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Review of  English in Cameroon

Reviewer: Gerhard Leitner
Book Title: English in Cameroon
Book Author: Hans-Georg Wolf
Publisher: De Gruyter Mouton
Linguistic Field(s): Sociolinguistics
Subject Language(s): English
Issue Number: 12.2297

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Wolf, Hans-Georg (2001) English in Cameroon. Mouton de Gruyter,
hardback ISBN: 3-11-017053-1, xi+359pp, DM168.00, Contributions to the
Sociology of Language 85.

Gerhard Leitner, Freie Universitaet Berlin

English in Cameroon (EiC) is one of the few book-length studies of
English in Central-West Africa. It is interesting since Cameroon has a
complex colonial history, inherited French and English, two colonial
languages, as well as pidgin English (PE). It contrasts sharply with
most African nations that have inherited one colonial language.
History-and a complex language situation-account for the fact that
language-centred education policies have been complicated, unstable and
open to outside influences. The net result, however, is that French and
English dominate the country, complemented by some much weaker local
African languages, while German has left no mark. As the unity of the
country is often attributed to the Kameroun Idea, a belief in national
unity, which was created under German control, there is some German
background at the political level.

The book thus deals with an interesting nation, which it approaches
from different angles that merge socio-political history and formal-
functional descriptions of Cameroon English (CamE) with tenets of
anthropological linguistics. EiC has six chapters; contains several
maps on historical and current political aspects and the wider
linguistic situation; has a useful index and an impressive
bibliography. Wolf makes ample use of historical documents and of
internet resources, though one looks in vain for items listed below.
Technically, the book is as perfect as any other in the Mouton series.

The progression is clear and logical. Ch. 1 embeds the topic into the
theoretical and methodological debates around varieties of English and
develops Wolf's distinctive approach. Ch. 2 then looks at EiC within
and as a part of English in West Africa-a point that needs
justification since geographically Cameroon belongs to Central Africa.
It is, Wolf says, Cameroon's "historical links with other West African
countries, especially her big neighbor Nigeria" (p 32) that necessitate
that decision. The summaries of the history of English and the macro-
linguistic situations of The Gambia, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Ghana and
Nigeria are useful, though he fails to show whether West African
English (WAfrE) coheres in any way linguistically. (He does not return
to that issue later.) Ch. 3 combines political history with a detailled
account of the emergence of the national linguistic situation (3.2.)
and that of the Anglophone provinces (3.3.). With nearly 200 pages it
is the central part of the book. The briefer ch. 4 turns to an
illustration of CamE, focussing on lexis and, above all, the role of
French, local languages and the African-Cameroonian context in which
CamE is used. That theme is developed in ch. 5, but shifts to the
cultural model idea developed in ch. 1. Ch. 6 is a brief summary.

The Introduction develops, as just mentioned, the theme and his
approach to CamE, which he defines as the English that "can be found in
the media and in other domains of standardized language", adding that
"[N]evertheless, dealing with the potential of individual speakers, the
whole range of internal variation, from a pidginized form to the most
standardized form, needs to be accounted for." (p 3). Though he finds
the standard undefinable linguistically (p 20) and uses a definition in
terms of extralinguistic parameters, his approach is as tenable as
others in the field. He is not interested in grammatical or
phonological patterns and limits himself to the impact of French and
WAfr languages on the lexis of CamE, to a few aspects of lexical
semantics and frequency differences. What is more than surprising in
the current context is his criticism of empirical evidence: "empirical
data does not incontrovertibly prove something. 'To prove' can only
mean to convince an audience of a point that is being argued. A few
empirical samples may as effectively accomplish this task as large-
scale pseudo-objective quantitative surveys. In the social sciences
(...) we find a 'cult of data'.... [t]his call for data can only
indicate the lack of rhetorical power of an argument... (p 11). While
one may well be suspicious of an over-reliance on corpus evidence (or
other 'hard' data), this reasoning is unscientific, especially since he
is comparing CamE data from the so-called Cameroon English Corpus with
the AmE Brown Corpus (p 5, ch. 4). Apart from the different size of
these corpora, they were compiled more than three decades apart.
Interesting and, to some extent novel, is the notion of the linguistic
situation of a nation to reveal the culture-boundedness of a (variety
of a) language and of cultural models or metaphors that crystallize
those cultural aspects. Those concepts are of particular relevance
since he defines speakers of CamE, the Anglophones, as a distinct

