CAIRN-INT.INFO : International Edition

1 – Introduction [1]

1For over a decade, publications have been appealing to the notion of “langue des jeunes”/”parler jeune,” “(urban) youth language,” “Jugendssprache,” etc. (see, for example, Androutsopoulos and Scholz 1998; Bulot 2004; Caubet et al. 2004; Normann Jørgensen 2010; Kiessling and Mous 2004; Ledegen 2001). [2] In this perspective, there are “youth” who distinguish themselves from “others” in a given anthropo-social space (neighborhood, city, region, country) by the particular ways in which they speak. These ways of speaking have specificities that adhere to linguistic processes common to other “youth languages” (e.g., morphological and semantic manipulations, significant borrowing, etc.), [3] irrespective of the languages that contributed to their inception (see, for example, Kiessling and Mous 2004 for “urban youth languages” in Africa).

2By reflecting on reified objects such as “youth languages” (with or without quotation marks), certain (socio)linguists [4] appear to be taking responsibility for a categorization that is the result of double stigmatization—both social (“youth”) and linguistic (“language”). But what is meant in this case by “youth”? Is this social stigmatization justified when our interest is the facts of language? From a linguistic point of view, is it pertinent to distinguish “youth languages” from other “urban languages”? [5] Are these reifications useful, and if so, for whom?

3We know that “youth” as a categorizing attribute is problematic: youth and old age are not facts but social constructs: “Age is a biological datum, socially manipulated and manipulable; and [. . .] the merely talking about ‘the young’ as a social unit, a constituted group, with common interests, relating these interests to a biologically defined age, is in itself an obvious manipulation” (Bourdieu 1993, 95). The relationship between social age and biological age is indeed not simple: for example, “youth” who enter the working world early [6] do not really experience adolescence (this state of “temporary irresponsibility,” this “social no man’s land” where “youth” are adults for some things and children for others), whereas being a student tends to prolong it. As a result, in a given society there is not a single “youth” but instead many “youths.” [7]

4We observe without surprise, then, that the “youth languages” thus named by some linguists do not always have the same “youth” as their speakers. In France, for example, this most often involves the ways of speaking of “youth” with immigrant backgrounds and who live in the “projects” in underprivileged neighborhoods (Boyer et al. 1998). In contrast, in some Francophone African countries, language practices that have been categorized as “parlers jeunes”/”youth languages” (for example, Camfranglais/Francanglais spoken in Cameroon) involve Francophone “youth” socialized in an urban—and consequently plurilingual—environment, whatever their social membership or level of education. We therefore propose here to question this type of categorization when applied in Cameroon and France. A questionnaire circulated in both countries offers something of a response. We will also see that the fact that a “youth language” has been endowed with one or more proper names contributes to its emergence and recognition as a “language” (whatever the definition given to that term) and thus allows its speakers to claim a certain legitimation of their language practices.

2 – “Youth”: Some Representations and Uses

5In his analysis on the use of “youth” in the 1990s by the extreme-right newspaper Présent, Maurer (1998, 130) discusses how this appellation was employed by the media and politicians of all parties to refer to people “who are of an age to be characterized as such”. However at the beginning of the 2000s the newspaper started placing it between quotation marks (whether used as an adjective or a noun) to refer exclusively to youth of North African or sub-Saharan African origin. This was in order to get around the ban on referring to individuals based on their origins and thus to avoid lawsuits for racism.

6But normally when we mention youth today, whom do we think of spontaneously, and what criteria do we draw on? In an attempt to obtain an idea of this, a very short written questionnaire was administered during the 2010–2011 school year to 73 French people (47 women, 26 men) and 37 Francophone Cameroonians (11 women, 26 men). [8] Four questions were to be answered in the following order:

71. When we talk about youth, to whom are we referring?

82. What differentiates them from other people?

93. How old are they?

104. How do youth speak?

11We could expect a priori some differences in the responses given in France versus in Cameroon, especially in terms of the age of “youth,” given the differences in life expectancy and the representations tied to “old age” in each country. [9] We might also anticipate that the Francophone Cameroonians would in question four refer to Camfranglais (a designation recently transformed into Francanglais which seems to bemore common), [10] given that this way of speaking has been endowed with at least one specific name (Camfranglais) for more than 20 years. This name has been used widely, not only by the media and linguists, but also by the speakers themselves (see Féral 2009). The fact that such a name exists is important, because it permits claims to a certain legitimacy of this form of French, in contrast to the “parlers jeunes” of France that, to my knowledge, do not have specific names (Billiez and Trimaille 2000; Goudaillier 2001 [1997]).

2.1 – The Questionnaire in France

Question 1: When We Talk about Youth, to Whom Are We Referring?

