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Bonaventure M. Sala and Aloysius Ngefac (Yaounde, Cameroon)
In this paper, we examine the various phonological, lexico-semantic and grammatical restructurings that have occurred in Cameroon Pidgin English in the last 50 years. It is seen that most of the processes that marked pidginisation in the 60s (a high frequency of the [a] sound, syllable deletion, use of local lexical items, the use of "-am" as an animate objective pronoun, etc) have disappeared. We note that the language is getting closer to Cameroon English at all linguistic levels, thereby losing the peculiarity it had in the past. This state of things raises a fresh problem of whether Cameroon Pidgin English is creolising or decreolising.
As early as 1971, Kerkvliet (1971: 19) could declare that "Pidgin in West Cameroon, because of its daily contact with grammatical English, has grown considerably out of its original form." Today, an attempt to compare the Pidgin that was used in the 1960s and that in use in 2005 glaringly shows even more marked differences, and yet there is a lot of controversy as to whether Cameroon Pidgin English (henceforth CPE) is creolising or decreolising. Recent statements on CPE suggest that it has now achieved the status of a Creole. Crystal (1987: 338) defines CPE as "An English-based pidgin, creolised in some urban areas, used in Cameroon as a second language by some 2 million speakers." Shröder (2003: 85) also refers to CPE as an "expanded pidgin," and argues that "Although still denominated as ‘Pidgin’ by its speakers, CPE has in many areas acquired the status of a Creole." Mackenzie (2002: 1) declares that "Kamtok" is not a pidgin but rather a Creole" since it is a fully-fledged language learned by children from their mothers." At the same time, if seeing the changes that have occurred in CPE in the last 50 years, we assert that CPE is decreolising.We expose ourselves to the following questions: At what point in its evolution did it become a Creole? If it has never, or has just creolised, then can we talk of decreolisation at all? Can there be decreolisation without creolisation? To avoid the web of such a debate, we prefer to use the word "depidginisation". Note that the genetics of CPE has been indeterminate, probably because of lack of a systematic follow up of its evolution, given that active interest in CPE research started as late as the second half of the 20th century.
Whether CPE is creolising or decreolising, one fact is evident: that it has been seriously restructured if we compare its situation in the 60s (see Schneider 1960) to what is observable in this new millennium. This has been the focus of some recent works on CPE (see Ngefac and Sala 2006, Simo Bobda and Wolf 2003: 101). Sala (2003: 402ff) equally postulates that pidginisation and indigenisation of English in Cameroon are moving towards a common language. According to him, CPE is being upgraded towards the status language, which is English, and Cameroon English (henceforth CamE) is witnessing a downward trend in what he calls Grafting. The next thing is a meeting point. He argues that both idioms have the same underlying structure, which makes their future marriage very possible. This is why nobody teaches any of the idioms, but they are acquired with ease. He calls this common underlying structure in existence in Cameroon the Pan-Ethnic Language Structure (PELS).
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The above postulates have one simple point to make: CPE is moving towards English, the status language. This means that CPE is becoming more and more intelligible to the speaker of British English, thereby losing its idiosyncrasies and identity. Our purpose in this paper is to evaluate the degree of phonological, structural and lexico-semantic change that has occurred in CPE between 1960 and 2005.
Some Social Considerations
Formerly, CPE was born out of the necessity to facilitate communication between ethnic groups that had something in common (trade, business, evangelisation, and other inter-personal intents), but spoke mutually unintelligible languages. The master also learnt it in order to communicate with his slaves. This is why CPE sprouted along the Cameroonian coast, where trade, plantation and religion attracted a multi-ethnic community before being transported inland during the German 25-year rule, spanning from 1884. This is also why most of the non-English vocabulary items used in CPE came from coastal indigenous languages such as Douala, Bakweri, Yoruba and Hausa as stated in Schneider (1960).
