The language question in Cameroon

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Thu Jan 3 14:39:52 UTC 2008

The Language Question in Cameroon George Echu (Yaounde/Bloomington)


In multilingual Cameroon, 247 indigenous languages live side by side with
English and French (the two official languages) and Cameroon Pidgin English
(the main lingua franca). While the two official languages of colonial
heritage dominate public life in the areas of education, administration,
politics, mass media, publicity and literature, both the indigenous
languages and Cameroon Pidgin English are relegated to the background.

This paper is a critique of language policy in Cameroon revealing that
mother tongue education in the early years of primary education remains a
distant cry, as the possible introduction of an indigenous language in the
school system is not only considered unwanted by educational authorities but
equally combated against by parents who believe that the future of their
children lies in the mastery of the official languages. This persistent
disregard of indigenous languages does not only alienate the Cameroonian
child culturally, but further alienates the vast majority of Cameroonians
who are illiterate (in English and French) since important State business is
carried out in the official languages. As regards the implementation of the
policy of official language bilingualism, there is clear imbalance in the
use of the two official languages as French continues to be the dominant
official language while English is relegated to a second place within the
State. The frustration that ensues within the Anglophone community has led
in recent years to the birth of Anglophone nationalism, a situation that
seems to be widening the rift between the two main components of the society
(Anglophones and Francophones), thereby compromising national unity.
The paper is divided into five major parts. After a brief presentation of
the country, the author dwells on multilingualism and language policy since
the colonial period. The third, fourth and last parts of the paper focus on
the critique of language policy in Cameroon with emphasis first on the
policy of official language bilingualism and bilingual education, then on
the place of indigenous languages, and finally on the national language

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