12When we look at the questionnaires completed by the French respondents, what is initially most striking is that in response to the first question, less than half of those surveyed (31 of 73) exclusively mentioned a specific age bracket. The lower limit (that is, the minimum age given by those surveyed) varied from 0 to 18 and the upper limit (that is, the maximum age given by those surveyed) from 17 to 50 years old. (This advanced age was provided, not surprisingly, by a woman born in 1938, but she was the only one to do so of the 22 people surveyed who were over the age of 50, five of whom were older than 70.) The remainder of those surveyed preferred to define the term “youth” by one or several nouns referring to age, for example, “des ados” (short for “adolescents”), “des enfants et des ados” (children and adolescents), “des ados et jeunes adultes” (adolescents and young adults), from “préadolescence à l’âge adulte” (pre-adolescence to adulthood), “adolescents mais aussi ceux que l’on appelle adulescents” (adolescents but also those called “adulescents”), and “des personnes qui ne sont pas adultes, les enfants, les adolescents et les adulescents” (people who are not adults, children, adolescents, or adulescents).

13Once again, this belies the vague and shifting character of the age attributed to youth (if we exclude the self-centered response “my age” given by a person born in 1991). Therefore, the categories proposed still include an adolescence that is likely to linger into a period that is still “ado” (adolescent) but already adult—“adulescence.” [11] This term, which is found on two questionnaires (a woman born in 1957, and probably her daughter, an elementary school teacher born in 1980), is absent from the Petit Robert dictionary (2010 edition), but I heard it for the first time a few years back among some of my students, who seemed to use it with delight. In about 15 questionnaires, “the youth” were defined as either not yet having a profession or responsibilities and as studying or undergoing professional training (“from primary school to middle school,” “people in middle school, high school,” “people in middle school, high school, students,” “they are in high school or university,” “students, apprentices . . .”).

14When the notion of age is not appealed to in an explicit or implicit way, youth are said to be “looking for themselves”; they “still need to find a place, a role in society”; or they are “the new unemployed.” Only two surveys mention the suburbs and/or immigrants—(1) “youth from the suburbs”! (insurance underwriter, baccalaureate + 4 years of further education, born in 1963); (2) “youth can also have a pejorative sense for the youth of the projects and suburbs, for immigrants” (retired teacher, born in 1938).

Question 2: What Differentiates Them from Other People?

15To respond to this question, 13 of the people surveyed, irrespective of their own ages, again mention age (“their age” or the tautological expressions “youth”/”they are young”), to which they also sometimes add one or more other characteristics (“their view of life,” “leisure time,” “studies,” “professional inactivity,” “pastimes”). The other responses appeal to cultural, moral, or physical criteria. The most frequently mentioned criteria—but never exclusively, and regardless of the age of the person surveyed—are their language/way of speaking (10 times) and their spare time (10 times). Their character traits are also mentioned, including both positive traits (“sharp mindedness,” “full of hope,” “motivated,” “enthusiastic,” “optimistic”), but also negative ones (“irresponsible,” “reckless,” “immature,” “disrespectful,” “arrogant,” “unpredictable, uncontrollable, violent . . .”). Also mentioned are their physical traits, which are highly valued (“physical liveliness,” “dynamic,” “they have fewer wrinkles,” “full of energy,” “they are beautiful”). The fact that they do not yet have a profession and depend financially on their parents is also mentioned again.

Question 3: How Old Are They?

16This question tells us what age bracket(s) is/are attributed to youth in the event that age was not one of the defining criteria for the first question. Here again, the limits established are unclear: the lower limit varies from 0 to 18 years, whereas the upper limit ranges from 15 to 50. And in cases where age brackets were proposed for the first question, they are simply repeated for the third but also sometimes further clarified. (For example, “less than 25,” becomes “from 12 to 25” or “from 15 to 25”; “adolescents to 25” becomes “between 13 and 25”; and “from preadolescence to adulthood” is clarified as ranging “from 14 to 20.”) The person born in 1991 who responded “my age” considered “youth” to be “from 16 to 25.” On two surveys, youth are conferred a few extra years in the third question—“from 14 to 25” becomes “under 30,” while “less than 30,” becomes “15–35.” We also note that two people refused to respond to this question, showing an awareness of the problem it presented, saying, “That depends”; and “Uh, good question!”

Question 4: How Do Youth Speak?

17In most cases, it is thought that youth speak in a different way (even on the surveys that attributed an advanced age to youth!), in the sense that they make use of their own words and expressions. Sometimes verlan [12] is mentioned, but mostly new technologies, Internet chats, and “text-message language” are mentioned. There are complaints about the fact that youth speak poorly, not only because they commit grammatical errors (and “spellings errors when speaking” [!] as a university student born in 1987 indicates), but also because their intonation is sometimes vulgar and they more seldomly “respect” conventions of politeness. One female who was 27 and evidently did not categorize herself as “youth” (“I have not spoken to a youth for a long time”), also comments that “youth speak fast and loud, and love to broadcast their personal business over the phone.” But although about 10 people surveyed negatively judge the way youth speak, another 10 are more nuanced and emphasize the fact that this depends on the “social level” or on “the upbringing they had,” and four people (young and less young) think that the youth speak “like everyone else,” “like adults,” and even “fairly well on the whole” (builder, born in 1967).

