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From Pidgin English to Camfranglais

Friday 14 February 2014

Review of ‘Camfranglais, A Glossary of Common Words, Phrases and Usages’ (2013) by Jean-Paul Kouega

Peter Wuteh Vakunta

2014-02-12, Issue 665

http://pambazuka.org/en/category/books/90528

Kouega’s seminal work, ‘Camfranglais, A Glossary of Common Words, Phrases and Usages’, is a succinct study of the emergence and structure of a new linguistic code in Cameroon—Camfranglais
The book has two partitions. Part One sheds light on the sociolinguistic and linguistic structures of Camfranglais. In Part Two, the author provides readers with a lexical inventory of words and expressions that have come to be considered the functional vocabulary of Camfranglais speakers. Readers who have little or no acquaintance with the Republic of Cameroon many wonder what gave birth to this new urban lingo. Kouega defines Camfranglais as ‘… a composite language variant, a type of pidgin that blends in the same speech act linguistic elements drawn first from French and secondly from English, Pidgin English and other widespread languages in Cameroon’ (p.15). He further notes that Camfranglais was purposefully developed by secondary school students in a bid to freely communicate among themselves to the exclusion of non-initiates. 

Mbangwana observes that recourse to Camfranglais is triggered by the need for these youngsters to ‘veil many of their likes and dislikes, many of their ambitions and fears’ (quoted in Kouega, 2013, p. 9). The origin of the term ‘Camfranglais’ is attributed to Professor Ze Amvela who commented in the foot-notes of a paper he presented in 1989 as follows: “‘Camfranglais’ is used here as a cover term to describe what has been called ‘Franglais’, ‘Pidgin French’, ‘Majunga Talk’, ‘Camspeak’” (quoted in Kouega, 2013, p.17). 

The composite nature of Camfranglais stems from the fact that Cameroon is an ex-colony of France and Great Britain. Official bilingualism (English and French) is, therefore, one of the legacies bequeathed by these ex-colonial powers. Over and above, 250 odd indigenous languages co-exist with these European languages. Camfranglais is an enigmatic hotchpotch developed from the linguistic plurality that distinguishes Cameroon from other nations. To the older generation of Cameroonians, Camfranglais remains a mind-boggling linguistic conundrum whose evolution has to be watched closely. 

Speakers of Camfranglais make a deliberate attempt to disguise the messages they convey in a speech act as seen in this excerpt: ‘Il y a la galère au Camer au day’ (p.155) [There is poverty in Cameroon these days]. It should be noted that the word ‘Camer’ refers the ‘Cameroon.’ It is derived through the process of clipping or truncation. In a similar vein, the expression ‘au day’ is a compound word resulting from the combination of the first syllable of the French word ‘aujourd’hui’ (today) and the second syllable of the English word ‘today’. ‘Au day’ is a neologism obtained by replacing the ‘jourd’hui’ segment of the word ‘aujourd’hui’ with the English word ‘day.’ ‘Galère’ is a French word that signifies ‘hassle’ or ‘trouble’. Nonetheless, in the speech of Camfranglones, this word has undergone a semantic shift. It connotes the notion of ‘poverty.’ Semantic shifts can be very obfuscating as seen in the following statement: ‘Ma friend se call Suzy, elle me helep bad’ (154) [My friend’s name is Suzie; she helps me a lot]. It is interesting to note that the word ‘bad’ conveys a positive undertone in the speech of speakers of Camfranglais: ‘helep bad=helps me a lot.’ It should be noted that ‘helep’ comes from Pidgin English, a lingua franca that “emerged in Cameroon during the Slave Trade days” (Kouega, 2013, p.30). 

This explains why Camfranglais lexicon is populated by Pidgin English words and expressions as evident in the following excerpt: ‘Elle do the buyam-sellam depuis quand?’(152)[How long has she been retailing goods?]It should be noted that ‘buyam-sellam’ is derived from two English words ‘buy’ and ‘sell’. The term is used in reference to someone who retails food crops. Retail trade has enriched the lexicon of Camfranglais as seen below: ‘J’ai des aff à placer’ [I have some items to sell] (122). 

