leist. Chancellors were given authority over all legal affairs. There were different courts for whites and blacks. In 1892, the first system of courts for blacks was established in Duala (Rudin, 1938: 200). Native chieftains were responsible for the punishment of all crimes except those punishable by death. German officials were often called in to settle cases among natives and, of course, had to use natives as interpreters.

The jungle, wild animals and insects, disease, and hostile natives were major obstacles to German expansion. But they made steady progress into the hinterland over the next two decades. As the geographical situation seemed favourable enough, they decided to dry out the swamp and use it economically. Yet while the Germans were building the first railway, many of them died of malaria because of the damp climate and the mosquitoes. In 1901, Buea became the capital because the Germans found the climate there more agreeable and healthier. In 1907, the settelment of Akwa, Bell and Deido was called Duala after the ethnic group of Duala.

The Deutsche Kolonialzeitung (August, 1908) contains an article on the history of the exploitation and conquest of Cameroon. When, in 1884, the German flag was hoisted at the Cameroon River, the country as such was unknown due to the thick jungle, the very unhealthy climate and the jealous natives with their blocked trade. From the 19th century, however, several travel accounts - among others by the German explorer Heinrich Barth (Travels and Discoveries in North and Central Africa in the Years 1849-1855) – bear witness of scientific expeditions and contain studies of indigenous languages. Also the large valley around Lake Chad had been the goal of several explorations which are reported in extensive literature. The area south of the Benue River was explored by Robert Flegl on his voyages from 1879 to 1883. There was the great Bornu Empire around Lake Chad and the emirate of Adamawa and a part of the great Fulbe Empire of Sokoto visited by Heinrich Barth in the middle of the 19th century. Great trade routes crossed the country.

From 1885, the Germans started with systematic expeditions throughout the country. While they first explored the South, the English and the French had easier access to the interior country by moving along on the rivers. Eugen Zintgraff (1895) succeeded as the first to break through the jungle to the highlands and Sudan. He founded the station “Baliburg” which was intended to be a German base for the hinterland.

Eventually, the Germans succeeded in establishing a connection between the area of the Society of South Cameroon in the South East and the coast. The boundaries were fixed against the French area in 1911 with a treaty between Germany and France. The greatest achievement of all these expeditions was in the domain of cartography.

The German administration developed a basic infrastructure: wharves and docks at Duala, Kribi, Campo, Tiko, and Victoria; rail lines north from Duala to Nkongsamba and west almost to Yaounde as well as the railroad serving Victoria plantation; a large number of bridges, raods and paths; and well constructed public and private buildings, many of which are still in use today. The productive plantation economy can also be attributed to German initiative (Le Vine, 1971: 5; De Lancey, 1990). For the achievement of their aims, Germans have been accused of using harsh methods. CPE still has the expression kasingo ‘whip’, ‘cane’ derived from kaisa i gnu ‘the Kaiser’s whip’. In the ‘Koloniale Rundschau’ (1909: 11) it is written that all colonial work done by natives was voluntary. Rüger (1960: 221 ff.) and Eckart (1997: 231 ff.), however, see this from a different angle. Natives were often bound together during the journey from their homes to the plantations (Rudin, 1938: 326). Native policemen were paid to supervise this transport but also used the workers themselves to carry goods for trade. The workers either lived directly on the plantations or were placed in reservations nearby. Workers from the interior regions were used to the higher altitudes and the climate of the plateau. The forced marches to the lowlands around Victoria could be fatal because of malaria, with which the highlanders were not familiar. Living conditions in the lowlands were often dreadful and resulted in a high mortality rate. Other than malaria, dysentery, tuberculosis, pneumonia, and poisoning were the most common causes of death. Death rates on plantations ranged from 7% to 25% (Rudin, 1938: 328). Planters placed the workers in barracks, sometimes all mixed together without regard for regional differences or whether members of certain tribes were hostile to each other (Rudin, 1938: 327). Natives must have had some means of communicating with each other beyond their regional languages and dialects, a lingua franca like Pidgin English. Todd confirms that Pidgin English was used among natives especially on these large plantations (Todd, 1975: 232). By 1913, there were 58 plantations and 185 planters, who employed 17, 827 native workers (Rudin, 1938: 222). Yet Le Vine points out that

[…] whatever can be said of some of their methods or motives, the Germans maintained a colonial administration in the Kamerun that compares favorably with any other in Africa at the time […]. The “Kamerun” became […] a potent and evocative symbol of a half-mythical “golden age” when the Cameroon was one and undivided (1971: 6).