2.2 – The Questionnaire in Cameroon

18It was very difficult to obtain the opinions of people over 35, and in general, responses that were not politically correct. The fact that the questionnaire was in part circulated in Cameroon by a colleague who had just accepted a government post, and that it was the pre-electoral period, [13] undoubtedly played a significant role. As Daniel Duke indicates (in personal communication), [14] “This questionnaire raised a lot of suspicion because it was about the youth. And the youth are the ones who riot during political unrest. Everyone’s mind is on the upcoming presidential election in October, and there is a lot of concern about potential unrest. So, most of the respondents were very hesitant to go on record saying anything at all.”

Question 1: When We Talk about Youth, to Whom Are We Referring?

19Nonetheless, we remark that as in France, the majority of those surveyed do not spontaneously mention age for the first question. In cases where age is mentioned (only 8 responses), the lower limit varies from 0 to 21 and the upper limit from 21 to 50 (the oldest age having been given, not surprisingly, by a man born in 1942). The term “adolescents” was only used once, and nine people surveyed do not hesitate to (re-)use the terms “young” or “youth” to define “youth”! Three people surveyed (born in 1980 and 1992) also indicate that they are the people being referred to. When the notion of age is not appealed to by a number or a noun, the responses are clearly differentiated from the questionnaire administered in France by the fact that they often resemble political propaganda: “When we talk about youth, we are talking about the future of all people” (bricklayer, born in 1980); “We talk about those who will take the helm tomorrow, in other words the shining light of every nation”; “We are talking immediately about the representatives of a new generation, of a better future, of change, and of an almost perfect world” (high school student, born in 1989).

Question 2: What Differentiates Them from Other People?

20Here again, we find a very politically correct response: “The youth are stronger than non-youth. This fitness can serve to change Cameroon and therefore also the world” (female hairdresser, born in 1985). However, another person surveyed (the only one!) does not hesitate to appeal to the potential of youth while criticizing the fact that people who are too old still want to pursue political careers: “[The youth] are different than others (parents) because they still have the energy to work and the desire to give back the best of themselves. Versus the others (old people) in the government who are tired and do not want to retire.” [15] Often, the immaturity and lack of experience of youth are mentioned—even among those surveyed who are in their twenties and categorize themselves as youth—but also as in France, physical, moral, and cultural characteristics: “The youth are emancipated, they have zest for life, are alert and aware” (student, born in 1990); “their strength, their dynamism, the freshness of their thinking”; “their ambitions (they have their own dreams) seem to be out of the ordinary, they have their own style of dress and live from day to day” (student born in 1989, who in question one views youth as between 16 and 25 and who categorizes herself as a youth). Also sometimes indicated is that age is what differentiates youth from non-youth.

Question 3: How Old Are They?

21The lower limit varies from 0 to 21, whereas the upper limit ranges from 20 to 70, if we exclude the limit of 77 years mentioned by the 22-year-old high school senior, probably in reference to the newspaper Tintin: [16] “It is an ambiguous question because one wouldn’t know exactly which age bracket pertains to youth, but we often say that we are young from 7 to 77.” All the same, we must ask ourselves why the upper limit mentioned is higher than in France. Why do young people born after 1990 categorize adults older than 60 as “youth”? Are these responses intended to please the questionnaire’s addressees? Are they linked to the political context?

Question 4: How Do Youth Speak?

22Curiously, the majority of the comments are not responses to the question “How do youth speak?” but to “What do youth talk about?” The wording undoubtedly lacked clarity for speakers accustomed to daily use of several languages, in a country where more than 200 African languages coexist (278 according to Lewis, 2009), an English-based expanded Pidgin [17] that is spoken in two Anglophone provinces and in part of the Francophone area, and two official languages, French and English. The topics of conversation broached by youth are therefore mentioned: “They talk about poverty, unemployment, struggle” (“resourceful person,” born in 1981); “. . . about unemployment” (mechanic, born in 1994); “They talk about the lack of employment and education” (student, born in 1994). Those who had provided quite politically correct responses to the preceding questions continue in the same vein: “Youth think and talk positively. They believe in change and future happiness”; “They talk about big ambitions”; “You can tell that they dream of being employed in organizations that will serve their country.”

23When the question is truly addressed, Francanglais is generally mentioned, as we would expect. It is usually referred to in that way (with variations in spelling: Frank-anglais, Francanglais) or also Franc-camer[18] (one response), Camfrancanglais (one response): [19] “Youth generally speak Frank-anglais, that is, a mix of French and English” (secretary, born in 1977); “They use ‘Franc-anglais,’ which is a mixture of French and English” (student, born in 1991); “Youth talk in a familiar way, usually Franc-anglais” (engraver, born in 1989); “They have a language they invent that is accompanied by incessant gesturing. For example Francanglais” (student, born in 1992); “Youth of today develop their own language that serves as a code that older or younger people cannot understand. In Cameroon it’s called Franc-camer” (student, born in 1990); “In Cameroon, youth like to use a language commonly called ‘Camfrancanglais.’ It is a sort of mixture of English, French, and even certain local vernacular languages” (computer engineer, born in 1975). An eleventh-grader (born in 1989) also takes care to emphasize the interest there is for youth to speak French well: “Youth speak in different ways as there are others who speak what we call Francanglais which is a mixture of English and French, and this language produced in Cameroon is sometimes perverse (insulting) and there is pure French that leads us to speak well because a good mastery of the language is knowing how to use it better, thus express oneself better.” Still others mention a “jargon of their own” without giving it a particular name but indicating that it possibly concerns “a mix of French, English, and sometimes even Spanish” (holder of a master’s degree, born in 1982). A sixth-grader (born in 1994) insists, however, on the fact that “they speak a ‘watisan’ [20] like white people”!

