Language Policy in Cameroon--Bilingual Or Not?

Language Policy in Cameroon--Bilingual Or Not?

A paper I wrote for my African Studies class that I thought I would share with the world.
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Cameroon—a country with over two hundred and sixty languages—and yet only two are spoken. In Cameroon, the central Languages are English and French. Around the nineteenth century, French-European “explorers” colonized Cameroon and forced their French language on them, starting a generation of French speaking Africans. Although the country of Cameroon has (specifically) two hundred eighty four languages, French is understood by eighty percent of those who live in the country—German colonizers were the first to colonize, but their language has been extinct in Cameroon for years. The language policy in Cameroon is also quite strict in terms of keeping their country bilingual. In order to encourage the long-lasting tradition and adopted policy of bilingualism—government officials continue to push universities to maintain their bilingual nature so that individuals will be learned in both languages. When students make it to university level, they must continue to learn English and French, as six out of eight universities are lone bilingual universities in Cameroon. Still, despite efforts to maintain a primarily subconscious European rule, Cameroon still manages to be one of the most linguistically diverse countries in the world, as it has over two hundred and sixty languages spoken by twenty million Cameroonians.

As electrifying as Cameroon may appear to be, the country has had much turmoil regarding the implications for language development. In the early 1990s, there were frequent disputes between the English-speaking southwest natives of the land and the French-speaking majority on which language should rule the land. It was then decided that a bilingual country was to continue and no one language was going to rule over the entire country. However, this idea was slightly halted when Anti-French sentiments arose due to the constant manufacturing of French military weapons into the country of Nigeria. It had then become apparent that the French government was not going to cease in making sure that their language prevailed as they continued to manufacture many of the key items in which Cameroonians used—but only in the language of French. This was a smart yet conniving way of making sure that French was the ruling language and lifestyle. It also became difficult to obtain necessary household items for those who did not speak French because everything was being manufactured in the foreign language. Just as well, the French continue to dominate the Cameroonian culture as they make constant television appearances as newscasters, journalists, and even in politics. When the president of France visited Cameroon in 2015, he was attempting to find a way to bridge the gap between the two countries he felt needed to have a mutual relationship.

However, when the citizens of Cameroon realized that the French were aiding terrorists in making weapons, the Anti-French war idea was reborn. Once again, reaffirming the sure fire way to keep the French language and lifestyle into the mind and mouths of those who least desire it. Cries of justice and reformation were being called out from Cameroon in many languages heard around the world, but the only one that seemed to matter was the French Language. French leaders that have a relationship with Cameroon are not attacking the language development condition as they would in the 19th century, but in a way that could slowly recolonize and brainwash an African into making them believe that the French language was the only way to survive in Cameroon; ideas that have proven themselves reliable based on history. Keeping French in schools, media, and politics is how the French language has remained one of the top two languages that are still spoken in Cameroon—and it’s not going anywhere. In a personal account of traveling to Cameroon, one woman—with a name she deicded to leave anonymous—recounts her trip to Cameroon as she wrote with such remorse. She stated that “because the two sections have been divided by colonial rule, I believe it has had a negative affect on how the country is ran today. I learned that first hand just because a country claims to be bilingual that it isn’t always so”. She goes on to speak on how every interaction she had with an ATM or a street sign, she had to make it out in French because the country catered to that main language. Only debunking the claim that the language policy strives for inclusiveness and bilingualism. Her experience proves otherwise.

When looking at the concept of dualism, one could elaborate more on the idea that the Cameroonians culture and language do not always compliment one another. In fact, they are complete opposites. Though there may be over two hundred sixty language in Cameroon, there is no visual stimulation to remind individuals of the culture and pride that comes with that (otherwise foreign) language. For example, one of the languages that is spoken in Cameroon is Aghem, and even though there is a sense of pride that so lovingly accompanies this language, the only way to embrace this culture is to speak it; unlike it’s adopted family member of a language—French. French television shows, French news and French lifestyles make it extremely hard for an African to embrace the African culture without feeling like he or she has she take on an entirely new persona just to fit the language they are speaking. That very division that is felt inside of many Africans assists dualism as it prevails today as there continues to be a persistent neglect of the many indigenous languages of Cameroon. This not only alienates individuals of the language, but it creates a type of separation within the African community. There is a constant stream of strife within language culture because many citizens have he mindset that if an individual does not speak a certain type of English well or if an individual does not speak French as a more sophisticated individual would, then they are not fit to call themselves civil or “true".

When Frantz Fanon wrote on linguistic alienation, he stated that “to speak a language is to take on a world, a culture” (1967a:38) [1] When an African that is from a country that has been forced to adopt a language, there is an instant separation from his or her true African culture. The African must learn the French culture in order to make sense of the language in which he or she is speaking; thus, explaining why dualism is so prevalent in Cameroon. Although there may be breakthroughs in how diverse the country is linguistically, the majority of Cameroonians will only know the “correct” lifestyle of the French as seen on television, news papers, and education. Opposition continues to prevail as the French dominate the country.



Notes

1. Ali A. and Alamin, M, The Power of Babel: Language and Governance in the American Experience (British Catalouging in Publication, 1998), 58

2. The Language Question In Cameroon, last modified June 18, 2004, https://bop.unibe.ch/linguistik-online/article/view/765

3. Hollande’s Cameroon Visit Exacerbates Anti-French Sentiments,” last modified

July 1, 2015, http://www.voanews.com/a/hollande-cameroon-visit-exacerbates-

anti-french-sentiments/2844257.html

4. “Ethnologue: Languages of the World,” last modified January 5, 2009, https://www.ethnologue.com/country/CM

5. “Living and learning in Cameroon,” last modified March 11, 2009, http://home.uchicago.edu/~azangnjaah/bilingual.htm




[1] Frantz Fanon, The Power of Babel: Language & Governance in the African Experience (University of Chicago Press, 1998), 101.

Cover Image Credit: https://peterincameroon.wordpress.com/

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