A Dictionary of Camfranglais

by Hector Kamdem (Author)
©2015 Others 261 Pages


This book is a simple and clear presentation of the lexis of Camfranglais, an urban youth sociolect in Cameroon. It presents this sociolect as an outgrowth of language contact phenomena that have fossilized especially around the Littoral Region of Cameroon. Methodologically speaking, it uses a lexicographic as well as an ethnographic approach to data collection. Lexical elements have been collected from such diverse sources as Cameroonian popular music, online chat groups and forums like Facebook, blogs, Youtube videos etc. Besides there were group conversations organized for the collection of data. The major strength of this book lies in the diversity and authenticity of its sources which are all traceable. Moreover, all the regular statements it makes about the origin, semantic categories, grammatical classes of the lexis of Camfranglais are the result of the necessary lexical manipulations that should precede these statements. A complete alphabetical lexicon of Camfranglais is presented, and, where possile, etymologies are given. For all entries, real examples are quoted so as to guide the reader to the usage of words. Idiomatic expressions are also presented for different lexical entries. The book will serve as reference for those working on Camfranglais as well as a starting point for lexico-semantic studies on Camfranglais.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • 1 Introduction
  • 1.1 Camfranglais: Historical Origin and Definition
  • 1.2 The Camfranglais, Cameroon Pidgin English, Mboko Talk, CameroonPopular French continuum and code-switching
  • 2 Methodology
  • 2.1 Field research
  • 2.2 Acknowledgements
  • 2.3 The Making of the Dictionary
  • 2.4 Overview of the dictionary
  • 3 Sociolinguistics of Camfranglais
  • 3.1 Camfranglais as a youth language
  • 3.2 Knowledge, use and attitudes
  • 3.3 Diachronic aspects of Camfranglais
  • 4 Lexical elaboration of Camfranglais
  • 4.1 Humans and Social Relations
  • 4.1.1 Socio-professional roles
  • 4.1.2 Social Status and Attributes
  • 4.1.3 Men and Women
  • 4.1.4 Descriptions of Everyday Life Situations
  • 4.2 Communication
  • 4.3 Sex and Sexuality
  • 4.4 Evaluation & Measurement
  • 4.5 Body & Appearance
  • 4.6 Economy and money
  • 4.7 Experience and feeling
  • 4.8 Violence, illegality and trouble
  • 4.9 Sports & Entertainment
  • 4.10 Forms of Address, politeness and Respect
  • 4.11 Insults
  • 4.12 Geography and places
  • 4.13 Crime & police
  • 4.14 Drugs and Alcohol
  • 4.15 Movement &vehicles
  • 4.16 Education
  • 4.17 Diseases, Medicine & Witchcraft
  • 5 The poetic making of Camfranglais
  • 5.1 Metaphorical Source Domains in Camfranglais
  • 5.2 Semantic manipulation in Camfranglais
  • 5.2.1 Metonymy
  • 5.3 Dysphemism
  • 5.4 Hyperbole
  • 5.5 Onomastic synecdoche
  • 5.5.1 Semantic Positivization
  • 5.5.2 Euphemism
  • 5.6 Morphological manipulation in Camfranglais
  • 5.6.1 Affixation
  • 5.6.2 Clipping
  • 5.6.3 Inversion
  • 5.6.4 Compounding
  • 5.6.5 Reduplication
  • 5.6.6 (Phonological) Transformation or Manipulation
  • 5.6.7 Abbreviations and Acronyms
  • 5.7 Word Class in Camfranglais
  • 5.8 Donor languages
  • 6 The construction of youth identities in discourse practice
  • 7 Camfranglais in a historical perspective
  • 7.1 Pidginisation and creolisation
  • 7.2 Codeswitching
  • 8 Conclusion
  • References
  • Blogs and web pages
  • 9 Dictionary of Camfranglais

← 10 | 11 →1 Introduction

Who does a dictionary belong to? Such was the central question to be answered when embarking on the project to write a dictionary of Camfranglais. To this question, the answer was simple: it must be the property of everybody. It is the property of all the speakers or users of the language or language variety whose words and usage it illustrates, as well as that of non-speakers or users of the language variety. These speakers may only consider a dictionary as an object of study or a mere curiosity, as the case might be. A dictionary can thus not be said to have one single author, or even many!

