Linguistic Landscapes and Multilingualism in Yaoundé, Cameroon. Sociolinguistic and Socio-cognitive Processes at Work

Sociolinguistic and socio-cognitive processes at work

by Neele Mundt (Author)
©2023 Thesis 288 Pages


Linguistic Landscape studies examine language(s) in public spaces. This study focuses on the interplay of language, space and sociocultural context: Yaoundé’s Linguistic Landscape is examined with respect to its multilingual and multimodal nature. Next to a sociolinguistic framework, a (socio)cognitive analysis is also put centre stage.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of contents
  • Acknowledgements
  • List of abbreviations
  • Introduction
  • Chapter 1: Cameroon’s colonial past and its present sociolinguistic situation: Language policy, diversity and the marginalisation of languages
  • 1.1 Colonialism and its impact on contemporary Cameroon
  • 1.2 Cameroon’s ethnolinguistic profile
  • 1.3 Cameroon’s official languages
  • 1.3.1 The policy of official bilingualism
  • 1.3.2 The failure of the official bilingual policy – A divide along (post)colonial lines
  • Chapter 2: Approaching the linguistic landscape – LL tokens, and multimodality in the African context(s)
  • 2.1 The sign in linguistic landscape research
  • 2.2 Trends in linguistic landscape research: From linguistic to multimodal landscape
  • 2.3 African perspective(s) in linguistic landscape research
  • 2.4 Multimodality in the public space
  • 2.4.1 Content-thematic coherence of language and image on signs
  • 2.4.2 Multimodal metaphor and metonymy in the linguistic landscape
  • Chapter 3: Setting the scene: The research site and methodology
  • 3.1 Ethnic diversity and socio-economic status in Yaoundé
  • 3.1.1 The Mfoundi Department and Yaoundé’s census data
  • 3.1.2 The research sites in Yaoundé
  • 3.2 Studying the linguistic landscape: Data collection and documentation methods
  • 3.2.1 Photographic documentation of public signs
  • 3.2.2 A quantitative approach: Statistical analysis of public signs
  • 3.2.3 Qualitative research methods: Semi-structured interviews and (participant) observations
  • 3.2.4 Geosemiotics: A cartographic display of multilingualism
  • 3.2.5 Corpus analysis: Description of the corpora
  • 3.3 Critical reflections
  • Chapter 4: Types of signs in the linguistic landscape: Towards a cognitive-functional approach
  • 4.1 Structuring the “unstructured jungle”: Categorisations, classifications and approaches
  • 4.2 Graffiti: Problematising the blend of form and function
  • 4.3 A cognitive-functional framework to signs in the LL
  • 4.4 Image-schematic representation of public signs
  • 4.4.1 The rule schema
  • 4.4.2 The offer schema and commercial discourse on LL tokens
  • 4.4.3 The orientation schema and infrastructural discourse on public signs
  • 4.4.4 The opinion schema and political discourse
  • Chapter 5: Multilingualism and the linguistic landscape: Multilingual signs, language contact and translanguaging
  • 5.1 Urban spaces fostering language contact
  • 5.2 Multilingualism in the public space
  • 5.2.1 Visibility of multilingual writing
  • 5.2.2 Social factors influencing the multilingual landscape
  • 5.3 Translation as an approach to the multilingual linguistic landscape
  • 5.3.1 The notion of shared meaning in multilingual writing
  • 5.3.2 Complementary and polyphonic multilingualism or instances of lexical borrowing?
  • 5.3.3 Hybrid forms emerging in a multilingual context
  • 5.4 Approaching multilingual writing: Code-switching and lexical borrowings or translanguaging
  • 5.4.1 Code-switching and lexical borrowings in the LL
  • 5.4.2 Code-switching and lexical borrowings in Yaoundé’s LL
  • 5.4.3 Translingual practices and translanguaging in the LL
  • 5.4.4 Translanguaging: Evidence from the LL of Yaoundé
  • Chapter 6: Culture and the linguistic landscape: Local language use and other semiotic representations
  • 6.1 Approaching culture in Cameroon
  • 6.1.1 A cognitive account of culture
  • 6.1.2 Cameroon and high-context: Evidence from the LL
  • 6.2 The colonial impact on the discussion of tribe and ethnicity in Cameroon
  • 6.3 Urban ethnicity and the cultural model of community
  • 6.3.1 The cultural model of community in Africa
  • 6.3.2 Urban kinship and its socio-economic implications
  • 6.4 Ethnicity, culture and community in the linguistic landscape
  • 6.4.1 Reflecting ethnicity and culture through local language use in the linguistic landscape
  • 6.4.2 Categories of food and drink in the linguistic landscape
  • 6.4.3 Semiotic representations of culture and local cultural practices
  • Chapter 7: Governmental signs and the linguistic landscape: The renegotiation of space, language policy implications and prototypicality
  • 7.1 Public labels in the linguistic landscape
  • 7.1.1 The presence and absence of toponymic structures
  • 7.1.2 Renegotiation of Yaoundé’s public labels
  • 7.1.3 Yaoundé’s quarters and their linguistic adaptation into French
  • 7.2 Infrastructural signs in the linguistic landscape
  • 7.2.1 Geographical distribution of mono- and multilingual infrastructural signage across Yaoundé
  • 7.2.2 Prototypicality effects in infrastructural signposts
  • Chapter 8: (Multilingual) advertisements and the role of English in Yaoundé’s linguistic landscape
  • 8.1 The multilingual landscape of Yaoundé
  • 8.1.1 Zooming into the multilingual nature of Yaoundé’s commercial linguistic landscape
  • 8.1.2 Geospatial distribution of multilingualism
  • 8.2 The glocalisation of English in the linguistic landscape
  • 8.2.1 “Global” English in Yaoundé: US-Americanisations and imitations
  • 8.2.2 Branding of local companies in English
  • 8.2.3 English and beauty: Fashionability in the linguistic landscape
  • Chapter 9: Language in the linguistic landscape: A conclusion
  • 9.1 Exploring the main findings
  • 9.2 Policy suggestions
  • 9.3 Avenues for future research
  • List of figures
  • List of maps
  • List of tables
  • References
  • Series Index

