Say what? Eh bien, quoi?


Bon weekend. Le look. C’est le top. In case you haven’t noticed in some parts of the world French and English are merging. Big time. Particularly in Cameroon (as reported by Francis Ngwa Niba for BBC News). Koppo‘s hit song “Si Tu Vois Ma Ngo” (If You See My Girl) (Thanks Constance for giving us the correct translation!)is sung in Frananglais. Cameroon has elected to have two official languages, French and English. Some 250 languages and dialects are spoken within the nation’s borders in addition to French and English, and then there is Frananglais which is a mix between the two.

Journalist Ngwa Niba interviews teachers about the pros and cons of frananglais which is the language of choice for many schoolchildren for day-to-day communication with friends.

Kate at BootsnAll TEFL Guide writer and TEFL instructor adds her thoughts on the subject of language and why it might possibly be a good thing for national unity.

Frananglais, or ‘franglais’ as some of us call it in France has been around for a long time. Like ‘pidgin English’ or Creole, the game is to catch a few words here and there and guess the rest of the context of the sentence. The lucky ones are those that are totally bilingual. The losers are the monolingual. You think you have a clue about what’s going on – but chances are you don’t. If you’ve ever played the game where someone’s speaking and leaving out every third word from a sentence, this is similar to listening to someone speak pidgin or frananglais.

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In France, there are two times when you might end up using franglais – when your French vocabulary is so minimal that you can’t put together a full sentence – and you desperately need to convey a message. Or you’re trying to talk fast to bilingual friends.

In addition to franglais, in France, especially you’ll also find ‘argot’ or street slang which evolves with every generation. There’s also verlain in which everything is spoken in reverse. Arabic has also become part of the ‘argot’ contributing plenty of new vocabulary, some of which has mainstreamed.

When I first arrived in Paris as a student, I was eager to pick up some phrases in pidgin English from Nigerian students in our French class. One Nigerian student seemed slightly shocked i.e. he may have considered that ‘pidgin’ was a low class way of speaking and so he refused to teach me any pidgin English.

I’ve had conversations with people from various parts of the world about ‘pidgin English’ including Hawaii and in some cases, people have expressed their feelings that speaking a ‘pidgin English’ or Creole would have prevented them from being upwardly mobile.

But leaving aside economics for a moment, maybe the real question is how much do we want to communicate – and with whom? Many ‘languages’ in particular ‘argot’ were created to speak without other’s (i.e. police) knowing what you’re saying to friends. If the essential goal of a language is exclusionary, then it’s no surprise that eventually those that create a secret language will invariably sever themselves from society i.e. monks speaking Latin. Doctors used to write out medical prescriptions in Latin. Latin is practically dead. Doctors and monks these days write in French, English, Spanish, etc.