27.3554, Review: Lang Doc; Socioling; Corpus Ling: Nkengasong (2016)

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Subject: 27.3554, Review: Lang Doc; Socioling; Corpus Ling: Nkengasong (2016)

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Date: Fri, 09 Sep 2016 14:18:00
From: David Robertson [ddr11 at columbia.edu]
Subject: A Grammar of Cameroonian Pidgin

Discuss this message:

Book announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/27/27-879.html

AUTHOR: Nkemngong  Nkengasong
TITLE: A Grammar of Cameroonian Pidgin
PUBLISHER: Cambridge Scholars Publishing
YEAR: 2016

REVIEWER: David Douglas Robertson,  

Reviews Editor: Helen Aristar-Dry


 Nkemngong Nkengasong here sketches the structure of Cameroonian Pidgin
(CP)/Kamtok, an English-lexified pidgincreole of West Africa.  The Preface and
Introduction specify the author's nonlinguist, but well-educated
native-speaker, status, and contextualize this study.  Chapters focus on
sociolinguistic context (1); sounds and morphology (2); major and minor
syntactic classes (3 and 4); and clause/sentence types (5).  An Appendix of
proverbs and a glossary each occupy a sixth of the book, followed by a brief
Bibliography and an Index.  


 “The approach used in this book may not satisfy the taste of a professional
linguist,” Nkengasong admonishes, but his goals of helping foreigners
communicate in multiethnic Cameroon and laying groundwork for further serious
documentation are admirably realized (p.4).  He shares more than enough
information to enable both accomplishments.  The book's large amount of data,
especially the hundreds of full sentences in the Pidgin Proverbs and Sayings
appendix, ensure that the determined reader can proceed beyond the
standard-English oriented contrastive presentation and answer most questions
that a linguist's analysis would address.  Where relevant, I will give
examples of points that a sharp-eyed linguist can clarify in Nkengasong's

 Chapter 1, “The Socio-Cultural Context of Cameroonian Pidgin”, shows why CP
emerged and flourished: Cameroon is a major linguistic hotspot of diversity,
and centuries of global trade connections have only reinforced the usefulness
of an English-based interethnic medium.  While generally reflecting a newer
supra-tribal cultural identity, CP takes a number of specific forms depending
on its usage context, for example the youth-language Camfranglais and the
hip-hop register Mboko Tok (p.9).  Nkengasong sees a strong future for CP,
significantly arguing “it is the only non-European language to cross the
national and the regional borders” (p. 19).

 Chapter 2, “The Writing System, Sounds and Word Formation”, surveys the
heterogeneity of written CP, which despite the structural consistency of
(spoken) CP, is rare and thus unstandardized (p.20).  The helpful account of
the sound system is dependent on standard-English orthography, so details like
vowel qualities and tones (low, high, and neutral), and pronunciation of <ng>
in various positions, could be clarified (pp.27-32).  Apostrophe almost always
signals nothing more than a morpheme boundary, occurring near-exclusively in
the (inanimate) third-person object 'am, but evidently it can also indicate a
glottal-stop phoneme that is not overtly discussed, when it occurs e.g. in
bo'o 'acquaintance; friend' (p.149).  Morphology gets excellent attention,
such that important features like reduplication and bound elements can be
understood in some detail.  

 Chapter 3, “Major Word Classes”, discusses (optionally pluralizable)
countable vs. uncountable nouns, and lexical gender (pp.42-48).  Verbs,
including a number of copulas, are described with much of their rich tense,
mood and aspect (TMA) inflection (pp.48-69), though a chart summarizing
relative positions of these many elements would help.  Single, double and
triple negation are usefully noted (pp.69-70).  Attributive and predicative
adjectives and specifiers receive general notice (pp.70-74), with narrower
points such as whether comparatives can be used attributively unresolved. 
Intensification turns out to be a major function of full-word reduplication
(pp.74-75) related to adverbs (pp.76-77).  Quantifiers are only mentioned