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There are many people without whose guidance and support this dissertation would never have been realised. Throughout the process of my dissertation, I received a great deal of support from a huge number of people in Cameroon and in Germany.

I would like to thank my supervisor Prof Dr Martin Pütz, whose expertise and input have been invaluable. His strong encouragement and insightful feedback in the pursuit of this research project were greatly appreciated. I am very thankful that he encouraged me to conduct field research in Cameroon in the first place. I am equally indebted to my second supervisor Prof Dr Frank Polzenhagen for his continuous support and guidance throughout my dissertation. I am deeply grateful for his encouragement and the fruitful academic discussions. I would also like to thank my colleagues at the English Department of the University of Koblenz-Landau, who gave me advice and insights. Furthermore, I would like to thank Prof Dr Sabine Diao-Klaeger for her expertise in French Linguistics, and Dr Ines Fiedler for her input and friendship.

Special thanks are due to the English Department at the Université de Yaoundé 1 (École Normale Supérieure) that took me in for an entire year. In particular, I would like to thank Prof Dr Aloysius Ngefac and Prof Dr Daniel Nkemleke for their support and Prof Dr Divine Neba for sharing his office and palm wine with me. Without their help, it would not have been possible to conduct field research and feel so at home in Cameroon. I would also like to thank my student assistant Emmanuel Ndonwi with whom I spent numerous hours in the field. Family Forteh created a home away from home for me outside of the university.

I also would like to thank my partner, Jakob Janßen, for his immense support during the last years and his patience for all the weekends and late nights that I spent writing. I would also like to show gratitude to my friends, who encouraged me and kept me distracted from work at times. In particular, I would like to acknowledge Tim-Oliver Paul, Stephanie Humbert, Ronja Lippelt, Orla Donnelly and Nils Drebold for their constant companionship. A special thanks goes to Julia Renner for sharing the last year of our PhD process and to Katie Ahern for reading my thesis and providing me with useful comments. I am very grateful for the continuous support from my grandparents Dieter and Heiderose Mundt without whose help I would have never started the dissertation.

Additionally, I was very grateful to receive financial funding from the Rotary Foundation for my one-year stay in Yaoundé from 2016 to 2017. Furthermore, ←xi | xii→the DAAD (Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst) financially supported my research trip to the University of London in 2019. Moreover, I would like to thank the University of Koblenz-Landau for their financial support to participate in international conferences.

