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Sociolingüística internacional

Plurilingual competence. A concrete example: Cameroon, by Mònica Molina


The rural exodus is again one of the factors favouring the creation of new variants, as occurs in the urban district of Nde (Tonga), for example, where adults and young people have adopted a new language of intercommunication, the fruit of a mixture of the Badounga and Babitchoua languages: (14)

j ma mádzi tú tse (fetch water from outside) which, in Bandounga and Babitchoua, would be j ma módze tú tse / j ma madzi tú tsi, respectively.

A sentence like bábo là dèp yàp tica parce que a puni nap, contains French (parce que, punir), English (tica < teacher) and native words (bábo la dèp yap).

A different case is presented by the urban variant used in Yaounde, popularly termed francamglais, since it is a mixture of words from French, English and native languages (mainly Ewondo). This popular variant originated in the marginal sectors of the big city during the 1980s, but it is now used by almost all young adolescents to communicate with each other. It has gained a certain status as a variant of intercommunication, although it is not accepted in the same way that pidgin English has been accepted in the west of the country: (15)

je partais au school ce matin / je goais au school ce matin
je veux drink

gip moi le diba ('give me some water', where diba is a Douala term)

3. Conclusions

In conclusion therefore, the inhabitants of Cameroon live out their daily lives with a wide range of uses of the two official languages (French and English), and other foreign languages (German or Spanish), in addition to their own languages, termed here as national.

Unfortunately, the different level of contact and use of these latter, particularly as a result of the Cameroonian government’s language policy, is provoking their progressive renunciation. In other words, in a society that is becoming less rural day-by-day, and where oral communication is no longer the means of transmission for these languages, the government is doing very little to keep these alive in school or in the mass media.

Our aim, however, was to present the wide linguistic variety of this African country to provide an example of how plurilingualism in itself should not have to be an obstacle to the existence of different languages of intercommunication, but rather the opposite.

Let us imagine an average teenager in Yaounde, who possibly speaks Ewondo, Eton or Bulu at home – or at least understands them – who speaks French at school, where he also learns English and hears Spanish or German, who reads signs each day in other foreign languages and who uses framcamglais with his friends. For each of these languages or linguistic variants, our teenager will develop what is known as functional competence; i.e., a competence appropriate to his needs and interests, such that his communicative competence is formed by a set of functional competences in a number of languages and a greater capacity for using his verbal repertoire more effectively.

Plurilingual competence therefore, must permit the development of a range of linguistic variants and strategies that sharpen the creative character of the human faculty of language, thus taking an essential step towards coexistence and knowledge of others in our society: communication.

Mònica Molina

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