The making of a new Cameroonian language is the theme of a language manual titled Le camfranglais: quelle parlure? Etude linguistique et sociolinguistique written by André-Marie Nstobé, Edmond Biloa, and George Echu who attempt to define and describe a novel urban slang, Camfranglais, that has seen the light of day in Cameroon. Camfranglais, a code created by Cameroonian youths to communicate among themselves to the exclusion of non-initiates, is described by these linguists as “une parlure, c’est-à-dire une manière de s’exprimer particulière à quelqu’un ou à un groupe d’individus.” (9) It is a metalanguage comprised of French, English, Pidgin and Cameroonian indigenous languages. Camfranglais is spoken by young Cameroonians “désireux de s’exprimer entre eux de telle sorte qu’ils ne soient compréhensible que par les locuteurs…capable de décoder les termes empruntés à l’anglais, au pidgin English ou aux langues camerounaises. “ (9) The work comprises a preface, six chapters and a conclusion.
The preface written by Ntsobé is followed by Echu’s introduction in which he sheds ample light on the linguistic configuration of the Republic of Cameroon, especially the linguistic plurality that has engendered creolization and pidginization. In chapter1, Biloa attempts to provide a working definition of the term ‘camfranglais’. In the second chapter, he adumbrates on the concept of composite languages, of which Pidgin English and Camfranglais constitute an integral part.
The sociolinguistics of Camfranglais is the crux of the discussion in chapter 3 in which Echu analyzes the correlation between Camfranglais and other languages spoken in Cameroon. In chapter 4, Biloa provides a succinct analysis of the phonology of Camfranglais. Echu delves into an analysis of Camfranglais from point of view of word formative processes in chapter 5. Finally, in chapter 6 Biloa treats readers to an appreciation of the morpho-syntactic structure of Camfranglais.
Aside from transcribed oral interviews conducted in academic and non-academic circles in Yaoundé, Douala, Bafoussam and other Cameroonian cities, the researchers had recourse to the mass media (Cameroon Tribune), Masters theses and Ph.D. dissertations in the crafting of this book.
They contend that the emergence of Camfranglais marks the beginning of a linguistic revolution in Cameroon. As they put it, “le camfranglais s’enrichit et se revitalize de divers apports linguistiques conduisant à une véritable révolution culturelle…” (9) Camfranglais, they argue, is tantamount to linguistic invasion that threatens the very survival of the French language spoken in Cameroon: “Il faut admettre, il s’agit bien d’une invasion, d’une dictature de mots et de termes venus d’ailleurs et qui diminuent quotidiennement l‘occurrence d’utilisation d’un vocabulaire proprement français.” (9) To put this differently, the quintessence of Camfranglais is the deconstruction of the sacrosanct grammatical canons of the French language. To this end, camfranglophones resort to a variety of word formative processes.
The technique of semantic shift, Ntsobe et al. observe, is a common word formative process in Camfranglais as the following example shows: “Allons book” (22) which could be translated as “Let’s go play cards.” This two-word sentence could pose serious comprehension problems for non-speakers of Camfranglais. The reason is that the English word “book” has been attributed a new signification for the purpose of linguistic appropriation. As Ntsobé et al. point out, “…des mots issus de l’anglais on été désémantisés et resémantisés, c’est-à-dire qu’ils ont perdu leur sens initial pour en acquérir un autre.” (22) There is evidence of obfuscation for speakers outside the select group of camfranglophones when English words are transposed into the lingo as the following sentence illustrates: “Je vais eat le jazz à la long.”(90)[I am going to eat the beans at home]. The word “long” no long fulfills its adjectival function in Camfranglais. Instead, it is used here as a noun.
To further complicate matters, camfranglophones sometimes use the same word as a verb as seen in this sentence: “Le djo-ci long dans une villa non loin du lycée.”(90)[This guy lives in a villa not far from the high school.] In a similar vein, the word “kick” takes on a new meaning in the following sentence: “On a kick mon agogo.”(22)[Someone has stolen my wrist watch.] The English word “kick” loses its original meaning and takes on a new signification “steal”. Speakers of Camfranglais seem to have a predilection for language mixing. This explains why Ntsobé et al. caution that to decipher the latent meanings of English words used in Camfranglais, “Il faut absolument connaître la signification de ces mots dans leurs contextes spécificiques.”(90) Camfranglais is a composite language born out of the cohabitation of French, English, pidgin and native languages.