Before colonization it was the ethnic background that defined cultural and linguistic identification. When Cameroon became a polity under German administration in 1884, it was for the first time that an awareness of national identity arose. Those thirty-two years have certainly had a strong impact on Cameroon’s population. Although the natives’ identity-consciousness was still based on their ethnic cultural background, an additional national identity-awareness was born grounded on a feeling of unity and togetherness under the German Colonial Government. The German language was not imposed, however, and the general German policy was to interfere as little as possible in tribal life and customs (Rudin, 1938: 213). CPE was used for evangelization and in administration. It spread during those years.


1.2. German literature on language use

Cover page of ‘Deutsch = Kamerun’.

Abb.: Cover page of ‘Deutsch = Kamerun’


The above picture shows the front page of one of the most detailed and comprehensive descriptions of the protectorate. Within the twenty pages on language use (Seidel, 1906: 196ff.), Seidel reports about German government officials and tradesmen who are supposed to know the main indigenous language of their district and sometimes use proven interpreters for languages they do not know. Yet he adds regretfully that most Germans have always used this horrible coastal English (scheussliches Küsten=Englisch) and then demonstrates its ‘corrupt nature’. Scientific expedition reports (Buchner, Hutter, Mansfeld, Zintgraff, Zöller) do include observations of and opinion about language use. Official reports on colonial affairs are published in Das Deutsche Kolonialblatt and Die Deutsche Kolonialzeitung and in such accounts short articles on ‘Negerenglisch’ are to be found. The language question is also discussed in  Koloniale Rundschau, a monthly “for the interests of our protectorates and their inhabitants”; the annual report from the Colonial Office (Reichskolonialamt); Kamerun-Post, Unabhängiges und einziges Organ für die wirtschaftlichen Interessen der deutschen Schutzgebiete Kamerun und Togo (independent and only organ for the economic interests of the German Protectorates Cameroon and Togo). Furthermore there are books and diaries including observations about language use and examples of ‘Negerenglisch’ or ‘Kamerun-Englisch’. The missions published reports about their educational programmes and devoted large sections to the language question in general and more or less to the use of CPE in particular. The attitude of the German government towards this language is rather negative, yet its usefulness is acknowledged.

A rich source of original documents is Schuchardt’s literary and partly handwritten legacy located at the university library Graz/Austria. The orthography is similar to English. Germans had more or less knowledge of English and automatically transferred its spelling to Pidgin English in writing. Pronunciation shows German influence in the spelling of ‘catch’ as ‘ketch’. The absence of the English open, front, unrounded vowel is replaced by the mid, front, unrounded vowel of German. In grammar, there is a mixture of English and Pidgin features.

The use of swine is obviously influenced by German ‘Schwein’. It might even have been pronounced /shvain/ as Sala and Ngefac demonstrate (1986).

The replacement of /sh/] by /s/ at word-initial position in current CPE usage is another way through which depidginisation is taking place. (PhiN 36/2006: 34)

The most essential key document during the German presence in Cameroon is Gunther von Hagen’s Kurzes Handbuch für Neger=Englisch an der Westküste Afrikas unter besonderer Berücksichtigung von Kamerun (Berlin 1908).  The author, a lieutenant in the German colonial army, emphasizes the urgent need for a manual of ‘Negerenglisch’ by means of which ‘everyday needs can be asked for at any time’. He points out in his preface that most Germans, above all officers, traders and sergeants have to move inland only a few days after their arrival in Africa, with a couple of Africans but without an experienced white guide. If they are not able to communicate with the Africans of their group, they entirely depend on their arbitrariness with regard to difficulties concerning board and lodging. This might cause a delay for the troop’s itinerary (p.3). Hagen further indicates that ‘with some knowledge of this language it is possible to communicate within the whole protectorate as there are natives everywhere who speak it and thus can serve as interpreters’. Before he starts with a list of words, he explains some general language rules; e.g. pronunciation and the signs used for its illustration, and also the special use of the verb. He shows that there is no inflection but addresses the problem of aspect in a section and demonstrates that “the arrival of a person can be expressed in three ways:

i don kam (in Kamtok today)