Oftentimes, speakers of Camfranglais resort to code-switching out of a desire to create humor: ‘Il est tellement presse qu’il a put son calekkoum à l’envers= He is in such a hurry that he put on his underwear inside out (154). The word 
‘Calekoum’ is a Cameroonianism for the French word ‘caleçon’ [pant/underwear]. The code-switching in this statement is evident. More often than not, Camfranglais speakers simply truncate the word ‘caleçon’ to come up with the word ‘calé’. As can be seen from these examples, Camfranglais speakers tend to rely on linguistic innovation as a word formative process as this other example suggests: ‘Ma rese a tcha le bele et elle talk que c’est avec un attaquant’ (p.129).[My sister is pregnant and she says that her partner is a taxi driver assistant]. Notice that the word ‘attaquant’ is a standard French language word that could be translated as ‘assailant’ or ‘attacker’. However, in the excerpt above, the word has been endowed with an entirely new signification, ‘taxi driver assistant.’ Kouega defines the word ‘bele’ as ‘unwanted pregnancy’ (p.138) as the following statements suggests: ‘Le djo-là est fini: sa nga a tcha le bele et elle veut qu’ils move ça et il n’a pas le do’ (138-9) [The boy over there is in trouble: his girlfriend is pregnant and she wants them to remove the foetus and he does not have any money.] Many borrowed lexical items are identifiable in this example. ‘Djo’ is culled from one of the vernacular languages spoken in Cameroon. It refers to ‘man’, friend’ or ‘partner.’ ‘Tcha’ has the following semantic equivalents: ‘catch someone red-handed,’ ‘arrest someone,’ ‘hold,’ and ‘take someone along with force’ (Kouega, 2013, p.158). The word ‘do’ means ‘money’. As readers can see, this word is prone to misinterpretation. This lends credibility to the postulation that polysemy (words with multiple meanings) is part and parcel of Camfranglais lexical formation, as the following example suggests: ‘Je suffer ici trop; better je go’ [I suffer a lot here; I would rather leave] (140). The signification of the word ‘better’ in the following statement is totally different: ‘J’étais un peu sick, mais ça va better’ (140) [I was sick but I am feeling better now.]

As would be expected, the sex industry has furnished Camfranglais speakers with quite a few words and expressions as seen in the following excerpt: ‘J’ai tchouke la nga-là mais je n’ai pas bien hia moh’(297)[I have made love with that girl but I did not enjoy it.] ‘Tchouke’ comes from the verbal infinitive ‘tchouker’ or ‘chuker’ which could be translated as ‘to make love’. The lexeme ‘hia’, sometimes spelled ‘ya’ or ‘jia’ comes from the English language word ‘hear.’ In this context, it conveys the notion of ‘enjoyment’. ‘Moh’ is synonymous with the Standard English word ‘satisfaction’, as in ‘Il hia moh [He is satisfied’ (240). Another derivative from ‘tchouker’ is ‘‘tchoukeur’ which could be translated as ‘womanizer’ or ‘someone who likes having sexual intercourse just for the pleasure of doing it’ (296). ‘Tchouker’ has a couple of synonyms: ‘nioxer’ sometimes spelled ‘nyoxer’ is a crude, vulgar way of referring to love-making; to have sexual intercourse, or fuck as in “Si tu as le do tu vas la nioxer là-là-là” [If you have money, you will fuck her right away] (254). Another synonym for ‘nyoxer’ is ‘comb’ as in: ‘Toi aussi. How tu comb une ngo trois time en un seul day.Tu es became un coq? [You too. How come you make love with a girl three times in a single day?] ‘Nyoxer’ is semantically akin to ‘bordelle’, a term used by speakers of Camfranglais to describe a prostitute as in ‘Lock moi ton mop, une bordelle comme ça!” [Lock me your mouth, or Shut up, you prostitute!](146). Some Camfranglophones prefer the truncated form of the word ‘bok’ as in: ‘Mais gars, tu ne vas quand même pas commot une bok! [But my friend, don’t tell me that you will go out with a prostitute](145). Other words that reference prostitutes in Camfranglais are ‘wolowoss’ (316), ‘akwara’ (123) and ‘sotuc’ (288).