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Multilingualism can be viewed as “a normal and unremarkable necessity for the majority in the world today” (Edwards, 1994: 1). These multilingual realities may be based on social, political or economic changes, including immigration, colonialism, imperialism or globalisation, which continuously shape the sociocultural context and identities (Edwards, 2012: 7–8). Multilingual speakers move within their multilingual realities by using “two or more languages or dialects in their everyday lives – be it simultaneously (in language contact situations) or consecutively (in the context of immigration)” (Pavlenko, 2005: 6). Multilingual speakers can switch between two or more distinct languages or dialects according to the social situation. Blommaert (2010: 102) challenges this notion of multilingualism: it “should not be seen as a collection of ‘languages’ that a speaker controls, but rather as a complex semiotic resource, some of which belong to a conditionally defined ‘language’, while others belong to another ‘language’”. This semiotic resource comprises spoken language varieties, written languages, socio-cultural competencies and language attitudes (ibid.). Therefore, Blommaert (ibid.) argues that multilingual speakers draw from one semiotic resource in communicative situations rather than independent languages, underpinning the notion of translanguaging. Translanguaging is defined as “the act performed by bilinguals of accessing different linguistic features […] of what are described as autonomous languages, in order to maximise communicative potential” (García, 2009: 140). Consequently, Blommaert (2010) also broadens the scope of the underlying concept of language.

In recent years, the concept of language has been reassessed, by expanding the theoretical framework to include a broader range of modalities such as music, images or movement. This new understanding of language causes Shohamy (2015: 168) to raise the following questions: “Does an expanded meaning of ‘language’ need to be limited to words? Are a movement, a dance, food, bodies not languages, that provide and send meanings to others?” The broadening of the scope focuses on the transferral of meaning as the central element of language, which is not only restricted to linguistics but also includes non-linguistic cues such as dance, food and movement. This highlights the entanglement of language and culture, and thus, language also contains socio-cultural practices that are, linguistically and non-linguistically, encoded and carry meaning in a community. This broader understanding allows sociolinguists to expand their research scope from oral and written languages towards a multimodal and ←1 | 2→interdisciplinary analysis of society, languages and cultural practices across time and space. Multimodality is concerned with the amalgamation of different semiotic resources, for instance, language, image and/or sound. In this regard, linguistic landscape studies extend the notion of language by focusing on multimodal public signs visible in the public space (van Mensel, Vandenbroucke and Blackwood, 2016: 423). These public signs can also be labelled linguistic landscape tokens or items.

Spaces become particularly pertinent to linguistic landscape studies since the field is concerned with a deeper understanding of language, images and other modalities in the public space. Blommaert (2013: 1) foregrounds the descriptive and analytical nature of linguistic landscape studies, advancing the field of sociolinguistics by arguing that it entails a shift from “speakers to spaces, the physical spaces in which such speakers dwell and in which they pick up and leave, so to speak, linguistic deposits, ‘waste’, signposts and roadmaps”. These spaces are not only geographically determined but also influenced by the socio-cultural and political context; hence, this constructs a space which “offers, enables, triggers, invites, prescribes, proscribes, polices or enforces certain patterns of social behaviour” (ibid.: 3). These socio-cultural and political forces leave traces in the linguistic landscape (henceforth, LL), which can only be comprehensibly described and analysed through a multimodal framework, revealing aspects such as power, control or activism.

Next to a sociolinguistic framework, a (socio)cognitive analysis is put centre stage in this investigation. Generally speaking, cognitive linguistics assumes that “language offers a window into cognitive function, providing insights into the nature, structure and organisation of thoughts and ideas” (Evans and Green, 2006: 5). The structure and functions of language thus provide an insight into the human mind. Geeraerts, Kristiansen and Peirsman (2010: 3) convincingly note that a cognitive (socio)linguistics approach not only needs to consider cognitive implications but also “socially and culturally situated cognition” since “meaning does not exist in isolation”. Taking into consideration that language offers an insight into the mind, this needs to be reflected in the LL at large and in how people (re)shape spaces around them. Adapting a cognitive linguistic approach to LL studies provides a new perspective on the LL tokens’ situated meaning, thus adding a new theoretical dimension to the field of LL studies in general. The contextualisation of space, language and socio-cultural practices entails the inclusion of multimodal metaphors in the LL (Chapter 2.4.2), a cognitive-functional modelling of signs in the LL, more precisely image-schematic representations of LL items (Chapter 4.4), the cultural model of community (Chapter 6.4), and prototypicality effects in the LL (Chapter 7.2).

