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Review of  Sociolinguistic and Structural Aspects of Cameroon Creole English

Reviewer: David Douglas Robertson
Book Title: Sociolinguistic and Structural Aspects of Cameroon Creole English
Book Author: Aloysius Ngefac
Publisher: Cambridge Scholars Publishing
Linguistic Field(s): Sociolinguistics
Subject Language(s): Pidgin, Cameroon
Issue Number: 28.3226

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The availability of descriptive work on Cameroon Creole English (CCE) continues to expand. Coincident with the same publisher's grammar sketch (Nkengasong 2016), Aloysius Ngefac's 'Sociolinguistic and Structural Aspects of Cameroon Creole English' probes CCE's sociolinguistics, phonology, and syntax deeper and with a more specialized perspective, that of creolistics. He aims to situate CCE in the subdiscipline's liveliest enduring debates.

The Foreword essay (p. x-xiii) comes from eminent creolist Loreto Todd. A Preface follows (p. xiv-xvi), and preliminary matter concludes with a List of Abbreviations and Symbols (p. xvii-xviii).

Chapter 1 'Introduction' (1-12) describes this study's motivations, objectives, and structure; uneven literature that scarcely interfaced with broader language-contact research led Ngefac to write it.

Chapter 2 'Contact Languages: Earlier Views, Theories of Genesis and Defining Characteristics' (13-44) grounds the discussion in previous ideas of contact languages, defining common outcomes: jargons, pidgins, pidgincreoles, and creoles.

Chapter 3 'Cameroon Creole English within the Historical and Sociolinguistic Realities of Cameroon' (45-83) traces from a seeming pidgin Portuguese relexified into pidgin English, treated variously by colonial administrations and independent Cameroon. Attitudes and demography receive scrutiny, showing CCE as a useful economic asset for speakers, which fuels its expansion across Cameroon despite lacking overt prestige. Several photos of slogans posted outside schools evoke official discouragement of CCE. Mutual influence between it and this famously diverse nation's other speech varieties is catalogued.

Chapter 4 'The Developmental Status of Cameroon Creole English: Is the Language a Variety of Its Main Lexifier, a Pidgin or a Creole?' (84-103) examines how to characterize CCE, determining by semantic-lexical evidence that it isn't imperfect L2 English. Distinct structural norms and co-L1 status with indigenous languages show that this is a (pidgin-)creole, though displaying marks of renewed contact with its main lexifier. (For another example of a creole as *co-*mother tongue, compare Chinuk Wawa, Zenk 1984.)

Chapter 5 'The Orthography of Cameroon Creole English' (104-120) argues for a standard abetting CCE's nationwide educational use, independent of Standard English (StE), so its unique structural features (e.g. tone) and sociolinguistic variation are recognizable to speakers.

Chapter 6 'Variation in Cameroon Creole English and the Issues of Codification and Standardization' (121-140) maintains the theme, sketching a continuum from basilect to near-StE in all domains, illustrated with data on phonology, lexis, morphology, syntax, and semantics. Implications for national standardization are sketched.

Close description begins with Chapter 7, 'Phonological Aspects of Cameroon Creole English' (141-166). Here, segments and prosody are described in detail demonstrating their independence from other languages.

Documentary focus continues in Chapter 8, 'Syntactic Aspects of Cameroon Creole English' (167-193), employing Derek Bickerton's classic “creole prototype” features (1981) as a checklist. Ngefac examines the verbal system (Tense-Mood-Aspect [TMA] particles, copulas, adjectives as verbs, serialization) and subordination (relativization, complementation, 'clefting'), plus clause structure.

Chapter 9 'Conclusion' (194-205) elaborates on preceding chapters' findings: CCE's structures and sociohistory prove it a creole separate from its adstratal languages, thus a full indigenous Cameroonian language whose nontribal nature advantages it for education and national unification.

Appendix 1 (206-210) reproduces an oral questionnaire used by Ngefac, with a sample response, Appendix 2 (211-214) a written one. Appendix 3 (215-217) transcribes spontaneous CCE conversation between an interviewee and a field worker. Appendix 4 (218-220) reproduces a CCE radio newscast. Appendix 5 (221-226) samples characteristic pronunciations and idioms noted during field research. References (227-235) cover both previous CCE literature and creolistics generally; the Index occupies pages 236-243.


Ngefac's volume substantially elevates the creolistic community's understanding about CCE's history and present status, achieving the stated goal of making this pidgincreole accessible for comparative study. It is no criticism to call the book's prose non-native but fluent English. This demands extra effort of some readers, and makes a few insider Cameroonian references (Appendix 4 is titled 'Radio news sloth'!), but I found no greater or more numerous unclarities than are typical in L1 academic writing.

Such an ambitious book may be forgiven for not getting into tremendous depth in the creolistic literature it pointedly engages with, as when a single sentence of the Preface discussing the previous lack of such interface gives 39 references with little discussion (p. xiv). It would doubtless strengthen Ngefac's claim of making a significant contribution to examine that literature further, as about half of these are closely relevant to West African (creole) Englishes, while the remainder are broader contact-language studies. In compensation for such extended commentary, tradeoffs could be made. For instance, Chapter 2's probing into 'Theories of genesis' of contact languages (§2.2) and the etymology of 'pidgin' (p. 28) are noncentral to the book's theme and could be omitted.