It should be noted that the word ‘commot’, often spelled ‘komot’ derives from Pidgin English. It translates into English as ‘come out’, ‘go out’ or ‘date’ as in the following statement: ‘Il commot mainant avec une bêtasse de la tri, une nyè nga même’ [He now goes out with the foolish girl in Form Four Class, a useless girl for that matter](167). The word ‘nga’ has its own synonyms, namely ‘ngi and’ ‘ngo’ [=girl]. Certain sex-related lexemes are quite comical: ‘La nga a tcha le bangala de son djo parce qu’il n’a pas gi le do’ [The prostitute caught her partner’s penis because he did not give her money] (135). ‘Bangala’ refers to male genital organs, or penis. Camfranglophones often use synonyms such as ‘bic’, ‘engin’ and ‘wangala.’ 

Another really laughable one is this: ‘How tu came au tuyau avec une Sotuc? Elle peut même te lep ici elle go [How come you invite a prostitute to a party? She can abandon you here and take off with someone else] (288). ‘SOTUC’ stands for Société des Transport Urbains du Cameroun or Cameroon, or Urban Transport Company. It refers to the defunct urban transportation company which had buses that transported all types of passengers. By analogy, a girl who sleeps around with all kinds of men is referred to as a SOTUC! Literally, it means ‘prostitute’. The manner in which these words are formed is well documented by Kouega (pp.47-68) who maintains that, ‘For work on the syntax of Camfranglais to make sense, a comprehensive morpho-syntactic description of Cameroon French and a few relevant Cameroonian languages must have been done’(47). He further notes that Camfranglais words revolve around the following domains: food and drinks, money, sex, physical looks, state of mind, reference to kin and advertisement (47-9). Words are formed in each of these categories using various techniques.

Compounding is a noteworthy word formative process in Camfranglais as the following examples suggest: ‘Quand la nga est came, il a commencé à do le bep-bep’ [When the girl arrived, he started bragging] (139). It should be noted that ‘bep-bep’ is a polysemous word as the following usage indicates: ‘Le djo de la nga-là est bep-bep; il peut te kick’ [The friend of that girl is a stammerer, he may hit you] (139). Another compound word to take note of is hier-hier’ which could be translated as ‘novice’ as in the following excerpt: ‘Il a start hier-hier et il veut déjà give les orders’ [He is a novice and he wants to give instructions] (202). Another compound word frequently employed by users of Camfranglais is ‘ hon-hon-hon’ which translates as ‘bragging’ as in faire le hon-hon-hon or do le hon-hon-hon=to brag, show off, tell lies to win favours. Kouega provides the following example: ‘Le député a tell dans son speech qu’il va donner le work aux jeunes; ça c’est le hon-hon-hon’ [The parliamentarian in his campaign speech said that he will get jobs for the youths; he is telling lies] (203).

Physical looks have produced a handful of compound words such as ‘djim djim [very big or very large] as illustrated in the following example: ‘La nga-là est djim djim pourtant sa mater est mingri’ [That girl is very big whereas her mother is skinny (179). Notice that ‘mater’ is a Latin word which translates as ‘mother’ (p.235). Same goes for ‘pater’=’father’. Another compound word relating to physical looks is ‘longo-longo’ (p.225). It is a term generally used in reference to someone who is very tall and usually slim or slender as in the following excerpt: ‘Il est longo-longo comme ça et il ne play pas le basket?’[He is so tall and he does not play basket-ball?](p.225) Beau-regard is a compound noun that refers to ‘pork’ or ‘pig’ as seen in ‘Ma terpa a kill notre dernier beau-regard [My father slaughtered our last pig] (137). Note the ‘terpa’ in the inverted form of ‘pater.’ Camfranglais speakers have a predilection for lexical inversion as seen in ‘rese’ [sister], reme [mother], repe [father] and refre [brother]. Other compound nouns shed light on the gait of the referents as in this statement: ‘Elle est enter dans la maison elle a take l’argent de son pater et elle est go kunai-kunia gi au feyman [She entered the house, took her father’s money and foolishly handed it over to the swindler] (p.220). It should be noted that swindling or trickery, generally referred to as ‘feymania,’ in Cameroon (189) has greatly enriched the diction of speakers of Camfranglais. ‘Feyman’ for instance, is Cameroonianism for ‘swindler’, ‘con man’ or ‘trickster’ (p.189).’ Feywoman’ is the female equivalent of feyman [con woman]. 