Representativity was the buzzword in the selection of items to be ­considered as Camfranglais or Francanglais. But, more importantly, what is Camfranglais, and what lexical elements would qualify as Camfranglais or not? In 2014 for ­example, where does one go for vocabulary items that would also reflect the usage 30 years ago? The main difficulty in obtaining words, phrases and ­idiomatic ­expressions to be included in this dictionary relates to diachrony as well as to defining the boundaries of Camfranglais. Camfranglais is not a ­recent ­phenomenon, and ­linguistic descriptions of it date as far back as 1985. The ­sources for obtaining lexical elements are fewer and less diverse the further back we go. For the 1980s and 90s for example, scientific articles describing this language phenomenon are the major sources available. To this can be added a few recordings of ­popular drama that contain some expressions which have survived through to the ­present and are still used in Camfranglais, as well as some rather unauthoritative online glossaries. But whether such expressions used in the popular drama of ­Cameroonian comedian Jean Michel Kankan, for example, were at that time viewed as Camfranglais or not is another question. Furthermore, the ­scientific articles consulted do not always clearly describe their data collection procedure. What this implies is that it is only from the beginning of the 2000s when ­first-hand data – mostly from the social networks, radio and TV broadcasts, as well as popular music – could be obtained for research purposes. That said, the dividing line between Camfranglais and Cameroon Popular French is thin. Whatever the case, the spirit of this dictionary is to be as inclusive as possible, while it is more oriented towards contemporary Camfranglais speech (from the year 2000 onwards).

Defining and conducting lexicographic work on this specifically Cameroonian way of speaking has been done in this study with the perspective that Camfranglais exists along a linguistic continuum and is always in contact with other languages and language varieties.

← 11 | 12 →1.1 Camfranglais: Historical Origin and Definition

Camfranglais, or Francanglais as it is popularly referred to, has had varying statuses and perceptions over time. The literature dates its probable origins to the 1970s (de Feral 1989:20; Kießling 2004:4). When talking about the origin of Camfranglais, what is meant is how and when it was “created.” In this ­regard, several opinions have been advanced in different studies on this matter. One of the oldest of such studies is by Tiayon-Lekoubou (1985:50), who posits that Camspeak, as he then called it, was at that time an argot used by young rascals and criminals, especially in and around the Douala Seaport. For Lobe Ewane (1989:34), it was created by students at the University of Yaoundé, which was at the time the only university in Cameroon and consequently a melting pot for students from all over the country who came to Yaoundé to pursue ­university education. This university opened its doors in 1962. In a comparatively recent study, Kouega (2003 :525), has a similar view as Lobe Ewane, while he ­believes that Camfranglais was the creation of secondary school students rather than ­university students. In Kouega’s view, secondary school students, especially drop-outs, learnt Camfranglais at school and then exported it to their various social networks. For Carole de Feral (1989:20), in the 1970s in the urban centre of Douala, youths indulged in a language practice she referred to as Francais ­Makro.1 De Feral distinguishes between Makro étroit and Makro large. Makro étroit refers to the language variant used by criminals and other rascals, while Makro large refers to a more popular version of Makro étroit.

Given the above accounts, it could be said that Camfranglais has always had specific loci or places where it tends to be predominantly spoken (e.g. the Douala seaport, university and secondary schools). These places bring together many people from different ethnic backgrounds. These are also places ­dominated by youths. However, the mere fact that it was predominantly spoken somewhere does not imply that it is the creation of those who spoke it there. It is more ­plausible instead to investigate the language contact conditions that made it ­possible for Camfranglais to see the light of day, rather than identifying places where it is frequently spoken as birth places. It is also clear, however, that the different places where Camfranglais is spoken do influence the way it is spoken.