 Chapter 4, “Minor Word Classes”, of course addresses all other categories. 
Pronouns that signal the three persons and two numbers are categorized as
personal, reflexive and possessive, though example data strongly suggest the
first of these are specifically subjects, distinct from an object-pronoun
paradigm subsuming indirect objects.  Similarly there is an unmentioned
animacy distinction in pronominal paradigms, for example among third-person
objects: animate yi (p.118, sentence 52) and inanimate 'am (p.87).  There
exist prepositions including the generic fo and an uncommented-on null (e.g. A
go go Ø Yawinde... 'I will go to Yaounde...', p. 90) as well as, interacting
with possessives, apparent circumpositions (pp.85-89).  Coordinating
conjunctions include an 'and', a connector either of NPs or of clauses; the
most generic subordinator is se (omitted when the main verb is se 'say'?),
while others express temporal sequence, cause, and conditionality.  The system
of optional articles splits between definiteness and indefinite-specificity. 
There is a proximate/distal demonstrative system.  The interesting morph na is
described as a copula “which makes the declarative statements and the
interrogatives in Pidgin more precise” (p.96), but its typically
clause-initial placement, its licit cooccurrence with copula bi, and its
optionality in WH-questions all suggest it may rather be a topicalization
marker (e.g. If no bi na yu, na ya broda 'If it is not you, it is your
brother', ibid.).  This will be a fascinating subject for further research.  A
few interjections and discourse markers are noted (pp.99-100), but of course
the strong culture-dependence of such items begs for expanded discussion, as
do ideophones (pp.100-102).  

 Chapter 5, “Sentence Structures and Types”, introduces simple sentences,
whose structure is basically Subj Neg TMA Adv V Obj; that is, at least a few
adverbs routinely occur between inflectional clitics such as the 'habitual' di
and the verb root: Buzi no di wosh bet i di eva clin 'Busy doesn't take a bath
but it is always clean' (p.118).  The identical constituent order
characterizes subordinate clauses.  Compound and complex sentences, and
serial-verb constructions, are introduced; the latter certainly warrant more
than the allotted two pages (105-106) of explanation to speakers of Standard
English, to whom they and their uses (e.g. in adjectival comparison, cf.
p.73-74) will be puzzling.  The “serial pronoun construction” section
(pp.106-107) is really just a restatement of the fact that there is an overt
subject in almost all clauses.  Subtypes of declarative main clauses are
illustrated (pp.107-108); polar interrogatives and, optionally, WH-questions
are syntactically identical to these, therefore presumably distinguished by
intonation (p.109-111).  Second-person imperatives lack overt subjects while
other persons place a hortative mek before their subjects (pp.111-112). 
Exclamatory sentences (pp.112-113) and “greetings and reaction utterances”
(pp.113-115), such as ashia! and subject-pronoun doubling constructions, are
additional topics wanting cultural contextualization.  

 As already hinted at, the Appendix of “Pidgin Proverbs and Sayings” is what
in the final analysis makes this a deeply useful reference work, equating
roughly to the section of sample texts in traditional grammar descriptions. 
The material here is plainly genuine, uncensored (e.g. Moto no mo 'Excreta is
not good', p.133), and consequently illustrative of many features of actual
usage not addressed in the main chapters.  I would like to point out a
sampling of the extra knowledge to be gleaned from the Appendix.  Numerous
further examples of serial-verb constructions appear, such as Tek bon nak dog
'Use a bone to hit a dog' (p.140).  A quasi-passive strategy involves
expletive third-person pronominal subjects, as in Dem no di fos monki fo chop
banana 'A monkey is never forced to eat bananas' (p.119).  The “copula” or
topicalizer na mentioned above often has, in practice, a specifying force
glossed as 'only', as Lezi man yi kutlas di shap na fo planti 'A lazy man's
cutlass is sharp only on plantain stems' (p.127).  

 The “Glossary of Pidgin Words and Expressions” adds great value also, in
being the one section of the book where the lexical tone of every syllable is
indicated.  The author's decision to focus strongly on lexemes deriving from
African languages, such as abanda 'a modernized traditional and romantic dance
involving strict application of rules' (p.146),  is a great service to
standard-English speaking readers.  The part-of-speech abbreviations are
sometimes opaque, as with “np” for the previously mentioned na, and some might
stand reevaluation, such as “adv” for abeg ʹpleaseʹ.  

 Included in the “Bibliography” is an excellent selection of further sources
for the reader whose curiosity about CP is piqued by Nkengasong's exposition. 
These range from sociolinguistic examinations to biblical materials, a breadth
that suggests the likelihood of a motivated learner obtaining a reasonably
fluent grasp of this language.  The “Index” comprehensively locates all topics
featured in the author's analysis and discussion of CP.  

 In summary, this volume is a fine and stimulating introduction to a West
African contact language.  Filled with extensive usage examples, it is sure to
reward readers both lay and linguistic in orientation.  Any future edition can
easily build on what is already contained between its covers, expanding into a
detailed, authoritative reference for much future study.


David Douglas Robertson, PhD, is a consulting linguist who repatriates old
documentation of Salish and other Native American languages of the Pacific
Northwest, including Chinuk Wawa / Chinook Jargon. He is based in Spokane, WA,


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