Parallelism, the repetition of words for emphatic purposes, is a good source of words used by Camfranglais speakers as seen in this example: ‘Fais quoi, fais quoi elle a tcha le bele’ [No matter what you think, she is pregnant] (p.187).

Camfranglais has equally borrowed from Cameroonian indigenous languages as seen in this excerpt: ‘Tu oses dire que ton djo le love; sans le tobassi il pouvait même te look?’ [You dare say that your boyfriend loves you; without the spell you cast over him, would he have looked at you?](p.301) ‘Tobassi’, an indigenous language word, refers to a love potion often used by Cameroonian women to cast spells on their boyfriends. Tobassi’ is synonymous with charm or mystical powers. 

Fulfulde, also known as Fulani, a language spoken in the northern regions of Cameroonian, has provided Camfranglais speakers with loanwords such as ‘walai!’ an interjection that expresses anger. Kouega observes that Fulani ‘is the language of Muslim Fulbes who conquered the northern half of Cameroon before colonization’ (p.32). The Beti language, a group of a cluster of mutually intelligible languages spoken in Cameroon, Gabon, Equitorial Guinea and Congo has equally provided Camfranglais speakers with a sizeable number of words. Examples include ‘ahkah,’ an interjection expressing disgust and rejection. It is generally used by youngsters from the Beti area of Cameroon. A synonymous expression would be ‘ahti!’ which could be translated as ‘my gosh!’ Azham! and Zamba ! all translated as ‘gosh!’(p.123)

Cameroon is noted as one of the most corrupt nations on our planet. Consequently, many Camfranglais words are related to graft and influence- peddling as seen in ‘Pour ce job, le gombo c’est how much?’ [For this job, the tip is how much?](198). Notice that the word ‘gombo’ refers to bribery and corruption. Gombo has its derivatives such as ‘gombotique’, an adjective qualifying activities related to corruption] as in: ‘Il a comot un chiffre gombotique [He gave an amount which included his bribe] (p.198). Gombotiser is a neologism coined by Cameroonians to describe the crime of ‘giving bribes’. Cameroonians use the term ‘choko’ also spelled ‘tchoko’ as a synonym for ‘gombotiser’, as in ‘Si tu choko a la porte on te laisse entrer’ (p.162) [ If you bribe at the door, they would let you in.] 

In a nutshell, Kouega’s most recent publication is a treasure-trove of linguistic knowledge. It is written is a language that may defy understanding for the neophyte, yet, it is a dependable research tool for anyone interested in understanding the linguistic configuration of Cameroon. The glossary part of the book is a gem. A thousand odd words are listed in alphabetical order and succinctly defined. Each entry comprises an example of the contextual usage of the word referenced. This book is highly recommended reading for students and scholars in the domain of socio-linguistics.

WORKS CITED

1. Kouega, Jean-Paul. Camfranglais: A Glossary of Common Words, Phrases and Usages. Muenchem: LINCOM EUROPA, 2013.
2. Mbangwana, P.N. “Invigorative and Hermetic Innovations in English in Yaounde.” World Engishes 10.1(1991):53-63. 
3. Ze, Amvela E. Reflexions on the Social Implications of Bilingualism in the Republic of Cameroon. Epasa Moto (A bilingual journal of language, letters and culture. Buea, Cameroon: The Buea University Centre), I (1):41-61.

* Dr. Peter Vakunta teaches Modern Languages at the University of Indianapolis, USA. He is author of several publications, including paperbacks and kindle editions. 

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