24In contrast to the responses given by the French, here there is no allusion to poor French skills but rather to a “mixture of languages,” which is, moreover, implied in the appellations themselves. Indeed, the portmanteau words Camfranglais, Francanglais, and Camfrancanglais show the role played by the official languages of Cameroon, French and English (and possibly that of Cameroonian languages with “Cam”), [21] which confers a certain prestige and an identity that is on the whole politically correct. In addition, in displaying a break with French and in emphasizing the mixture of several languages, names like Camfranglais give the impression that we are dealing with a well-defined linguistic object that can be clearly distinguished from French.

3 – The Role of Linguists [22]

25Some journalists and linguists (myself included), by favoring the names “Camfranglais” and “Francanglais” over others (of the sort French + qualifier) that are also commonly used by Cameroonians, for example, français des jeunes (youth French), français du kwat (neighborhood French), français à la mode (fashionable French), français des yors (youth French) (Féral 2009; Feussi 2006; Harter 2007 [2005]) contributed to the dissemination of the perception among Cameroonian social actors and the international community of linguists of there being an “other” language rather than a type of French. It is likely that this name itself has allowed Cameroonian linguists, in some of their publications, to confer the status of “language” to these practices by adding Camfranglais (Ntsobé et al. 2008; Nzessé 2009, 32) or Francanglais (Feussi 2008, 19) to the list of languages spoken in Cameroon. [23]

26It is thus necessary to emphasize the role played by linguists in the reification of “youthlanguages” [24] like Camfranglais/Francanglais, not only because they have given preference to one designation over some used by the speakers themselves, but also because some linguistic descriptions have not taken into account the heterogeneity of practices and the importance to be accorded to the explanation of what is observable. Consequently, some analyses have relied exclusively upon decontextualized statements (or dialogues), apparently fabricated, that exhibit a great deal of deviation from ordinary French, whereas very few words need to be categorized by Cameroonian speakers as Camfranglais/Francanglais before discourse in French is perceived as Camfranglais/Francanglais (Féral 2007, 2010a, 2010b). [25] In addition, some publications give the impression that, based on their inventories, in order to speak Camfranglais/Francanglais, use of a lexeme categorized as Camfranglais/Francanglais rather than its equivalent in everyday French is systematic; [26] however, it is a matter of discursive choices that can fall within the heterogeneity of enunciations (Féral 2007). As a result, it is crucial not to exclude from the analysis of Camfranglais/Francanglais utterances that feature in everyday French but that also form part of a whole categorized as Camfranglais/Francanglais. Work such as that by Kiessling and Mous (2004) on the “urban youth languages” in Africa, or by Kiessling (2005), which deals exclusively with Camfranglais, are important contributions in this area but can nonetheless lead to the belief that “youthlanguages” like Nouchi in Ivory Coast or Camfranglais/Francanglais in Cameroon comprise specific vocabularies, to the exclusion of terms commonly used in French. The title of Kiessling’s article (2005) “bàk mowà mè dó—Camfranglais in Cameroon” and the choice of transcription convention used (phonetic, with tones!) for what is supposedly representing the linguistic object studied, [27] manufactures a totally exotic language in relationship to French, even before the first line of the article. In their practices, speakers may create a break with the French usually spoken in Cameroon by drawing on loanwords, neologisms, or morphological manipulations, in addition to a standard French lexicon, while linguists, in the representations they propose of these practices, create a new linguistic object. [28] Some of them have not hesitated to qualify it as a “mixed language” or “hybrid language” (see, for example, Echu 2001, 207 and Nzessé 2009, 32), without proper justification for the use of this categorization. [29]

4 – “Urban Languages” and “Youth Languages”: What Are the Differences?

27Beginning in 2005, Camfranglais/Francanglais was characterized as a “parler jeune” (without quotation marks) by Harter (2005, 2007), and then by Queffélec (2007). Even I used this categorization in quotes, because I wanted to position myself in the area of “parlers jeunes” in order to emphasize the problems presented by the description of language practices to which the term was applied (Féral 2006a, 2007). It remains to be seen if it is useful—and justified—for the linguist to have recourse to this type of categorization, despite the problem that the definition of “youth” poses and the heterogeneity of the empirical data analyzed.