I will pass over the transitional ch. 2, which does little more than
define CamE as a WAfr variety of English and provide background on
other Anglophone WAfr countries. Ch. 3 is, as mentioned, the central
one and outlines political history with a focus on the language
situation. The goal of such a survey would be (i) to bring out the
processes that account for the transition of a Central African cluster
of tribes or ethnies to a nation marked by two, by now nativized,
colonial languages; (ii) make the reader comprehend the current
language situation, the socio-political, educational or other issues
that arise out of that; (iii) to reveal the linguistic and linguo-
cultural background to today's situation; to highlight what is specific
to the Anglophone Cameroon community in comparison with other WAfrE
communities and, possibly, to similar nations elsewhere. Wolf describes
in detail the colonial periods that led from a tribal cluster to a
single colony under German rule in 1884, to Anglo-French zones (1916-
1961) and a single nation (1961-). Leaving aside details, I should
mention that Britain opened strongholds along the coast since 1807 and
permitted European and American missions to work in the contry 1840s.
Such contacts introduced WAfr PE, which was to become Krio, and to the
imposition of Duala, Bali, Ewondo and other WAfr languages as lingua
francae in areas where they had no use.

Wolf's account is difficult to summarize, though it must be admitted
that socio-political history with a language angle is a messy area not
only in this context. German rule ended without leaving a linguistic
trace, even in education, but is often attributed with the emergence of
a sense of nationhood, the so-called Kamerun Idea, which was to act as
a stimulus against colonial rule and to an extent promoted unification.
It was not strong enough to outdo existing divisions-the French and
British legacy are other factors. These countries gained control of
Cameroon in 1916 and were mandated unequal parts each by the League of
Nations in 1922, which resulted in a small, non-congruent British zone,
adjacent to Nigeria, and a large south-eastern French one, bordering
French Equatorial Africa. The southern British zone was linguistically
more complex than the French one, which made the choice of languages of
instruction a difficult matter, but both shared the coastal region
where PE already had a strong foothold. As education was generally in
the hands of missions who had worked there since the 19th century, the
introduction of a new language hierarchy must be attributed to them.
There were significant differences between Protestants and Catholics,
which were more or less accentuated over time in the British and French
zones. Also, German, Swiss-German and American missions continued to be
active throughout the entire colonial period. Generally speaking,
Protestant missions tended to promote some WAfr languages, which
amounted to imposing them on tribes that resisted them and, as a
result, turned to colonial languages and, by implication, to Catholic
missions. At the village level all had to accept local languages and
PE, which had been spreading fast as a result of the import of
missionaries and labor from Liberia, etc., the creation of large farms
and of a transport system, which relied on labor from different tribes.
PE was, naturally, the lingua franca, even under German rule.

French and British colonial policies differed markedly, with
differences being acentuated due to the small size of the British zones
and their proximity to Nigeria and the closeness of French Equatorial
Africa to their zone. The French position has been described as direct,
that of the British as indirect, though one would infer that a coherent
approach was impossible in the circumstances anf that both countries
resorted to similar mechanisms at the bottom line. The French position
appears to have been more successful, both from a French and a post-
colonial Cameroonian one: The level of literacy and command of French
appear to have been much higher at the time of unification. Britain was
more aloof, entrusting much of the administration to Nigeria-a move
that was resented by Cameroonians. But without involving itself too
much in educational matters, PE and English spread across its zones and
created, what Wolf calls, a distinct Anglophone community. He does
mention, of course, that it drew its strength also from the resistence
against the policies of the Francophone part of Cameroon during re-
unification. Though Cameroon is officially blingual, Wolf points out
that bilingual education is not carried out to a sufficient level to
make this a reality and that, as a result, English only has a de facto
status in Anglophone provinces and that French is "not the first choice
when communication requires a link language" (p 153). He argues that
there are three lingua franca zones, viz. the Fulfud� zone in the
north, the PE one in the west and parts of the south, and the French
one elsewhere (p 155). CamE has no such status and even competes with
PE in the media and similar domains (p 198). The remainder of ch. 3
focuses on the Anglophone speech community and the role of CamE vis-�-
vis other languages. Thus, he re-emphasizes that Anglophones come from
diverse ethnic backgrounds, define their identity through their use of
CamE-and of PE (p 229), though "writers use CamE, not PE, to express
themselves and what they hold to be authentic Anglosphone culture" (p