An overall change solidifying this work's interface with both creolistics and documentary-typological linguistics would be to clarify the format of example sentences. Numerous glossing abbreviations are idiosyncratic, like “I: focus introducer”, “4, 5, 6” for first- through third-person plural, and “EMP: emphatic marker”. The latter is opaque, being applied to at least two distinct phenomena in examples: postverbal “na” (in Robertson 2016 I hypothesized this is a topicalizer) and postclausal “o(h)”. The functional differences between these seems highlighted by their cooccurrence: “D.O. fo Boya gò bi na 'o...”, ~'Not only the Boya District Officer will be present...' (p. 175). Here, I am inferring morphemic boundaries and translation, as numerous examples and texts inexplicably lack these.

The sociolinguistics chapter (3) is valuable for its nuanced native-speaker viewpoint on controversies such as naming this creole. It isn't clear to me whether a recognized autonym exists -- or whether nonscholars seek one -- but Ngefac builds compelling arguments for his label “Cameroon Creole English”. His evaluation of individual and institutional stances toward CCE, and of its relationships with other important Cameroonian languages, conveys the creole's potential and the attitudinal roadblocks it faces.

Chapter 4 is persuasive that CCE is a creole despite its common label “Pidgin”. Ngefac appropriately suggests that any accurate evaluation of a pidgin versus creole status should synthesize the many published theories, which have each observed salient contact-language characteristics but failed to predictively generalize. His claim (p. 85) that CCE underwent “tertiary hybridization” lacks explanation and citation. (See Whinnom 1971. Similarly, “Baugh 1976”, cited secondhand on p. 105, is missing from the References.) Nonetheless, his case for creolized status is strong, highlighting complex grammatical and semantic structures that minimize mutual intelligibility with StE (§4.1) and the plausible locus of nativization in the German plantation colony (§4.2). Chapter 5's proposed orthography based in CCE phonological realities instead of StE traditions puts this recognition of the language's distinct character toward pedagogical aims. Here, Ngefac observes that CCE is the likeliest vehicle for achieving nationwide higher education, and so should be standardized in ways maximizing readability for its majority of speakers who don't (yet) know StE. The author largely represents meaningful contrasts, surpassing previous orthographies especially regarding vowels, tones, compounding, and reduplication. Unfortunately, even within this chapter, Ngefac inconsistently follows his orthography, often lapsing into StE and omitting suprasegmental marking. (As even native speakers crosslinguistically do, cf. Nida 1954.)

Chapter 6 does the too-rare service of spotlighting variation, correlating it with degree of lexifier exposure, speech-act types, etc. The discussion's admirable vividness benefits from attention to multiple structural variation axes. A refreshing conclusion by Ngefac is, “priority should not be given to the so-called 'educated variety'” in codification; doing so would undermine core norms in favor of approximating the foreign StE (p. 137). Variation is likewise highlighted in Chapter 7, where the phonology is described in detail, covering segmental and tonal inventories plus basilectal features like oral-stop prenasalization, voiced-alveolar lateralization, and paragoge. Chapter 8 is less instructive in this light, despite overtly seeking to refresh previous CCE descriptions that “no longer accommodate some current trends in the language” (p. 167). Examining features that largely replicate Bickerton's impressionistic “creole prototype” proposal (1981), it essentially concludes that CCE resembles other creoles more than it does StE. Ironically, some newer creolistic trends that would strengthen cross-creole comparability are thus missed, e.g. Bakker et al.'s quantitative work (2011).

This book is nonetheless deeply authoritative and informative, and it is highly recommended to students and scholars of creolistics for its wealth of information and rare sure-handed insider evaluations.


Bakker, Peter, Aymeric Daval-Markussen, Mikael Parkvall, and Ingo Plag. 2011. Creoles are typologically distinct from non-creoles. Journal of Pidgin and Creole Languages 26(1):5-42.

Bickerton, Derek. 1981. Roots of Language. Ann Arbor: Karoma.

Nida, Eugene A. 1954. Practical limitations to a phonemic alphabet. The Bible Translator 5(2): 58-62.

Nkengasong, Nkemngong. 2016. A Grammar of Cameroonian Pidgin. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.

Robertson, David Douglas. 2016. Review of Nkengasong (2016). LinguistList (

Whinnom, Keith. 1971. Linguistic hybridization and the 'special case' of pidgins and creoles. In Hymes, Dell H. (ed.). Pidginization and creolization of languages, pp. 91-116. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Zenk, Henry B. 1984. Chinook Jargon and Native Cultural Persistence in the Grand Ronde Indian Community, 1856-1907: A Special Case of Creolization. PhD dissertation, University of Oregon.
David Douglas Robertson, PhD, is a consulting linguist who works on pidgin and creole languages including Chinuk Wawa / Chinook Jargon and its unique endangered alphabet ''Chinuk pipa''. He also works on retrieving and making usable older archival documentation of Salish languages, including Chinuk Wawa's co-lexifier, łəw̓ál̓məš / Lower Chehalis.

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