28“Youth languages” are urban language phenomena. The city is “by definition a place of language variation and contact” (Calvet 2002, 48) that gave rise to what some linguists have called “langues urbaines” (urban languages) (see the title of the article by Bulot and Bauvois 2002), “parlers urbains” (urban vernaculars) (Billiez 1999; Calvet 1994) or, in English, “urban vernaculars” (see, for example, McLaughlin 2009; Beck 2010). For Calvet (1994, 62), the “parlers urbains” [are] subject to two contradictory tendencies, one in being used as a lingua franca and the other the desire for speakers to follow a group or to identify with a group.” Thus he distinguishes “” “urban vehicular forms” on the one hand, from “forms related to identity” on the other (Calvet 1994, 63–7).

29To illustrate the “urban vehicular forms,” we take up the example of Calvet (2002, 49, citing Thiam 1990); that is, Wolof used as a lingua franca in the urban context of Senegal, with consequences for the structure of the language not only in its lexicon (French or English loanwords), but also in its system of nominal classes, which is in the process of being reduced. For the “forms related to identity,” Calvet (1994, 67–72) refers to the study by Billiez (1992) on the ways of speaking of youth with immigrant backgrounds in Grenoble, or also Nouchi from the Ivory Coast. We might say that in a general way, in Francophone Africa, the appropriation of French concerns both the function of communication in a multilingual context (vehicular function) and the function related to identity, in different proportions according to the speakers and interactions. The function related to identity is permitted especially by the utilization of the languages with which French is in contact (Féral and Gandon 1994; Manessy and Wald 1984). Thus, still in the context of Dakar, the French-Wolof “mixed discourse” (often called “urban Wolof” [Juillard and Ndiaye 2009, 204]) is “characteristic of the language practices of Dakar’s residents who had been formally educated and is spreading increasingly among youth and adults without formal education” (Dreyfus and Juillard 2004, 185–6). Consequently, “French infiltrates social spaces that until then were reserved for African languages, and these also infiltrate the social spaces traditionally reserved for French” (Dreyfus and Juillard 2004, 179). We can easily see here that the consequences of urban language dynamics are not only a reduction of the linguistic structure in the case of the “” “vehicularization” of a language, but also that they jeopardize the boundaries between the various contact languages. In addition, we see that the two tendencies of being used as a lingua franca and having an identity function can be simultaneously applied in discourse, in this way becoming complementary rather than contradictory.

30For Beck (2010, 24), some “urban vernaculars” in Africa, such as Camfranglais in Yaoundé and Douala, Sheng in Nairobi, Tsotsital/Iscamtho in Cape Town and Johannesburg, and Indoubil in Kinshasa, were at first“youth languages.” McLaughlin strongly supports this perspective when she writes, “Youth languages generally originate with lexical borrowing from other languages or from slang varieties, including the argots of crime and delinquence [sic] and exhibit high variation. After they become established as youth languages and their speakers grow older they may be adopted by the general urban population and can subsequently become urban vernaculars themselves” (McLaughlin 2009, 9). We might ask ourselves what McLaughlin means exactly by “established as youth languages.” By whom would they be established? Is it not quite simply a matter of the reification of practices thus characterized by linguists themselves? It is difficult to think that one might find less variation today than yesterday in what Cameroonian speakers categorize as Camfranglais/Francanglais. The difference between “urban languages” and “youth languages” concerns, therefore, not so much the linguistic facts themselves as the expansion of these practices to speakers older than “youth,” as well as the status given to them by linguists. Moreover, Beck (2010, 20) emphasizes that “all these urban languages are primarily characterized by loans in their vocabularies; influences of the structure of the languages are quite marginal.” [30] Therefore, we see here the tautological danger presented by (socio)linguists’ reification of certain urban language dynamics: “youth languages” would not have a real reason to be characterized as such other than developing in an urban—and multilingual—context and having “youth” as their speakers.

31In their introduction to Caubet et al. (2004), Bulot et al. (2004, 7) reiterate that “youth languages” present usages that are “perceived both as deviant and innovative” for those who do not speak them. A question that then comes up for Camfranglais/Francanglais is: deviant and innovative in relationship to what? Certainly not in relationship to the image that Cameroonian social actors have of standard French, but rather in relationship to the one they have of the French commonly spoken in Cameroon. If we refer to differential analyses like “Inventaire des particularités lexicales du français en Afrique noire (Équipe IFA 2004 [1983]) and the numerous other inventories that followed for particular African countries, this spoken French already presents “deviant and innovative” lexical usages. Bulot et al. (2004, 13) also point out that if we examine in the “youth languages, “the actual linguistic facts, “outside of lexical replacement, neologisms, and code-switching behaviors, then morpho-syntactic behaviors, seem relatively less innovative whether in French [. . .], Swahili [. . .], or Juba Arabic [. . .].” This can also be observed in the morpho-syntax of Camfranglais/Francanglais (Féral 2007, 2010b).