Ntsobé et al.posit that some lexical items employed by speakers of Camfranglais are loans from Cameroonian vernacular tongues as this example shows: “Ne me bring pas ton ndoutou, tu es un poisseux.”(106) [Don’t bring me bad luck, you’re unfortunate.] The word “ndoutou” is worse than ‘bad luck’; it is ill-luck that often breeds more incidents of ill-luck. It is borrowed from the Duala language spoken in the Littoral Province of Cameroon. This one is particularly interesting: “All les gars du kwat-ci sont des ndosses.” (106)[All the guys in this neighborhood are thieves]. The word “ndosses” is a native tongue lexeme.
More often than not, Camfranglophones borrow from the English language as seen in this statement: “Quand tu look le couple-ci, ils ont l’air très jeune alors qu’ils sont married depuis from.”(109)[When you look at this couple you have the impression that they are young but they have been married for ages.] The expression “depuis from” translates an unfathomable time span. Evidently, placing the English word “from” in the terminal position as the speaker does above complicates matters for a listener not familiar with Camfranglais.
Ntsobé et al. note that repetition is an important word formative paradigm in Camfranglais as the following example illustrates: “Tu tone-tone quoi? Tu tcha lequel des deux ways ou alors je t’emballe all ça?”(113) “Why are you hesitant? Which one do you prefer? Do you want both?] This interesting one also contains repeated words: “Sa moto est encore ngang ngang.”(124)[His car is brand new.] Some repetitions are laden with humor as this example shows: “Mola, je go où avec une djim djim mater? (124) [Man, what’s my business with such a terribly fat woman?] The word “mater” is a loan from Latin. Speakers of camfranglais frequently use the word “pater” (84) in reference to “father”.
The prevalence of ideophones in the speech of Camfranglophones is attributable to the fact that most Africans tend to translate orality into the spoken word by having recourse to parallelisms. Some of the words repeated are borrowed from Cameroonian native languages. This is the case with a word like “keleng keleng” (80) (edible leaves). Loans fulfill the communicative function of bridging cultural gaps as seen in the use of a Bamileke term “famla”(82) to translate a concept that is essentially African—occult society.
It should be noted that Pidgin has enriched Camfranglais enormously as seen in the following statement: “Je tell que c’est quand tu laï les ngas qu’elles te hia.”(118)[I am telling you that girls would only believe you if you lie to them.] The word “laï” is a deformation of the English word “lie”.
Lexical truncation is common in Camfranglais as seen in this humorous sentence: “Ton copo là me wanda; on le lap avec ses shoes-la, il ne hia pas.”(118)[This friend of yours amazes me; he seems not to care when people make fun of his shoes.] Or this aggressive one: “Je ne fia personne, s’il me touch je le bollè.”(120)[I am not afraid of anyone; if he messes with me I’ll kill him.] It is evident from these examples that Camfranglophones take the liberty of toying with English and French, official languages spoken in Cameroon. It is on this count that Ntsobé et al argue that Camfranglais is a language of resistance against cultural imperialism.
The discourse in Le camfranglais: quelle parlure? Etude linguistique et sociolinguistique revolves around the use of neology as a word formative modality. Neologisms abound in Camfranglais as these examples show: “tchoukeur” (72) [philanderer]; “tchatcheur” (72) [someone who likes to chat up girls]; “jazzeur” (72) [some who is fond of eating beans]. Some Camfranglais neologisms are anagrams or inversions similar to words found in the French verlan lexicon[i] : répé (père); rémé (mère); refré ((frère) and réssé (soeur) (73) A sizeable number of Camfranglais lexes are abbreviations as seen in the following examples: “chem”(Chemise); “merco” (mercedez); “nden” (identification papers); “tako” (taxi); “ sofa” (suffer) (85); “bao” (baobab); “copo” (copain); “San con” (sans confiance); “BH” (Beignet–haricot) (97), and “quat” (quartier) (100). As these examples illustrate, the suppression of terminal syllables is a technique constantly employed by Camfranglophones to create news words.
In a nutshell, Le camfranglais: quelle parlure? Etude linguistique et sociolinguistique is a vital tool intended for use by language pedagogues, students, translators and visitors venturing into the climes of Cameroon. The painstaking research time invested in the crafting of this invaluable book cannot escape encomium. The didactic value of this work resides in its suitability to both the guru and the neophyte. Linguists with an interest in language mixing, code-switching, pidginization, creolization, and linguistic hybridity would find this work indispensable. It is fervently hoped that lexicographers would take up the challenge of codifying this nascent Cameroonian language for the purpose of giving it legitimacy.© The Entrepreneur Newspaper 2009. All Rights Reserved
New York. Peter Lang. 2008.159 pp. Cloth SFR 50.00. ISBN 978-3-631-55117-2
Peter Wuteh Vakunta, Reviewer