In terms of grammar, the aspect of recent past expressed with don was well recognized here as opposed to Buchner in 1886. The progressive and inceptive aspect is expressed by live for in the example: Lamina lif for kom (p. 62), ‘L. is coming’. In the examples: potta=potta lif bifor (p.61) ‘there is a swamp in front’ and elefant lif for busch? (p. 58) ‘are there any elephants in the bush’? lif is used to express existence. Although in Kamtok today it has been replaced by de, it still occurred in Cameroon comparatively recently and is also found in early liturgical documents (Todd, personal communication).

The construction: man no fit pass dem potta=potta (p.50), ‘the swamp is not accessible/walkable’ may well be influenced by the German construction ‘man kann nicht durch den Sumpf gehen’ which would be English ‘you cannot go via/cross the swamp’ (literally: ‘one cannot pass the swamp’).

German word order might be seen in the two following examples:

[…] oal kago köm for dem palawerhaus inseit (p. 51), engl.’all cargo goes inside the’, German: ‘alle Lasten kommen in das Palaverhaus hinein’.

Koal dem soldjer for autseit back (p. 65) would be engl. ‘call back the soldiers outside’, German: rufe die Soldaten draussen zurück.’

The typically German ‘external possessor’ construction is apparent in the sentence: (oal) mei skin hot mi (p. 44),Engl. ‘my skin hurts’. German: ‘die/meine Haut brennt mir’. In this typically German construction there are two different arguments, a subject (skin/Haut) and a dative NP (mi/mir). In the English sentence, however, possessor and possessum are expressed by one phrase. In the pidgin sentence mei is redundant, as is German ‘meine’ (König/Gast, 2007: 115).

As this manual is an important document arranged by Germans for Germans, it is likely that possible influences or reinforcements happened on today’s Kamtok through it.

Hagen’s way of dealing with pronunciation is presented according to the phonetic system employed in the ‘Method of Toussaint-Langenscheidt’ (1856). In the middle of the 19th century the German Gustav Langenscheidt had developed a method of self-study learning materials, first for French and English, later for other European languages. With his methodology of language learning the main focus had shifted from grammar to pronunciation and communication skills. He created the first easy-to-use phonetic system as part of the ‘Toussaint-Langenscheidt method’. It was, however, much influenced by the German spelling system and orthography.


Cameroon Pidgin English – a century later

2.1 Phonology

Even if there is great variation regarding the pronunciation of my informants, some general similarities between CPE and German can be observed:

2.2 Syntax

Similarities between Cameroon Pidgin English and German syntactic structures cannot always be explained by German influence exclusively, but a reinforcing effect can be considered likely.

Question-word questions in CPE reveal similar terminologies to German, in particular with earlier pidgin language. In Hagen’s handbook for the German soldiers, ‘why’ is listed as for wot (1908: 39), with the English translation for what, and German ‘warum’ (dialectal: ‘für was’). A similar use is shown in Féral’s description (1989: 140):

8)         yu        di         mekam            fo weti?
2SG     AUX     make-BOPR    for what?
why do you do it?
warum / wozu (für was) machst du das?


9)            foseka weti                 wuna                di                 ste          fo            haus?
for-sake what          2PL            AUX             stay        PREP        house?
why are you staying at home/ in the house?
warum bleibt ihr zu Hause?


German speakers use ‘zu Hause’(sein) for ste fo haus,English (to be) at home’, but alternatively German ‘nach Hause’ or ‘heim’ (gehen) for English ‘(to go)home’.
In Féral’s (1989: 140) corpus, there is a similar question to

10)       Yu            di           mek           weti?
2SG           AUX          make          what
What are you doing?