32But what, then, can these “youth” bring to language that they will abandon when they grow older? To try to respond to this question, it may be useful to compare the Camfranglais/Francanglais spoken by the young Francophone Cameroonians with the Pidgin commonly used by people of all ages (henceforth “everyday Pidgin”), not only in Anglophone areas but also in the Francophone towns where Camfranglais/Francanglais is also spoken. Indeed, it is a matter of two linguistic objects with specific names, [31] which both develop in an urban context and simultaneously serve the purpose of a lingua franca and that related to identity (Féral 1989, 2010a). However, we can also propose that these are not linguistic objects of the same nature, as I have summarized in the table below, not only from the perspective of their origin but also from the perspective of the linguistic discontinuity with the superposed European languages that is or is not created; in contrast to what happens between Pidgin and English, the discontinuity between the popular French spoken in Cameroon and Francanglais is situated not at a syntactic level but at a lexical level, only part of which it affects.

Pidgin and Camfranglais/Francanglais: Linguistic Continuity and Discontinuity (from Féral 2009, 136)

tableau im1
PIDGIN FRANCANGLAIS ORIGIN Before German colonization No real access to the language of native English-speakers ? pidginization of English ? Autonomization 20th century Access to the official language (school, media . . .) ? Vernacular appropriation of French MASTERY OF SUPERPOSED LANGUAGE English (or French) not necessary French necessary English not necessary SYNTAX Different from English French syntax LEXICON English-based Everyday French + terms perceived as Camfranglais/Francanglais (including loanwords from English and/or Pidgin) DISCONTINUITY syntax lexicon

Pidgin and Camfranglais/Francanglais: Linguistic Continuity and Discontinuity (from Féral 2009, 136)

33Indeed, in contrast to what happens with “everyday” Pidgin, where loanwords from English or French (according to the region where it is spoken) serve to compensate for the lexical gaps and consequently to avoid recourse to periphrasis (see Féral 1989), the loanwords, neologisms, and words manipulated morphologically (truncation, metathesis) that constitute the lexical resources of Camfranglais/Francanglais are added to the lexicon of the French commonly spoken in Cameroon and serve particularly the cryptic and identity-forming functions.

34As early as the 1970s, primarily in Yaoundé and Douala the same type of lexical resources (including some words like reme, “mere” [mother], as well as loanwords from English and/or Pidgin, [32] like skul [“school”] and go [“go”], which are still used in Camfranglais/Francanglais) could be observed. They were used among youth (male, for the most part) already outside of the school system, as well as among grade-schoolers or university students. They called their way of speaking français makro (makro = delinquent) and categorized it as “slang” (Féral 1989), and said that its speakers were delinquents—as the name français makro indicates—who used it in order to “maintain secrecy.” This cryptic function, which they also refered to in connection with their own use of français makro, still applies to what is now called Camfranglais/Francanglais, as one of the responses to the questionnaire illustrates. But it is obvious that this cryptic function has been cumulatively weakened by the fact that, over the years, its use has been expanding among a growing number of Cameroonian males (and also females, as young girls in turn also began to use it); among people remaining in Cameroon and among expatriates (thanks especially to the Internet); within an age bracket that seems to be expanding; [33] due to its frequent use in the media since the end of the 1980s; and the fact that there have been scientific publications on it in both French and English. This holds true even though new words can always be invented.

35The creation of a “dictionary” on the Internet by a Cameroonian blogger ( (with a title indicative of its identity-related function, Parler camerounais [Speak Cameroonian]) of “words used in both Camfranglais and Pidgin, as well as expressions in the French spoken in Cameroon,” [34] causes some people regret the popularization of this “we code.” (“As long as Camfranglais is not an official language, it should be our private property, something that could allow us to communicate without others being able to understand us [. . .] now that you have put it on the internet, even the police are going to consult it, and it isn’t possible to even Help a Brother in trouble anymore”; Blog du Prési, 07/09/09.) On the other hand, others are glad to be able to perfect their knowledge. (“Thanks my bro [35] from the village, this way I will be able to do a refresher course from time to time!!” Édouard, Blog du Prési, 01/24/08.) Still others share their knowledge in making their own contributions to the dictionary and in possibly adding metalinguistic remarks. (“Awash sort of means to snatch. It came about at the time when [. . .],” Édouard, Blog du Prési, 01/24/08; “Why for certain words do you call it a Bulu loanword? [. . .] why don’t you say loanword from Ewondo or Eton or Manguissa or Makaa or from . . . who also use these words?” Massati, Blog du Prési, 04/17/08.)

36Along with other sites, this blog is therefore a place for commentary and impassioned polemic about Camfranglais/Francanglais, which tends to be considered a “language” that some people wish would be recognized officially. However, we can easily see that only the lexical domain is involved; speaking Camfranglais/Francanglais well is a matter of knowing the most words that are different from the French commonly spoken in Cameroon, an official language that is taught in school but also used as a major language of communication throughout the south, where no single African language can play this role. [36] It is these borrowed, manipulated (at a semantic or morphological level), neologized, and replacement words that allow speakers of Camfranglais/Francanglais to distinguish themselves first of all from the “others” who only speak “popular” French [37] of Cameroon, the “others” being: (1) parents (“youth” identity and cryptic function: “N’oublions pas que nous l’avons développé pour speak sans que nos repé et nos remé ne puissent nous ya,” [38] mannolap, 10/19/04,, [39] forum: “kamers et sympathisants, parlons camfrangl [sic] comme au quat”); [40] (2) French people, these “white” [41] who imposed their language (“Pourquoi on doit seulement speak comme les white? [Le camfranglais] c’est notre langue à nous que nous avons,” [42] Princesse Di, Blog du Prési, 06/24/07); and (3) other Africans (“Cameroonian” identity, which also seems not to be able to do without the cryptic function).


