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So What !

Pidgin: Cameroon's Lingua Franca or Continental Creole?
Publié le 04-08-2009  |  (Wisconsin - États-Unis). Auteur : Peter W. Vakunta   [lu : 23866]


 

 

 It is a blend of English, French and indigenous languages. This lingo has been in active use in Cameroon for over five hundred years. It started in the Slave Trade years, resisted a German ban during the German annexation (1884-1914) and survived post-independence neglect. Pidgin took flight when it became a makeshift language used in the plantations. Today, it has left the plantations for the homes and other domains of public life.

 

The first attempt to codify Pidgin English and endow it with conventional usage was made by the Catholic Church in Cameroon, which used it to produce a number of religious materials including the catechism.  Broadly speaking, five varieties of Pidgin English exist in Cameroon, namely Grafi Kamtok, the variety used in the grassfields region of Cameroon and often referred to as 'Grafi Tok’, liturgical Kamtok—this variety has been used by the Catholic Church for three quarters of a century. Francophone Kamtok is the variety spoken mainly in French-speaking cities such as Douala, Bafoussam and Yaoundé among others. Limbe Kamtok is the type of Pidgin English spoken mainly in the South-West Province, notably in the coastal area around the port that used to be called Victoria and is now Limbe. Bororo Kamtok is the variety that is spoken by Bororo and Fulani nomadic cattle traders, many of whom travel through Nigeria, Chad and Cameroon. 

 

Pidgin English embodies concepts that would at best be partially expressed in formal English. It sustains a world view, culture and way of life. It facilitates social intercourse among people who originate from different ethnic and linguistic backgrounds.  A critical understanding of Pidgin English requires not only a thorough grasp of the socio-cultural matrices from which the words and expressions originate but also an immersion in an Afro-centric worldview. Pidgin is believed to be the parlance of the proverbial man-in-the-street in many parts of Africa. It is rich, exciting and vigorous. Pidgin accommodates grammatical distortions and deviations from syntactic conventions. Oftentimes, these distortions are purposefully created for the sake of re-enacting personal or collective life experiences.

 

Of the over 200 indigenous languages spoken by Cameroonians, only Pidgin enjoys the privilege of being spoken by people from all walks of life and social strata. Pidgin is no longer restricted to small talk; it is no longer the language of the uneducated. Although for a long time, Pidgin has been perceived as a language used mostly by illiterate and semi-literate persons, this mixed language has now gained currency among the educated in Cameroon as well. It has attained the status of language of literature, business and music. Cameroonian writers and other artists employ Pidgin in order to ensure group solidarity and to reinforce a sense of belonging. Francis Njamnjoh, Peter Vakunta, Patrice Nganang, Mongo Beti and Ferdinand Oyono to name but a few frequently resort to pidginization as a mode of linguistic and cultural appropriation.

 

Cameroonians, in general, resort to Pidgin English for the purpose of phatic communion in informal contexts. It is important, I believe, to perceive pidginization as an attempt to make European languages bear the weight of African imagination, worldview and sensibilities. Pidgin English enables pidginophones to respond more realistically to the prevailing circumstances under which discourse takes place in Africa. Most importantly, it has become a mother tongue for children born to parents from different ethnic backgrounds.

 

Cameroonians are not alone in their experimentation with languages. Linguistic creolization exists in virtually every country on the African continent.  Everywhere, people of all ages are trying to jettison the yoke of cultural imperialism by indigenizing European languages in an attempt to better convey their thought patterns, imagination and lived experiences. In South Africa, there is a l pidgin called tsotsitaal. It is a mixed language spoken mainly in the townships of Gauteng province, such as Soweto and Sophiatown, West of Johannesburg, but also in other agglomerations all over the country. The word tsotsi is Sesotho slang for "thug" or "robber". Its meaning has been extended to include "to con"; it also means to be cool or street smart. The word taal is the Afrikaans  word for "language". Tsotsitaal is built on the grammar of several indigenous languages, namely Xhosa, Tsonga, Tswana, Venda, Zulu and Sotho. It is a permanent work of language-mixing, code-switching, and word smiting.