By that time, education, either in French or English, was still the preserve of a chosen few or "the punishment" of those who accepted their status as slaves. English could be spoken only by a few. The indigenous trader, labourer, and evangelist had recourse to pidgin to communicate. Because of the low exposure to English, even English words that infiltrated into CPE were greatly restructured phonologically and morphologically. Some even witnessed semantic expansion or contraction, or took entirely different meanings. This was the process of pidginisation. Hence, Pidgin was introduced in a desperate attempt to establish communication. Let us call this the desperation factor.
Today, the situation is different. The level of education of Cameroonians has risen relatively, compared to what obtained in the late fifties. Few are Cameroonians who have not been, at least, to primary school. Many more Cameroonians understand and use English. Even the uneducated ones are rather exposed to a pro-English model of CPE spoken in the streets, in the churches and on the media (see Awah n.d.: 3). An increased rate of education, which directly correlates with more exposure to English, has changed the face of CPE. Hence, the desperation factor that ushered in pidgin is no more very significant. It is no more just a language of cross-ethnic communication. It is more a language of intimacy and familiarity because it is cherished and selected amongst other languages in use in the country. We can dare say that, with the lifting of the desperation factor, CPE is used ostentatiously. This means that without it, Cameroonians can still communicate using other media, CamE, for example. CPE is under the threat of its status language, English, and the consequence is phonological, morphological and grammatical restructuring.
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The CPE used today has lost many phonological features that were attested in the 60s. The processes analysed below are christened with the understanding that what obtained in the 60s was pidginisation and what is observed today is depidginisation.
a) [r] is no more in alternation with [l]
The list in (a) shows that the 1960 uneducated [l] has been replaced in current usage by [r]. It is important to note that the use of [l], instead of [r], is associated with Kom English, a sub-variety of English in Cameroon, which is still strongly influenced by the indigenous language. For example, it is known to every Cameroonian that the Kom speaker of English will say /lainloba/ for English "land rover". This is a form of lateralisation; both sounds are alveolar liquids, but /l/, the lateral sound, seems to be more natural and easier to pronounce for the speaker of Kom English. The de-lateralisation of the alveolar liquid, /l/, which yields /r/ is a pro-English change and a process of depidginisation in CPE.
b) Vowel "de-epenthesisation"
The Pidgin spoken in the 1960s was characterized by heavy consonant cluster simplification. One way of doing this was by inserting vowel sounds to ease the articulation of some clusters. This is captured in the following data:
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c) The replacement of [∫] by [s]
The replacement of [∫] by [s] at word-initial position in current CPE usage is another way through which depidginisation is taking place.
d) Low frequency of the [а] vowel
Another sound that was recurrent in CPE around the 1960s is [а]. In the process of pidginising English-based lexical loans, the CPE of the 60s used the [a] sound indiscriminately to replace some English vocalic segments. But today, it is substantially less frequent. Consider the following pairs:
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e) [b] no more replaces [p]
Another phonological feature of the yesteryears that is disappearing is the replacement of [p] by [b]. The following data display this phenomenon:
f) Loss of the intrusive [h] in the initial position of some nouns beginning with a vowel
Some words that begin with a vowel had [h] attached to them in initial position either for emphasis or to ease their pronunciation. Consider the list below:
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g) The disappearance of [і] at word-final position:
Some CPE words ending with consonants had [i] attached to them word-finally.
The persistence of "maami" and "paapi" in the CPE of 2005 may be explained by the existence of parallel English words such as "mammy", "daddy" and also by the fact that they are pet words derived in an English morphological process that equally converts "Thomas", "Victorine", "Anthony" etc. to "Tommy", "Vicky" and "Tony" respectively. However, while some of the words ending in /i/ still co-habit with their 2005 forms, some words end in /i/ in 2005 CPE (cf. monki (monkey), moni (money), sabi (know), koki (kind of local dish made from ground beans), grafi (grassfield) etc). The point is that the /i/ sound in these words can be morphologically traced from their English versions.
h) initial [s] is no more deleted to simplify some consonant clusters
In typical CPE spoken around the 1960s, [s] was not frequently inserted at word-initial positions to yield consonant clusters, as is the case in current CPE usage. Consonant-deletion was one way of simplifying some difficult clusters. Consider the following data:
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i) Miscellaneous cases include:
The situation of CPE phonology in the 60s, as presented in Schneider (1960), shows that there was a tendency to use natural sounds such as [a], [l], [∫] and simple forms such as monophthongs. There was also the simplification of consonant clusters. Since the idiom had no pontificators or a written tradition, words had many variants; for example, "hospital" had the following variants: "watapita", "wasapita", "wasafita", "hosfita", "hospita", "hospitu" and "waspita" (Schneider 160: 131). Variants that spread became widely used. Those that were idiolects had a shorter life span.