Les Lock (“Maliens”) thatent [tchatent] leur bambara, les Senof (“Senegalais”) leur Woloff, don [donc] quand on est entre nous Camers il ne faut que les autres djos WestAf (“de l’Afrique de l’Ouest”) ya ce qu’on se tell, surout [sic] que ça leur [sic] vex et on peut les moronto sans pb

38With Pidgin it is different, because its sole use is sufficient to affirm a Cameroonian identity given that there is no mutual comprehension between a speaker who only speaks English (or another language) and a speaker who only speaks Pidgin. The identity function is thus at work as soon as Pidgin is used as a lingua franca over English or French (the official languages) when the interlocutors also have mastery of these languages. In contrast to what happens between “everyday” French and Camfranglais/Francanglais, the linguistic discontinuity between English and Pidgin does not need to be created by adding new words to the lexicon because there are structural differences, especially in the areas of morphology and syntax. The cryptic function can also be present, as it is for any language in a multilingual situation when the interlocutors do not completely share the same verbal repertoire.

39We would add, however, that if in general the “youth” of the Francophone cities in the south of Cameroon speak Camfranglais/Francanglais, some of them also speak Pidgin even if it seems to be losing popularity among young French-speakers. (In addition, I noticed during a survey conducted in 2004 among middle and high school students that they were hard pressed to admit that they spoke it even when that was the case). This can be explained by the fact that it holds no prestige; that it is often associated with Cameroonians of Anglophone regions, with the Bamiléké ethnicity, or with illiterate persons (see Féral 2009); that French assumes the function of lingua franca, even at the market; and that Camfranglais/Francanglais permits definition not only of a supra-ethnic identity, like Pidgin, but also “youth” and demonstration of one’s overall competence in French.

40Among speakers of Pidgin who also speak Camfranglais/Francanglais, we should therefore expect to find phenomena resulting from the contact of languages (“code switching,” “code mixing,” etc.) between French and Pidgin (which has, for the moment, hardly been studied). [44] We should also find that lexical resources categorized as Camfranglais/Francanglais [45] may be utilized in Pidgin among these speakers and even among Anglophone speakers. These phenomena obviously render the boundaries between the different languages even more vague, not only in language practices but also sometimes in language categorizations (see Féral 2009), even if in general the distinction is maintained: “Speaking Pidgin is one thing, speaking Camfranglais is another” (TBA, 01/17/02,, forum: “kamers et symphatisants, parlons camfrangl comme au quat”).

5 – In Conclusion: Useful Inventions

41Although Camfranglais/Francanglais can be defined by taking inventory of the lexical resources that allow Francophone Cameroonian social actors to categorize discourse in French as Camfranglais/Francanglais (the study of such a linguistic object cannot therefore do without the study of representations [Féral 2007, 2010a]), the linguistic processes at work are on the whole banal. As early as 1956, Guiraud emphasized the fact that phenomena such as derivation, composition, meaning changes, and loanwords were specific neither to “slang” nor to “popular French,” but to “a language that is spoken, colloquial, and alive [. . .] whose characteristics can be found as soon as the individual, whatever his/her social origin, ceases to respect the constraints of the language of schooling and academics” (Guiraud 1956, 79). For Gadet (2003, 10), who relies upon several studies of “youth language” in multiple cities of France and North Africa (in particular, Billiez 1992; Billiez et al. 2003; Caubet 2002; Melliani 2000), the “only two real breaks in relationship to hereditary forms” are “‘verlan’ and hybridization.” [46]

42But Camfranglais/Francanglais hardly illustrates that—very few words are actually “verlanized.” And a lexical item like “meuf,” [47] whose usage seems recent in Cameroon, has in all likelihood been borrowed from the French of France. Indeed, loanwords from French for “youth,” but also colloquial and old (for example, bachot, for “bac[calaurreate]”), and especially from English and/or Pidgin, are numerous (Féral 2010b); these loanwords are nouns and verbs for the most part, and we might be surprised at the fact that only lexical borrowings are at issue and that they belong to grammatical classes that are the most affected by borrowing, even when the contact between the languages is not intense (see the “borrowing scale” of Thomason and Kaufman 1988, 74–6). However, what youth bring to the language here, and what the “others” do not/no longer do—or in any case, do less often—is to manipulate it in an intentional way, towards cryptic ends but also for pleasure. And some of the youth who speak Camfranglais also use, or used to use code slang when they were younger, not only in the African language(s) spoken at home but also in French, which shows that they easily manipulate the language to be able to voluntarily change its form (Féral 1989, 19–20). But once again, deliberate changes to language–that can, in some cases, be at the origin of real linguistic change—are not exclusive to “youth” (Thomason 2007).

