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LINGUIST List 25.1711

Fri Apr 11 2014

Review: Applied Linguistics; Sociolinguistics: Anchimbe (2013)

Editor for this issue: Monica Macaulay <monicalinguistlist.org>

Date: 25-Sep-2013
From: Anastasia Khawaja <ajkhawajamail.usf.edu>
Subject: Language Policy and Identity Construction: The dynamics of Cameroon's multilingualism
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Book announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/24/24-876.html

AUTHOR: Eric A. Anchimbe
TITLE: Language Policy and Identity Construction
SUBTITLE: The dynamics of Cameroon's multilingualism
SERIES TITLE: IMPACT: Studies in Language and Society 32
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins
YEAR: 2013

REVIEWER: Anastasia J Khawaja, University of South Florida


The book “Language Policy and Identity Construction: The Dynamics of Cameroon’s Multilingualism,” by Eric Anchimbe discusses research conducted in regards to the language policy of Cameroon. This multilingual environment is comprised of a variety of indigenous languages as well as the officially recognized languages of English and French. The chapters in this volume examine the concerns of indigenous languages and show how they can be honored in the Cameroon context by adopting a multilingual language policy. These eleven chapters are divided into four sections. The first looks at the indigenous languages and the policies over the years concerning them. The second section discusses how the official languages of English and French are treated through a bilingual policy. The third section presents Cameroon Pidgin English, and finally the fourth section discusses social contexts of politeness and the aspect of Youthspeak.

Historical, political and cultural factors all contribute to the complexity of Cameroon’s approach to language policy. Part one of Chapter 1 examines the historical context of languages used in Cameroon and the widespread use of indigenous languages in the region. The National Association of Cameroonian Language Committees (NACALCO) indicates that instruction in 30 different indigenous languages is present in over 300 schools throughout the nation. However, for a country that has been trying to establish a concrete language policy, the ongoing presence of multiple indigenous languages, none of which are dominant, does not help to develop a unified language policy. With this in mind, how can any of the several indigenous languages be seen in a more official capacity?

Chapters 2 and 3 discuss the official language policies and attitudes towards non-official languages. While indigenous languages are taught in various regions around the country, the government must approve the educational objectives of the academic institutions. In addition, the linguistic centers in Cameroon only teach the official languages of English and French, branching out only to add German and Spanish. While there is a push from a linguistic point of view to teach indigenous languages, this push is not government-funded. While some universities have added indigenous language teaching, these languages are still not seen on the whole as appropriate for use in official capacities. Chapter 3 explores the attitudes of Cameroonian individuals in regards to indigenous languages. The overall sentiment is that indigenous languages do not show promise or prestige in the international and global contexts. In addition, there is a growing fear that the promotion of indigenous languages will encourage tribalism and tribal conflicts rather than unity. Therefore, encouraging an official English and French bilingual language policy will also bring unification of the country. Some areas in Cameroon have even gone so far as to say that speaking indigenous languages will actually harm English acquisition.

Despite the negative attitudes toward indigenous languages, they have survived, and chapter 4 investigates the ways in which indigenous languages have been protected. For one thing, multilingualism in Cameroon has been additive, not subtractive. A new language is acquired due to “necessity to communication and the need to integrate within the community” (p. 82). For instance, each child generally learns an indigenous language as his/her mother tongue. During the period of colonization and the introduction of English and French, the acquisition/learning of the official languages took place in the school system. According to the chapter, the indigenous language use did not pass beyond the borders of the village. Therefore there has been a sense of parallelism of the indigenous and official languages as they seem to exist side by side.

Chapter 5 suggests a model of multilingualism that shows how an indigenous language can become semi-official. This process includes five stages: (1) select the language and introduce it in subjects at school, (2) unify the orthography and/or stigma issues involving terminology, (3) extend the functions or create new functions of the language, (4) use this language in important documents and brochures, and finally (5) implement practical use of the language in real life. The author cautions however that this approach may not work the first time. In addition, the author states that in the process of testing and retesting this model, the political notion that linguistic diversity is a “source for national discord” (p. 111) must not be given into. While several parts of this model have not been fully developed nor account for all linguistic situations, it is a step in the direction of attempting to replace the state bilingualism model which has been in place for 40 years, and which is discussed and criticized in the second part of the book.

Part 2 focuses on the official languages, English and French, the bilingual language policy which has been implemented, and the realities of that policy. In regards to official language policy, Anchimbe says: “Cameroon is bilingual, but Cameroonians are not” (p. 124). The complex nature of the current bilingual policy dates back to colonial times when France and Britain were in control of different parts of Cameroon. The dividing line between the two areas was and still is, to some extent, the Moungo River. The area under control of Britain became known as the Anglophones and the area under control of France the Francophones. Encouraging the Anglophone population to learn French and the Francophone population to learn English, however, has proved an immense challenge. Survey data from the author in 2003 measured French proficiency in Anglophone cities. Over half of these participants were classified as non-bilingual. While there is a written policy in place for bilingualism, there are no strategies in place to actually implement the policy. Moreover, while there is not a push for Anglophones to learn French, there has been a growing interest in the Francophone areas in learning English. The author uses the term ‘linguabirds’ in order to describe the people involved in this newly developing identity of Anglophones and Francophones uniting under the desire to learn English. With this introduction of a new identity, the author also discusses how Cameroonians have multiple identities depending on the language they choose to speak at a given place and time. It is said that the average Cameroonian can make use of at least 3 languages per day: indigenous at home, an official language at school or work, and Cameroonian Pidgin English with friends. However, to complicate matters further, Cameroon has a variety of indigenous languages and therefore not everyone is exposed to the same indigenous language at a given time.