Today, with the rise in the level of education, and exposure to Standard English, educated Cameroonians who do not want to preserve the language consider many of these forms obsolete or inferior. When CPE was born, people of diverse origins and backgrounds used it and introduced idiosyncratic forms into it. What was important was communicative interaction and not correctness. But today in Cameroon, if one speaks Pidgin with the features of the yesteryears, he will be laughed at. Some speak it deliberately to enjoy its humour. Speakers of the CPE of the yesteryears also feel that it is not necessary for their Pidgin to be contaminated by "big English grammar and words". It is in this light that Awah (n.d.: 3) regrets the pro-English trends affecting CPE today.
Schneider (1960: 15) estimates that "About 84–85% of the vocabulary [in CPE] is of English origin…" When words were borrowed from English, they underwent morphological integration processes and syllable simplification, which gave them the peculiarity as CPE words. Since CPE was mostly used by illiterates, the form of the various words was naturally distorted. Today, as it will be seen below, those CPE forms are giving way to pro-English morphological forms. Consider the list below:
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The pidginisaton of English forms through the extension, deletion and replacement of morphemes to yield CPE forms as seen in the 60s is no more attested in CPE, as illustrated above.
By 1960, a number of CPE lexical items were loans from local, coastal languages, but most of these loans are being systematically replaced by English loans, as illustrated below:
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Some semantic connotations are no more attested. Consider the following:
There has also been a remarkable change in the verb derivation modes/processes. In the 1960s, it was possible to derive a verb from any noun, in ways that were un-English. Today, most processes that conform to the English way are maintained. Hence, the arbitrary derivation of CPE verbs from English nouns through the process of conversion is almost obsolete. Consider the list below:
Depidginisation is also being observed at the grammatical level. Naturally, the grammars of languages evolve more slowly. But as seen below, the grammar of CPE is being restructured towards its status language.
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In (1) above, it should be noted that (1a) is no more heard. Rather (1b), which has the introduction of "wan" after "dis" is a grammatical innovation. Current CPE grammar does not have "na" following a pronoun, but only referential nouns, as in "Peter na ma broda" (Peter is my brother). A sentence like "*E na ma broda" (He is my brother) is not attested in current CPE. "Dis na ma basiku", as in (1a), may be closer to "This is my bicycle" than "Dis wan na ma basiku," in (1b) above. However, there is no documented evidence, as far as we know, that a parallel structure like "dat na ma basiku" existed. The innovation in (1) above somewhat "fixes and ascertains" CPE grammar by ridding it of some anomalies.
In (2a), we find "-am" being repeated after each word of the reduplicated transform. In (2b), "-am" is no more repeated in that manner. It comes after the reduplicated transform. Here, the reduplicated transform is now being considered to be a lexical unit. No grammatical matter is inserted in it anymore.
In (3a), the grammatical representation "their backs" is done through reduplication. This means that reduplication marked plurality in those days. The possessive adjective "their" is recovered through context. In (3b), we see a more English-oriented phenomenon, in "dem back-dem". The first "them" marks possession and the second marks plurality. The separation of these grammatical categories is done towards the English tradition, rather than being allowed to context.
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In (4a) and (4b) we see "-am" used in a context that looks like intrusive. There, it is not a resumptive pronoun, because no movement is involved. Today, these constructs are no more attested.
