Linguistik online 18, 1/04

The Language Question in Cameroon

George Echu (Yaounde/Bloomington)

 

Abstract

In multilingual Cameroon, 247 indigenous languages live side by side with English and French (the two official languages) and Cameroon Pidgin English (the main lingua franca). While the two official languages of colonial heritage dominate public life in the areas of education, administration, politics, mass media, publicity and literature, both the indigenous languages and Cameroon Pidgin English are relegated to the background.

This paper is a critique of language policy in Cameroon revealing that mother tongue education in the early years of primary education remains a distant cry, as the possible introduction of an indigenous language in the school system is not only considered unwanted by educational authorities but equally combated against by parents who believe that the future of their children lies in the mastery of the official languages. This persistent disregard of indigenous languages does not only alienate the Cameroonian child culturally, but further alienates the vast majority of Cameroonians who are illiterate (in English and French) since important State business is carried out in the official languages. As regards the implementation of the policy of official language bilingualism, there is clear imbalance in the use of the two official languages as French continues to be the dominant official language while English is relegated to a second place within the State. The frustration that ensues within the Anglophone community has led in recent years to the birth of Anglophone nationalism, a situation that seems to be widening the rift between the two main components of the society (Anglophones and Francophones), thereby compromising national unity.

The paper is divided into five major parts. After a brief presentation of the country, the author dwells on multilingualism and language policy since the colonial period. The third, fourth and last parts of the paper focus on the critique of language policy in Cameroon with emphasis first on the policy of official language bilingualism and bilingual education, then on the place of indigenous languages, and finally on the national language debate.


 

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