Historically, the origin of Camfranglais can be traced to 1970 or slightly before. All persons born in the 1940s and 1950s who I have interviewed in ← 12 | 13 →Yaoundé and Douala, two major Cameroonian city centres where Camfranglais is ­spoken, affirmed that they did not grow up speaking Camfranglais and only noticed this phenomenon as their own children grew up in the 1970s and 1980s. It may be that with the reunification of former French and British Cameroons, English ­gained more importance as one of the country’s two official languages. English also ­became a compulsory school subject in former French Cameroon. ­Camfranglais is, at least in part, a by-product of the language learning ­process. Seen this way, Francophone learners of English, in attempting to speak ­English, tend to fall back on (Francophone) Pidgin English, which had been well ­established for many ­decades, even in remote areas of the country, due to the presence of British traders and later missionaries between 1400 and 1800. This explains why there tends to be greater correspondence with Pidgin English than with (­Cameroonian) English in Camfranglais (c.f section 5.7). Seen from this perspective, Camfranglais is an outgrowth of codeswitching and codemixing patterns that have become fixed on emblematic lexical items. This phenomenon is particularly noticeable in places where there is significant contact between speakers of Pidgin English and speakers of (Cameroonian) French. The roots of this way of speaking are to be found in the language contact region of the towns of former British Cameroon and those of former French Cameroon. It can also be argued that it is people who once lived in these contact regions themselves who exported Camfranglais to university and secondary school circles.

Following de Feral’s (ibid) dual distinction between Makro-étroit and Makro large, it can also be said that Camfranglais exists on a continuum. At one end is a popular version of it, and at the other is a more restrictive or less-spread version. This continuum is discussed in 1.2. But still, what is Camfranglais? Below is a list of definitions of Camfranglais given by scholars as well as users of it.

The first of such definitions is drawn from the homepage of the Facebook group Ici on topo le camfranglais! Le speech des vrais man du mboa:2

Le camfranglais ou frananglais3 est un argot camerounais à base de français, d'anglais et de langues camerounaises (plus de 200 recencées). Il est très utilisé par les jeunes ­camerounais et camerounaises y compris les compatriotes se trouvant à lʹtranger. Cʹest le speech des vrais man du Mboa!

← 13 | 14 →Camfranglais or Frananglais is a Cameroonian argot based on French, English and ­Cameroonian languages (more than 200 identified local languages). It is highly used by young Cameroonians including compatriots abroad. It is the speech form of true sons of the Mboa! [author’s translation]

This group is probably the one that has the greatest number of speakers who come together as a virtual community of speakers of Camfranglais (62,222 ­members as of 23 April 2014). The above definition is particularly interesting, as it not only signals its restrictive status as an argot, but also gives it an identity status (i.e. a way of speaking known only to real Cameroonians). Seen in this way, speaking Camfranglais is most importantly an act of identity (LePage and Tabouret-Keller 1985). What is more, this definition appears to be a departure from previous considerations, which give the impression that Camfranglais is necessarily spoken with antilinguistic intentions. Kouega (2013:20), for example, states: “They use it simply to exchange information among members in such a way that this information looks mysterious to non-members and sometimes sounds humorous to the interlocutors.”

Over time the status and perception of Camfranglais have changed. Older perceptions and hence definitions of Camfranglais include the following. Fosso, (1999) uses the French term “sabir” to define Camfranglais. This word if considered in its pejorative meaning, this would roughly translate as “rubbish talk”. Ze Amvela (1989: 56), discusses Camfranglais in the following terms:


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2015 (March)
Soziolinguistik Wortschatz Jugendsprache Kamerun
Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2015. 261 pp., 8 b/w fig., 3 tables

Biographical notes

Hector Kamdem (Author)

Hector Kamdem Fonkoua is a Junior Fellow at the Bayreuth International Graduate School of African Studies (BIGSAS) in Bayreuth (Germany). He holds several degrees in English and French linguistics as well as for the teaching of these languages.


Title: A Dictionary of Camfranglais