In (5a) and (6a), we see "-am" replacing an objective person. In (5b) and (6b), it is "yi" that replaces "him". Today, "-am" is no more heard for persons in objective positions, except for cases in which it is a resumptive pronoun. It is used mostly for non-person nouns. Hence, the concept "animacy" is getting into CPE.
Some 1960-collocates are also disappearing:
In (7) above we notice the systematic introduction of the prepositions, "wit" and "for" to introduce instrumental and locative adjuncts. This is a more pro-English phenomenon.
The level of evolution of CPE can be better perceived in the sentences below:
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(8) shows how removed the 1960 version of CPE was from standard English, compared to the 2005-version. In (8a), we see the introduction of consonants in the initial position in "hop" (open), "hinta" (enter) and "nwain" (one). We also see the addition of a syllable at "domot" (door). The only aspects of CPE remaining in (8b) are article-deletion seen in "open door" (open the door), the use of "make" (so that) to introduce a purpose clause, and the use of reduplication to mean "one after the other".
On the whole, there has been an evolution in CPE at the structural level, as well as at the sociolinguistic level. With the increase in the level of education, English words that were simplified and integrated are now being anglicised to something closer to what is attested in CamE phonology. Morphologically, many words that were born in those days from indigenous languages are now obsolete and being replaced by their English equivalents. Those words that were pidginised in those days are observing some degree of Anglicisation. Semantically, some meanings that were attached to some words, irrespective of their English meanings, are now embracing the English meanings. Syntactically, CPE word order seems to be respecting English canons. Some collocations that were peculiar to CPE are also disappearing. Hence, the postulate in Simo Bobda and Wolf (2003), Sala (2003) and Ngefac and Sala (2006) that the gap between CPE and Standard English is systematically reducing is largely a truism.
Yet, as suggested above, what can be said to be happening to this pro-English medium called CPE? Is it creolisation or depidginisation? If from the look of things, we assert that it is both, then does the creolisation process in CPE also mean its depidginisation? If we take creolisation to mean the achievement of native speakers, the assertion of a distinctive personality and a wider sphere of use (see Ayafor 2005 and Menang 2005), then to what interfaces do depidginisation and creolisation belong in the CPE debate? Can a pidgin be depidginising and creolising at the same time? If so, what will be its decreolisation process in future? These are questions that must be borne in mind when christening CPE phenomena, and above all, it is the task of future research.
Awah, P. (n.d.): Monograph for the teaching of Pidgin at the Saint Thomas Aquinas Major Seminary, Bambui, Cameroon.
Ayafor, M. (2005): "Is Pidgin Facing Death or Gaining Ground in Cameroon?", Paper presented at the 1st International Conference on Language and Identity held in Cameroon, 31st March to 3rd April, 2005.
Crystal, D. (1987): The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language, Cambridge.
Kerkvliet, A. (1971): "On Church Pidgin", in: Cameroon Panorama, No. 110, February 1971, 18–20.
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Mackenzie, J. L. (2002): Cameroon Pidgin English: a Grammatical Sketch, Web site at http://cursus.let.vu.nl/engels/kamtok.htm. Visited on April 29, 2003.
Menang, T. (2005): "Pidgin English and the Anglophone Identity in Cameroon", Paper presented at the 1st International Conference on Language and Identity held in Cameroon, 31st March to 3rd April, 2005.
Ngefac, A. and B. M. Sala (2006): "Cameroon Pidgin and Cameroon English at a Confluence: A Real Time Investigation", in: English World-Wide, 27:2, 217–227.
Sala, B. M. (2003): Aspects of the Cameroon English Sentence, PhD Thesis presented to the Faculty of Arts Letters and Social Sciences, University of Yaounde I.
Schneider, G.D. (1960). "Cameroons Croele Dictionary", Manuscripts for a PhD Thesis, Faculty of the Council for Advanced Studies, Hartford Seminary Foundation.
Simo Bobda, A and H. G. Wolf (2003): "Pidgin English in Cameroon in the New Millennium" in: Lucko, P., L. Peter and H. G. Wolf (eds.) (2003), Studies in African Varieties of English, Frankfurt, 101–117.