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Does Language contact Necessarily Engender Conflict? The Case of Cameroonian Quadrilingualism

Joseph Nkwain (Yaoundé)


 

Abstract

Cameroon proffers a propitious environment for the breeding of interesting linguistic phenomena that attract the curiosity of innumerable researchers. Its rich socio-cultural and linguistic background demonstrate a seemingly harmonious co-existence of two official languages – English and French, a wide spread de facto lingua franca – Pidgin English and a myriad of about 266 Home Languages attest to the complexity inherent here. The co-existence of these languages, like in similar multilingual societies produces language contact situations such as code switching, interference, linguistic borrowing, diglossia, translation, etc., as users interact. This paper assesses language behaviour in such a complex multilingual setting where users adopt varying behavioural patterns leading to the production of interesting linguistic features and patterns worthy of investigation. Following Giles' Accommodation Theory and the descriptive and exploratory approaches, the paper accounts for and paints a vivid picture of the nature of language contact here, the consequences on the different languages and their users. It redefines conflict in relation to the socio-cultural and linguistic realities of this community. Drawing evidence from true-to-life situations, the paper establishes that if contact has to engender conflict, certain socio-cultural, political and linguistic forces related to attitudinal prejudices, unintelligibility, language policies, contextual clues, linguistic hostilities, etc., are likely to be responsible. It concludes with practical remedies like the redefinition of language policies based on the linguistic aspirations of speakers and the reconciliation of linguistic and political independence in order to carefully harness the linguistic resources of this crassly heterogeneous community.


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