As these data from the francophone part of Cameroon show a more conservative Pidgin English, which might well reflect characteristics from colonial times when Germans communicated in Pidgin English. Thus an inevitable acceptance of Germanisms took place. German ‘tun’ (do) and ‘machen’ (make) are considered synonyms and interference happens frequently. French ‘faire’, however, a single item for both English verbs do and make, does not possibly contribute to a better differentiation. For Cameroonians of the francophone provinces there would not have been any reason to prefer ‘make’ to ‘do’, unless they were very educated and might have had Latin ‘facere’(>faire) in mind  which is more similar in meaning to English ‘make’ , implying the idea of producing, rather than performing, as does English ‘do’.
A frequent and rather polite construction for imperative sentences in CPE involves the modal verb mek (make). It is used with all persons:

11)       mek               a               go
make          1SG              go
let me go

12)       mek              yu /wuna             kam
make            2SG / 2PL            come
come (please)

In German as well, the actor can be defined explicitly, as in:

13)       komm du (doch her)!  /  kommt ihr (doch)
come    2SG (just here) / come   2PL (just)
(do) come

This construction is statistically less common than the use of the imperative verb form only (Kufner, 1962: 5). In any imperative sentence, the verb is always in first position in German. The above structure addresses one or several specific persons of a group and is widespread in school situations.

In Afrikaans, the actor–action construction is the norm and ‘maak’ is always used:

14)     maak      jy        hardloop / sit
make     2SG       run /sit
run / sit

15)     maak        julle      hardloop / sit
make       2PL        run / sit

In Dutch, as in German, the actor can be defined explicitly:

16)       kommen        jullie      hier
come           2PL          here
come here


This construction is colloquial, but frequent (personal communication with J.L., Dutch teacher). The very formal variety would be:

17)       komt              hier
come 2PL      here
come here


In both German and Dutch, there is the idiomatic use:

18)       mach,            dass           du             weg/ weiterkommst
make             that              2SG           get away / get ahead
get along with you / come on
19)       maak                 dat                  je                    weg komt
make                 that                 2SG                    disappear
get along with you

‘make’ as a full verb is used in

20) German: mach’s   gut,
Dutch: maak het goed
make   3SG   good
English:    all the best

The use of ‘make’ in such contexts does not occur in English.

The only type of clause which may serve to modify nominal elements in CPE is the relative clause. It is marked by the complementizer we (<where). We is not sensitive to the human, male/female, singular/plural distinctions and is thus an omnipurpose relativizer. It obviously developed from a locative adverb to a locative relativizer and extended to a more general use. ‘We’ also occurs in Tok Pisin in the same function. This suggests either a universal principle or its use by the Germans both in Cameroon and in Papua New Guinea.

21)       a        bin        si     plenty          man dem      we         dem      di        go   fo...
1SG….AUX    see   plenty         man-PL         REL         3PL          AUX    go   PREP
I saw lots of men (who were) going to….


22)       wai     yua    lanboi dem       di    du    ting    weh   loh   e   no     gri     sei…
why    POSS   learnboy-PL      AUX   do  thing  REL  law  3SG  NEG   agree that
why are your disciples doing the thing (which) the law does not agree with?
(Mark 223)

In CPE, there is no difference between restrictive and non restrictive relative clauses as there is in English. There may or may not be a resumptive pronoun. The same occurs in most African varieties of English, except South Africa and in the north of Britain (A Handbook of Varieties of English, CD-Rom)

23)       hos       we           i               di           pas     fo        rot      (i)     bi     wail     hos
hors       REL       3SG       AUX       pass              PREP      road    (3SG)   be    wild    horse
the horse which passes by on the road is a wild horse


Also in German, the local conjunction ‘wo’ (where) has been generally accepted as a relativizer, as in the following examples:

For places: …er hat einen neuen Job gefunden bei einer Firma, wo er sich wohl fühlt (he has found a new job with a company where he feels good) (Duden, 2005:1050), or: eines der schönsten Dörfer, wo ich je gesehen habe (K. is one of the most beautiful villages [where] I have ever seen) (ibid: 1043)

For things: Die Arbeit, wo mir gefällt (the work [where] I like). (ibid: spoken language from an internet forum).