←2 | 3→Placing the focus on Africa at large adds a new dimension to the inquiries into the interplay of language, space and sociocultural context: Colonialism has had a long-lasting effect on Africa’s sociocultural and linguistic situation in general and on multilingual Cameroon in particular. Tangwa (1999: 3) characterises colonialism as “the most important single event in the human history of Africa”, which resulted in the division of the continent “with regard for neither the linguistic, cultural nor political state of affairs”. On the invitation of the German chancellor Otto von Bismarck, the Berlin Conference of the Congo (1884–85) was attended by 14 states – none of them African – which not only led to the divide of the African continent “but also [to] a precarious division of power in Europe” (Verstraelen, 1984: 84). Following the principle of divide et impera, the main objective was to gain political, economic and military control over territories outside the European continent (ibid.). Colonialism can be described as a political organisation focusing either on settlement or on exploitation (e.g. Mufwene 2001; Butt, 2013). It is important to note that the colonial territories in West and Central Africa were predominately of an exploitative nature: only a few colonialists lived in these territories to establish and maintain the administrative system (ibid.).

The LL of Yaoundé, the capital city of Cameroon, provides the focal point of this empirical investigation. Cameroon is one of the most linguistically diverse countries in the world, with the two former colonial languages constitutionally implemented as official languages and a triple colonial experience. While studies have had regard for the linguistic and sociolinguistic contexts in Cameroon, such as Simo Bobda’s (1994) ground-breaking work on Cameroon English phonology, Kouega’s (2007) investigation of Cameroon’s language situation, as well as Ngefac’s (2016) sociolinguistic and structural analysis of Cameroon Pidgin English; Cameroon is understudied with respect to the LL. There are relatively few studies that investigate Cameroon’s LL: Afungmeyu Abongdia and Foncha (2017) explore the visibility of language ideologies in the University of Yaoundé; Pütz (2020: 294) examines the multilingual nature of the LL in Cameroon against the backdrop of the “social and political implications in an ethnically heterogeneous and linguistically hybrid society”; Makoudjou and Mekamgoum (2019) focus on a pedagogical approach which employs the LL of Yaoundé as a tool to raise students’ awareness of cultural and linguistic diversity; while Nkamta and Ngwenya (2017) study advertisements with respect to multilingualism and the hegemony of English and French at the expense of local languages (henceforth, LocL). Though few in number, these small-scale studies serve as a starting point for a more elaborate discussion of multilingualism, language ideologies and language policy on a broader scale.

←3 | 4→The present work embraces an in-depth analysis of the LL. It focuses on the sociolinguistic and socio-cognitive processes shaping Yaoundé’s LL. In this realm, this book explores central aspects of Yaoundé’s LL and ties together research strands from both sociolinguistics and (socio)cognitive linguistics by exploring the following questions:

(i) How can LL tokens be comprehensively classified?

(ii)How multilingual is the LL, and which implications does this have for local languages, the displayed language diversity, and the Cameroonian language policy at large?

(iii)How do cognition, language and culture shape the LL? Which cultural practices are detectable in the LL?

(iv)How can the position and status of English be described in terms of, firstly, its role as one of Cameroon’s official languages, secondly, its position as a localised minority variety, and thirdly, its standing as the language of globalisation?


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2022 (November)
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2022. XIV, 288 pp., 46 fig. col., 26 fig. b/w, 14 tables.

Biographical notes

Neele Mundt (Author)

Neele Mundt is a lecturer in English linguistics at the University of Koblenz-Landau, Germany. She works in the field of sociolinguistics with a focus on English in central Africa. She spent one year in Yaoundé, where she collected field data for her research project situated at the juncture of (cognitive) sociolinguistics and linguistic landscape studies in Cameroon. Her research interests include multilingualism, (cognitive) sociolinguistics and applied linguistics in general, and with a focus on Africa in particular.


Title: Linguistic Landscapes and Multilingualism in Yaoundé, Cameroon. Sociolinguistic and Socio-cognitive Processes at Work