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In Praise Of CAMFRANGLAIS And Other Africanisms 

Camfranglais is a hybrid language spoken in the Republic of Cameroon where English, French and over 200 indigenous languages coexist. It consists of a mixture of French, English, Pidgin and borrowings from local languages.

Kouega defines Camfranglais as: "a composite language consciously developed by secondary school pupils who have in common a number of linguistic codes, namely French, English and a few widespread indigenous languages". Cameroonian youths tend to use this language as a communication code in order to exclude other members of the community.  In other words, they use it to exchange ideas in such a way that the information would remain mysterious to people out of their circles.

Some examples of Camfranglais expressions that one would hear in the streets and school circles in Cameroon include:
Tu play le damba tous les jours? [Do you play soccer every day?]
Je veux go [I want to leave.]
Il est come [He has come.]

Tout le monde hate me, wey I no know pourquoi [Everyone hates me but I don’t know why.]
J’ai buy l’aff-ci au bateau [I bought this stuff in the market.]
Je vais te see tomorrow [I will see you tomorrow.]
Elle est sortie nayo nayo [She went out very quietly.]
Tu as sleep où hier? [Where did you pass the night yesterday?]
Tu as go à l’école? [Did you go to school?]
Il fia même quoi, massa [What is he really afraid of?]
 
These examples illustrate that Camfranglais is a hybrid language fashioned out of the blending of English, Pidgin, French, and native tongues.  It serves as a commentary on the heteroglossic backdrop against which discourse takes place in Cameroon. The use of terms such as "damba"  "see", "tomorrow", "pourquoi", "nayo nayo"., "fia", "bateau" "aff" and "buy" may make understanding difficult for people who are monolingual speakers of French, English and indigenous languages. It is clear from these examples that the sentence structure of Camfranglais is calqued on the French syntactic structure.  Each utterance above contains at least one French, English or indigenous language word like "play", "go", "come", "hate"  "know", "nayo nayo", etc.

This linguistic mixture has been developed by urban youths to talk about daily events that are of interest to them, namely, dating, entertainment, sports, money, physical looks and so forth. Camfranglais, according to Castells , serves its adolescent speakers as an icon of ‘resistance identity’. Cameroonian youths constantly transform this sociolect by manipulating lexical items from various Cameroonian and European languages, in an effort to mark off their identity as a new social group-the modern Cameroonian urban youth-in opposition to other groups such as the older generation, the rural population and the elite.

It is a composite language which resembles a Creole in that it results from contact between several languages To render their language incomprehensible to the non-initiate, speakers of Camfranglais use various techniques of word formation such as borrowing from various languages, coinage, elision, affixation, inversion, and reduplication. Camfranglais first emerged in the mid-1970s after the reunification of Francophone Cameroon and Anglophone Southern Cameroons. It became fashionable in the late 1990s, due partially to its use by popular musicians such as Lapiro de Mbanga, Petit Pays and others. Kouega  gives a striking account of the social distribution of Camefranglais:

An impressionistic inspection of the profession of fluent Camfranglais speakers outside school premises reveals that they are peddlers, and  laborers, hair stylists and barbers, prostitutes and vagabonds, rank and file soldiers and policemen, thieves and prisoners, gamblers and conmen, musicians and comedians, to name just the most popular ones.
The lexical manipulation, phonological truncation, morphological hybridization, hyperbolic and dysphemistic extensions characteristic of Camfranglais reflect the provocative attitude of its speakers and their jocular disrespect of linguistic norms and purity, clearly revealing its function as an anti-language. While this lingua franca functions like other slangs all over the world, it is somewhat unique in that it combines elements from French, English, Pidgin and Cameroonian vernacular languages.

In an article titled "Le Camfranglais, Un cousin du Verlan?" [Camfranglais, Cousin to Verlan?], Michel Lobé Ewané draws striking parallels between Camfranglais and Verlan, a slang language spoken by young people in the French banlieue (suburbs). Verlan was invented as a secret code by French youths, drug users and criminals to communicate freely in front of authority figures (parents and police). What follows is a translation of Ewané’s interesting article:

Among the youths of every generation, there is always a speech code reserved for initiates. Camfranglais was invented by students at the University of Yaoundé about ten years ago as a result of the imposition of bilingual curricula on them by the State. It first saw the light of day at a time when students came face to face with the reality of a national bilingual education policy which compelled them to take courses in a language in which they were not proficient: French for Anglophone students and English for Francophone students. It started as a joke.

Students wanted a mode of communication that would distinguish them from other segments of the population. Camfranglais has come to stay. It has become widespread and deep-rooted. The scene described below is one of those incidents that occur on a daily basis in the streets of Yaoundé.  It is an account of a traffic accident in which a posh car has just run over a dog. The forces of law and order are interrogating eye-witnesses. Among the people being interrogated, there is a recalcitrant young man who explains in an unusual lingo why he will not testify:

Tu nyai mon pied? C’est les mberés qui ont book. One day j’ai seulement nyé une aff, je n’étais pas inside, on m’a tcha, on m’a put au ngata. On m’a dit soté j’ai moto […] Papa! a no dé fo’dé fo séka sé dans kin’a dog na dog for djintété. Dan kin’a matoa na matoa for djintété. Lep me je broute ma granut nayo yah!"

This strange language is "Camgfranglais" and the story recounted is the subject of a popular play written by the talented Cameroonian playwright Essindi Mindja.  Could this be described as linguistic vandalism or banditry? Is it rather an invention akin to the French argot called Verlan? Could this be perceived as the manifestation of cultural creativity conditioned by a linguistic environment in which official languages (English and French) have been taken hostage by indigenous languages?

In any event, Camfranglais, a hybrid language composed of borrowings from French, English, Pidgin and Cameroonian indigenous languages (Duala, Ewondo, Bassa, etc), has become a popular lingua franca amongst high school and college students in Cameroon. 

The rampant use of this language in academic circles is a great cause for concern for English and French language teachers and professors. According to a certain Professor, this language translates not only the rejection by Cameroonian youths of foreign languages imposed on them but also the adoption of a sophisticated mode of expression that is intelligible only to members of a select group.

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