For persons: die sympathischste Schwäbin, wo ich kenne (the most likeable Swabian [where] I know)

A markedly German characteristic is the construction with external possessors which can be found in CPE as well. It corresponds to constructions with internal possessors in English. Let’s look at two examples:


29)       krash         mi                    ma          bak,         a                 beg.
Scratch    OPR                POSS         back        1SG            beg
scratch my back, please
German: Bitte, kratze mir den Rücken (yet colloquial: kratz mir mein(en) Rücken)


30)       ma          skin       hot            mi
POSS      skin        hot         OPR
My skin burns
German: Mir brennt die Haut (yet colloquial: Mir brennt mei Haut)

A comparison of the two sentences in three languages shows that the German sentence has one argument more than the English counterpart and thus shows an increase in valency. The additional argument is a dative NP (mir…). Body parts take the definite and not the possessive article in Standard German, yet they sometimes do in colloquial speech (SEE above). They always take the possessive determiner (pronoun) in English. CPE seems influenced by both. There is one argument more like in the German sentence, and the body part is determined by a possessive pronoun as in English and also in German vernacular. Although CPE draws from both languages, German is more strongly represented.

As is stated by König and Gast (2007: 115) […] “an external possessor is generally encoded by a dative object in German. The traditional term employed in grammars of German for this use of the dative is ‘Pertinenzdativ’ or ‘dative of possession”. This is unique of German and also observable in CPE, in particular, in documents written by Germans.

Among several possibilities for the expression of emphasis, CPE resembles German with its use of the focus particle sef ‘selbst’ (self). It is derived - and has extended in meaning - from the reflexive pronoun with which it is identical in form. It is used where in English the adverb ‘even’ occurs. In German there is the additive or inclusive focus particle ‘selbst’ (self). The particle sef can be used to modify a verb:

31)       i         ron        go     folo         sef          bOt        di    pikin       don     go        ol ol
3SG   run        go    follow         even     but        DET     child       AUX     go      all all
he went off and ran even after the child but he/she had gone completely
German: Er lief weg und verfolgte sogar/selbst das Kind, aber es war ganz verschwunden.

32)  i              no                di             luk               swain               sef
3SG       NEG                AUX            look             pig                   self
He did not even look at pig
German: Er sah selbst das Schwein nicht an


In this last example, ‘sef’ can also be understood as the modifier of the noun ’swain’.
A very frequent grammatical word of CPE is the impersonal pronoun man, German ‘man’ and the indefinite pronoun CPE man, English ‘somebody’. German ‘man’ derives historically from a noun meaning ‘man’, ‘person’. In CPE as well as German, man refers to unspecific individuals or groups of individuals (König/Gast, 2007: 235; Duden/4: 327). In English, there is no equivalent pronoun and the various uses of CPE man have different translations in English. The closest equivalent is the pronoun ‘one’ which can be used in most cases (e.g. if Godgive man krokro…>’if God gives one a skin desease…’ or: dis kata fit kil man!>’this cold could kill one!’). In German it is always possible to use ‘man’ or its suppletive forms of dative and accusative (einem, einen). German ‘man’ always stands for human referents as it does in CPE. The construction: man we …, in German usually ‘wenn man…’ is expressed in English as ‘a man who…’, ‘a person who…’.

CPE man appears frequently in idiomatic expressions stating general truths or in proverbs, as in:

Man no run (don’t give up or abandon in the last minute’),
Fo sho man pepe (to deal severely with someone)
(German: Man muß ihm das Messer ansetzen=one has to threaten him with a knife)
mek no man eva laf i fren (let nobody ever laugh at his friend) (Todd, 1991: 87).

Concluding, some of the features that CPE shares with German are:

no use of indefinite articles in certain negative sentences (i no get moto) and with professions (ma sista na titsha)
construction of the possessive noun phrase
construction of the external possessor
adjectives and adverbs are identical in form
use of mek for Engl. ‘do’ and also for imperatives
certain constructions with the indefinite pronoun man
use of the particle sef as intensifier
the preposition wit used with dishes
use of resumptive pronouns

Syntactic constructions that show similarities between CPE and German are perhaps only to be expected in view of Germany’s colonial role. Also the fact that grammatical words have been borrowed (bin, der, dem, den) - which is unusual in contact situations - seems to be an indication of good social relations between the Germans and the native population. As there are more differences between English and German grammar than between English and German vocabulary, German influences on CPE grammar are more easily detected.

