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.


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.

7 thoughts on “Say what? Eh bien, quoi?

  • Mary

    Language, like people, is alive and well. It changes to reflect the people who use it. As such, it must alter itself so that communication continues.

    What was considered grammatically incorrect (such as ain’t 30 years ago), isn’t even an issue today. The F word, sooooo abhorent to my ears (again 30 years past) is commonplace today. I don’t flutter nor flitter when I hear it. I even use it occasionally.

    Still, my favorite, all time, feel good word when I’m upset (usually driving) is asshole. There’s a ring to it, soothes my nerves, calms my heart.

    The beauty of a word.

  • researchgirl

    Pidgin – definitely a tricky subject. There are some wonderful plays produced that are written entirely in pidgin, and whose authors have received prestigious Kennedy Center honors. But certainly formal language (in the U.S) seems to be de-volving constantly…one mourns the loss of formality in public speaking, particularly. No doubt the more languages one can traffic in, the better chance one has of meaningful communication. Non illegitimi carborandum, puellae!

  • parisgirl

    One of my all time favorite books The Color Purple is written mostly in dialect – and I had to read it the way I would approach reading Shakespeare – very slowly. Maybe language isn’t the question as much as do we still have the ability to slow down long enough to absorb the meaning of what people are trying to say? Chris mentioned yesterday how ‘locker room’ talk consists of staccato phrases. Like those quick e-mails you receive – minimilist or to quote the judge in Boston Legal ‘no jibber,jabber, please’.
    A lot of people just don’t want to be bothered with communication – we’re so innundated with jibber jabber.

  • parisgirl

    Thanks Katie for making that three-country communication happen. You don’t even have to wait to start teaching before you hop on a plane for another country – you can get your teaching certification in so many different parts of the world – even Paris! I have my WICE TEFL certificate tucked away in drawer somewhere – just in case I lose my day job! My hat goes off to all TEFL instructors – it’s a very challenging profession. But the rewards are immense.

  • Constance Ngando Mpondo


    the slang is actually called Camfranglais and the title of the song ‘Si tu vois ma go’ means ‘If you see my girl’ (and certainly not ‘If you see me go!!!’)

    People should check their info before they publish stuff!!!

  • Parisgirl Post author

    Thanks Constance for this correction. You are right. A lot of things get published without doing a complete accuracy check, and I’ll be the first to admit my knowledge of Camfranglais is zero. You’ll note I’ve added a direct link to the words to the song – noting that ‘girl’ in the original text is ‘ngo’. Is it right this time? Thanks again for the comment. You’re helping make Parislogue better!

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