Ch. 4 "Cameroon English as a national variety" turns to selected
lexical items that demonstrate that EiC can "indeed be called a
national variety" (p 4) and illustrate the French influence on the one
hand and of local languages, of indigenization, on the other. To show
contextualization, the third element, Wolf uses the Cameroon English
Corpus (CEC) and the AmE Brown Corpus. The Frenchification of CamE can
be seen in spelling, pronunciation, loans (and related processes such
as blends, hybrids), etc. The role of Afr languages manifests itself in
a range of onomasiological fields, such as local food, money
transactions, social life, etc. Finally, contextualization not only
leads to significant frequency differences-e.g. with ancestral, witch
(bewitch(ing, ed), sorcerer, etc.-but also to semantic shifts.

That theme is continued in ch. 5, which maintains that "(West) African
culture transcends languages and ethnicities" (p 276); but it
infiltrates languages at all levels and is a bond between traditional
and indigenized colonial languages. It is here that Wolf makes use of
his cultural models-defined as social practices and beliefs. He
illustrates the linguistic manifestation of models or central metaphors
(p 277) such as "the cosmos consists of man, heavenly bodies, and
deities and spirits" (p 277). Examples like "Human beings and allnature
are expressions of God", "soils of godly water" or "earth goddess" (all
from CEC) show how it is expressed in CamE. He argues that "Anglophones
have their own set of concepts and metaphors of community with which
they distinguish themselves from the Francophones" (p 295), the most
general ones defining them as a community ("Anglophones should see
themselves as a people", p 295) or as having a common ancestry ("the
Southern Kamerunians had come to recogniz themselves as a people with a
common destiny, fostered by shared experiences", p 296). Such group
forming metaphors exclude, for instance, those in the nortth who joined

Wolf draws on an extensive list of documents (cf. bibliography) and is
able to bring out factors that bear upon the language situation. He
throws new light on a new English and on CamE in particular. The
linguistic illustrations are stimulating, argumentation cautious, not
marred with sweeping claims. EiC is undoubtedly one of the first
sources on Cameroon for years to come. However, I will close with some
critical points.

The first is that studies like this one face the well-known problem of
where to stop with socio-political history or other 'language-external'
factors in order to cast light on a linguistic situation. But the
notion is too vague to cope with the matter and Wolf gets lost in
political history in ch. 3. Too much on the impact of the politics on
unification on educational linguistics remains vague, while the
interplay of missions, which were competing themselves, with colonial
governments comes out well. Secondly, Wolf's rejection of quantitative
empirical methods is bizarre. "'To prove'", he says, "can only mean to
convince an audience of a point that is being argued. A few empirical
samples may as effectively accomplish this task as large-scale pseudo-
objective quantitative surveys" (p 11). Are data only used for
rhetorical purposes? The problem is compounded by his uncritical use of
incompatible corpora, viz. the CEC and the Brown Corpus. They are more
than 30 years apart, Brown reflects AmE, while CamE mainly draws on
BrE. The American connection that is due to American missionaries and
Peace Corps activists would have deserved some coverage. Thirdly, the
combination of a formal-functional with a cultural-functional approach
is applaudable, but at the end of the book the two stand side by side.
One does not know how formal features of CamE reflect the broader
culture in which it is used. The notion of contextualization in ch. 4
could have provided a bridge to ch. 5, but Wolf does not use it. Had he
argued more succinctly for an integrative view and that metaphors
transcend pragmatics and lead into the belief systems of a community,
one would see more light at the end of this study.

(Missing) References
Bobda, Augustin Simo, 1994. Lexical innovation processes in Cameroon
English, English World-Wide 13..

Bobda, Augustin Simo, Beban Sammy Chumbow, 1999. The trilateral process
in Cameroon English phonology, English World-Wide 20.

F�rall, Carole de, 1989. Pidgin English du Cameroun. Description
linguistique es sociolinguistique, Paris.

Pradelles de Latour, Marie-Lorraine, 1983, Urban pidgin in Douala, in:
Mark Sebba, Loreto Todd, ed., Papers from the York creole conference.
[=York Papers in Linguistics 11], 265-269.

Gerhard Leitner is Professor of English Linguistics at Freie
Universitaet Berlin. Major research interests in English as a global
language; varieties of English, esp. in Australia and India; linguistic
ecologies, esp. in Australia; mass media language varieties, including
texts, discourse and genres; corpus linguistics to do with varieties of


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