2.3    CPE Lexicon

A large number of CPE expressions can be derived either from German or English. Germans communicating in pidgin may have – according to their knowledge of English - used an English word and others a cognate German word, both being considered identical by the natives. Many lexical units have multiple origins and thus have – according to Mühlhäusler (1997: 2) - a high survival rate in pidgin languages. Early reports of this phenomenon are found by Schuchardt for the Lingua Franca where Arabic loans were introduced “due to similarity with corresponding Romance forms”. The following lists of words fall into this category and those CPE items that seem to be clearly derived from German are highlighted.

The following semantic fields have been suggested in the ‘Lingua Descriptive Studies Questionnaire’ (Comrie and Smith, 1977).



broda brother Bruder
elder/younger brother großer /
kleiner Bruder
fada father Vater
folobak follow back Nachfolger
ma, mama, mami mum, mother Mama, Mutter, Mutti
bik-mami grandmother Grossmutter
man man Mann, Ehemann
onkul uncle Onkel
pa, papa pa, papa Papa
bik-papa grandfather Grossvater
sista sister Schwester
bik-,smol- sista elder/younger sister große/kleine Schwester

The meaning of ‘husband’ for man in CPE is equivalent to German ‘Mann’ (short for ‘Ehemann’) and the same applies to the meaning of ‘wife’ (e.g. ‘housewife’ in English) for woman which is ‘Frau’ for both in German. Earlier, there was a difference in OHG and MHG where wīb>Weib was used for a married woman.



ai eye Auge
bele belly Bauch
biabia beard-beard Bart
blot blood Blut
bon bone Bein, Gebein
fingga finger Finger
fut foot Fuss
han hand Hand
hat heart Herz
het head Haupt
iya, ie, oa ear Ohr, Ähre
kini knee Knie
liva liver Leber
maut, mot mouth Mund
nos nose Nase
sholda shoulder Schulter
ton tongue Zunge

Two of these seventeen names, with both German and English etymologies, are probably more German than English: oa and kini. They are still used by elderly pidgin speakers . As in modern English ‘knee’ the first sound has not been pronounced, it would have been appropriate for pidgin speakers to take this expression over as ni which would perfectly match with the pidgin syllable structure. The fact that ‘k’ is pronounced shows obvious German influence. Yet, in acrolectal speech ni can also be heard today.



banana banana Banane
bins beans Bohnen
fish fish Fisch
gut apitait   guten Appetit
graunot ground nut Erdnuss
hongri hungry hungrig
kashunot cashew(nut) Kaschunuß
kola kola Kola
kon corn Korn
kukuru corn pap Kukuruz
magi   Maggi (German spice)
milik, milk milk Milch
okro okra Okra, Eibisch
orench orange Orange
oye, oya oil Öl
pepe pepper Pfeffer
planti plaintain Platane
rais rice Reis
sol salt Salz
suka, shuga sugar Zucker
sup soup Suppe
wain wine Wein

Kukuruz’ (Engl. corn) appears in East and Central Germany. It is a loan from Rumanian ‘cucuruz’ meaning (sweet) corn today, yet the original meaning being ‘fir cone’.



 darekto director Direktor
 katakis catechist Katechist
 kombi friend, colleague Kumpel
 lan-boi, lani-boi
 (a calque from German)
lit. ‘learning boy’ = apprentice Lehrbub, Lehrjunge, Lehrling
 mekanik mechanic Mechaniker
 militry-man Lit. ‘military man’ = soldier (ein) Militär (< Lat.miles),
minista minister Minister
 preziden president Präsident
 repota, ripota reporter Reporter
 wasde day watch Tagwache
 wasnait night watch Nachtwache
 weldara welder Schweißer

The deverbal suffix –er for performers of actions as in English ‘welder’ appears very frequently in German nouns already ending in –er as in ‘Zauberer’ (magician), Wanderer (walker, hiker), Wilderer (poacher). CPE weldara may have been formed following this frequent occurrence in German.