 

 Linguistic creativity is the main characteristic of Tsotsitaal-speakers. Tsotsitaal spread first as a criminal language. Only criminals at first could understand it. Later, it acquired the status of a prestigious sign of rebellion against the state and its police force.  At present, Tsotsitaal refers to any gang or street language in South Africa. As a gangster language, Tsotsitaal or Iscamtho as it is often called, is a symbol of youth, city-slickness and the multilingualism characteristic of South Africa (each of the country’s eleven official languages is represented in Tsotsitaal). It has become a language proper for both male and female speakers. Mastering Tsotsitaal constitutes proof that one knows the urban environment well enough to cope and not be threatened. Among the youths, this lingo is often used as a strong identity marker, and many young homosexuals appreciate it and use it as their main medium of communication. It has also become a language used in exchanges with older people, who previously would have been offended to be addressed in the tsotsi language.

 

   Another mixed language spoken in Southern Africa is Fanagalo. This is one of a number of African pidgin languages that was developed during the colonial era to ease communication among people from diverse linguistic backgrounds. Adendorff (2002)  observes that it developed in the nineteenth century in KwaZulu-Natal Province as a way for English colonists to communicate with their servants and was also used as a lingua franca between English and Afrikaans-speaking colonists. Fanagalo or Fanakalo is a pidgin (simplified language) based on the Zulu, English, and Afrikaans languages. It is used as a communication code, mainly in the gold, diamond, coal and copper mining industries in South Africa—and to a smaller extent in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Namibia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

 

Fanagalo is used extensively in gold and diamond mines because the South African mining industry employs workers on fixed contracts from across southern and central Africa, including Congo, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Botswana, Malawi and Mozambique. With workers originating from a range of countries and having a vast range of different vernacular tongues, Fanagalo provided a simple way to communicate and is still used as a training and operating medium in the mines. Adendorff describes two variants of the language, Mine Fanagalo and Garden Fanagalo. The latter refers to its use with servants in households. Mine Fanagalo is based mostly on Zulu vocabulary (about 70%), with some words from English (about 25%), Afrikaans and Portuguese. He describes Mine Fanagalo and Garden Fanagalo as being basically the same pidgin. Fanagalo is a rare example of a pidgin based on an indigenous language rather than on the language of a colonizing power. Zimbabwe has a variant known as Chilapalapa, while Zambia's variant is called Cikabanga.

 

Anyone with the remotest interest in translation and cross-cultural communication cannot help but ask the nagging question: what are the ramifications of code-switching and creolization for translators? As translation critic Paul Bandia points out: “The difficulty of translating pidgins and creoles … lies in the fact that there is hardly any direct equivalent relationship between English-based pidgins and French-based pidgins in West Africa” (1993).  Yet pidgins are charged with socio-cultural significations that reveal a lot about the characters in the discourse. It is, therefore, of crucial importance to retain these linguistic variants in the translation process because they are employed by speakers in order to capture the socio-cultural context of communication.

 

The purpose of this article has not been to provide a framework for surmounting potential translation hurdles that may arise from the use of hybridized languages in Africa. My objective has been to acquaint the reader with the existence of mixed languages on the African continent and to underscore the linguistic/cultural richness of Africans. Africans from all walks of life resort to pidgins such as Camfranglais, Pidgin, Moussa, Nouchis, Fanagolo, and Tsotsitaal amongst others as a means of ensuring group solidarity. Creative writers tend to use these blended linguistic varieties to underscore the socio-cultural specificities that inform and structure their narratives. It enables them to convey the worldview of Africans.

 

 

 

PETER W. VAKUNTA, Ph.D., University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA

 

[1] Afrikaans developed among the Dutch speaking Protestant settlers, and the indentured or slave workforce of the Cape area in southwestern South Africa that was established by the Dutch East India Company. It is mainly spoken in South Africa and Namibia, with smaller numbers of speakers living in Botswana, Angola, Swaziland, Zimbabwe, Lesotho and Zambia.
[1] Adendorff, Rajend "Fanakalo—a pidgin in South Africa". Language in South Africa, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.
[1] Bandia, Paul. 1993. “Translation as Culture Transfer: Evidence from African Creative
Writing.” Traduction, Terminologie, Rédaction 6.2, 55-78.

 

 


Copyright © Peter W. Vakunta , Wisconsin - États-Unis  |  04-08-2009
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