The second half of the book departs from discussing the role of official and indigenous languages as a whole and concentrates on particular language use in the social context. Part 3 examines the phenomenon of Cameroonian Pigeon English (CPE) that was introduced as early as the 15th century when the Europeans started trading along the West African coast.

While CPE has been included in more formal contexts of television and radio to an extent, it has also been used to identify a non-educated population of people. In addition, CPE has been accused of being the culprit of making English “worse”. There are areas with signs which prevent CPE from being spoken as a result. However, linguists and language policy planners are fighting back by producing the Dictionary of Cameroon Pidgin English Usage. This dictionary has moved CPE from being mainly in spoken form to also be in written form as well. The interesting aspect of CPE is that unlike the Anglophone and Francophone regions, there is no one area that takes ownership of CPE. It is used all over Cameroon in both Anglophone and Francophone areas. In fact there have been some cases in the media context where the interviewer will switch to CPE with the interviewee in order to establish a closer connection with the person.

Part 4 of the book highlights important linguistic communication strategies. One such strategy is the broadly conceived use of family-related titles such as ‘mother’, ‘father’, ‘aunt’, ‘uncle’, ‘sister’, or ‘brother’ in Cameroonian society. These people do not necessarily need to be kin. These types of address are also a sign of respect and politeness.

The final chapter in this book briefly surveys the use of Youthspeak in Cameroon, the way in which the Cameroonian youth communicate. This English-based form of communication is unique in that in a multilingual society such as Cameroon with so many indigenous languages in use, the youth can unite through Youthspeak. While ethnic ties to one’s language remain strong, this use of Youthspeak develops a social tie that stretches beyond ethnic dividing lines.


Anchimbe successfully paints a picture of a complex, multilingual, diverse linguistic and cultural situation in Cameroon. He gives a satisfactory historical overview of languages in Cameroon from pre-colonial, to colonial, and finally to the postcolonial time. The very fact that Cameroon is still at times seen as divided between the Anglophone and Francophone areas from the colonial era is one of the key points in understanding its linguistic complexity, especially in reference to the many indigenous languages which are used in the country.

Anchimbe beautifully states in the conclusion in reference to Cameroonian language policy that “for the state it [language policy] entails maintaining national unity and integration, for the linguist it means making it possible for people to acquire the languages empowered by policy and to use them in those domains of relevance to them as well as those specified by policy” (p. 219). It is indeed a very complex situation to take all of the languages being used in Cameroon into account. I believe this work contributes to the on-going debate about bilingual education and more recently the phenomenon of multilingualism. Anchimbe illustrates how far Cameroon language policy, use, and recognition have come. The author also encourages research in applied linguistics and sociolinguistics. This research will contribute to the evolving and ongoing linguistic policy efforts in Cameroon.

The author describes the situation in Cameroon effectively. However, while he does discuss changing identities in Chapter 8, a consistent theme connecting the book and the sections together was lacking. I believe this theme to be dynamism. The linguistic and cultural features of the language policies both at the official and local levels are in constant flux just as the speakers’ identities are. What further connects the theme of dynamism is the multiple indigenous versus official languages used in the country. There are not only 2-3 indigenous languages to choose from but well over 300. In addition to the indigenous languages, there is also CPE, which is used in all areas no matter whether they are originally Francophone or Anglophone regions.

In regards to individual chapters themselves, I believe that allotting CPE only one chapter of the book was not sufficient to address its complex sociolinguistic role in Cameroonian society. CPE provokes passionate and mixed views among the populace, as it can be seen as a language for the uneducated, while at the same time any person at any time, no matter their education, will choose to use the language in order to develop a closeness with his/her interlocutor. In addition, Francophone and Anglophone areas both make use of CPE. In other words, this language of unofficial capacity is one that all Cameroonians have in common, which is a powerful tool for unity in a country historically divided along linguistic lines.

CPE has affected the linguistic situation from pre- to postcolonial times and appears to be the one language that Cameroonians could have in common. From that commonality, the new multilingual linguistic policies could develop. However, I cannot draw such conclusions definitely because only a fraction of the book was dedicated to this language.

Overall, it was fascinating to read about the historical contexts of language in Cameroon and the critiques of the current language policy. Anchimbe captures the essence of multilingual identity quite clearly and leaves no stone unturned as he incorporates formal addresses and the language of the Cameroonian youth. I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in creole languages and especially multilingual linguistic policy.


Anastasia Khawaja is a doctoral student in the Second Language Acquisition/Instructional Technology program at the University of South Florida. Her research interests include multilingualism, individual differences and linguistic landscape and language policy in areas of conflict.

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