 aposul apostle Apostel
 Baibul Bible Bibel
 engel angel Engel
 fada Father Vater / Pater
 famili family Familie
 grasia grace Lat.gratia
 klas class Klasse
 koman order (Fr. passer une commande) kommandieren
 komandia command (n) Kommando, Herrschaft
 Kristian Christian Christ, christlich, Ch(K)ristian (name)
 lan-boi (SEE above) disciple Jünger
 mishon Mission Mission
 respek respect Respekt
 sing sing singen

Abstract terms (as grasia/gratia for example) borrowed from Latin are pronounced in CPE as they would be in German.



 alata, arata rat Ratte
 babu baboon Pavian
 dok dog Dogge
 elefan elephant Elefant
 got goat Geiß
 honi-bi (honey)bee Honigbiene
 hos horse Ross
 kau cow Kuh
 moskito mosquito Moskito
shwain bif
shwain fiva
pig, swine





ais ice Eis
ashis ashes Asche
aks axe Axt
bondu bundle Bündel
bris breeze Brise
bush bush Busch
elektrisiti electriciy Elektrizität
faia fire Feuer
feda feather Feder
fiba fever Fieber
gras grass Gras
graun, gron ground Grund, Boden
hala holler, call out hallen, klingen
hama hammer Hammer
hon horn (cars and animals) Horn (animals only)
honi honey Honig
hos house Haus
kabinet cabinet Kabinett, Kammer
kasingo (kaisa i gnu) whip, cane (Kaisers) Peitsche
lam lamp Lampe
latrin latrine, outhouse Latrine
leda leather Leder
mak mark Marke
matras mattress Matratze
midro-wok Wednesday Mittwoch
monin-taim morning Morgen(zeit)
mon en end of month Monatsende
naittaim nighttime Nachtzeit
planteshon plantation Plantage
rin ring Ring
ros rust Rost
santaim daytime Tageszeit
spia spear Speer
ston stone Stein
tin thing Ding
tosilam torch Taschenlampe
trakto tractor Traktor
wata water Wasser
yia year Jahr


Kasingo / kasanggu involves German ‘Kaiser’ + thong. It was reported by old natives that they had been beaten by Germans. Midro-wok is derived from German ‘Mittwoch’ meaning ‘in the middle of the week’. Ngome (1982) describes toslamp / tosilam as derived from English ‘touch’ and ‘lamp’. Though there is a ‘torch’ in British English, this term seems to be derived from German ‘Taschenlampe’. In English, ‘lamp’ had never been part of this item.

It was under German administration that CPE was first written down. German orthography ‘more flexible in the adaptation of sound changes than English orthography throughout history’ was thus seen to be adequate to represent the pidgin sounds.

Syntactic constructions that show similarities between CPE and German, are perhaps only to be expected in view of Germany’s colonial role. Also the fact that grammatical words have been borrowed - which is unusual in contact situations - seems to be an indication of good social relations between the Germans and the native population. As there are more differences between English and German grammar than between English and German vocabulary, German influences on pidgin grammar are more easily detected.



1 Seidel A., Deutsch=Kamerun Wie es ist und was es verspricht, Berlin, 1906
2 ‘machen’ (make) and ‘tun’ (do) are considered synonyms in German and EFL learners tend to have difficulties keeping them apart. A well known interference error of German beginners’ school English is: ‘to make the homework’ (German: die Hausaufgabe machen) for ‘to do the homework’.
3 Orthography as in the original
4 Personal communication with Miriam Ayafor (summer 2005)
Immediate younger brother/sister
Personal communication with Frater Hermann, currently Mill Hill missionary in Cameroon

2.3. Minoritäre Sprachen und Kulturen

Sektionsgruppen | Section Groups | Groupes de sections

TRANS   Inhalt | Table of Contents | Contenu  17 Nr.

For quotation purposes:
Brigitte Weber: German Influences on Cameroon Pidgin English - In: TRANS. Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften. No. 17/2008. WWW:

Webmeister: Gerald Mach     last change: 2010-03-03