43The categorization “youth language” applied to Camfranglais/Francanglais by (socio) linguists cannot thus be justified by the inventory of linguistic behaviors distinguished from the French commonly spoken in Cameroon. What justifies it is rather the recognition of a category of speakers, “youth,” as preferential and even original users of certain lexical resources—neologized, manipulated, or borrowed—towards ends that are cryptic, related to identity, or playful. This category of users, as we saw in the responses to the questionnaire conducted in France and Cameroon, refers to a reality that is vague but still seems to include adolescence. [48]

44Although the category “youth” can be useful for researchers because it especially allows them, in targeting a certain population, to describe . . . “youth languages” (!) and to possibly make comparisons between them, [49] the reification of the language practices of the young effected by linguists and the media are also useful for the speakers. Indeed, Bulot (2007, 12) notes that “considering them as a research subject contributes to the social existence of youth languages,” and Boyer observed in 1997 that this “generational sociolect” “reached a certain respectability, indisputably thanks to regular mediatization” (Boyer 1997, 13). If this “respectability,” in part due to the permeability between “parler branché (trendy language) and “parler des banlieues” (language of the suburbs) made way for real stigmatization in France (see, for example, Bentolila’s article in Le Monde of December 20, 2007), the use of specific names to refer to them seems to have played a significant role in the access to respectability that certain “youth vernaculars” like Camfranglais/Francanglais have attained.

45Indeed, it seems easier to claim legitimacy for Camfranglais, whose name evokes Cameroon and its two official languages, than for français makro! In addition, even if in France the media (and linguists) constructed the phenomenon of “parler jeune,” “parler branché,” etc. (see Boyer 1997), and in Cameroon the Camfranglais/Francanglais phenomenon, Cameroonian Internet users have also recuperated the more or less reifying representations that linguists have given them in their publications. [50] Devoting so many hours and so much money to analyzing Camfranglais/Francanglais is, in a sense, already to give it the status of “language.” We can, then, as in the forums dedicated to it, claim its legitimacy, endow it with a “dictionary,” think about the necessity of creating an orthography, and in so doing, begin to distance it from the label “youth language.”


  • [1]
    Thank you to Michelle Auzanneau, Caroline Juillard, and Cyril Trimaille for their critical reading of a first draft of the article. The viewpoint I present and the imperfections that remain are obviously my own.
  • [2]
    A label that has also been heavily utilized by the media. See Boyer (1997) and Trimaille (2004).
  • [3]
    Envisioned here as a process.
  • [4]
    Myself included.
  • [5]
    The same type of questioning is proposed by Trimaille and Billiez (2007) in an article with the very explicit title: “Pratiques langagières des jeunes urbains: peut-on parler de ‘parler’?”
  • [6]
    Especially before 1959, when education was only compulsory until 14 years of age.
  • [7]
    An issue debated by Trimaille (2004, 105-106). See also Dubet (1996).
  • [8]
    This numerical predominance of women in the questionnaires in France and of men in Cameroon is most likely due to the fact that the students who distributed the questionnaire in their social networks (parents, friends, parents of friends, etc.) were female in France (students of the Licence des Sciences in language or Master FLES at the University of Nice, courses in which men are largely absent) and male in Cameroon (students at the University of Yaoundé).
  • [9]
    As the usages of “vieux” (old man) and “vieille” (old woman) in Cameroon and in other African countries attest: “terms of respect designating an adult person (and especially the father, uncle, or any adult and important person) [. . .] Plural. Parents, the elderly, men who are older and the most wise of a community [. . .] Norm: positive connotation (sign of respect), never pejorative or ironic as in standard French” (Équipe IFA 2004 [1983]).
  • [10]
    According to recent research (Feussi 2006; Harter 2007 [2005]; Féral 2009). But there exist other names (see below): if some authors Simo-Souop 2009, for example) prefer to keep the older name Camfranglais because it displays a Cameroonian identity, some speakers, for their part, have resolved the problem by creating the term“Cam-francanglais.”
  • [11]
    The portmanteau word“adulescence”was coined in 1988 by the psychoanalyst T. Anatrella (2003).
  • [12]
    « verlan » (? Fr. l’envers, ‘reverse’) is an argot in the French language, featuring inversion of syllables in words.
  • [13]
    Presidential election of October 9, 2011.
  • [14]
    I greatly appreciate George Echu (University of Yaoundé), Daniel Duke (University of Leiden and SIL Cameroon), and Giuseppina Cutri (University of Nice) for helping me to circulate the questionnaire in Cameroon.
  • [15]
    Paul Biya, President of the Republic of Cameroon since 1982 and once again a candidate in the Presidential election of October 9, 2011, was reelected for a sixth term at the age of 78.
  • [16]
    Tintin, which ceased publication in 1993, had the sub-title “The newspaper of youth from 7 to 77” and then “The super newspaper of youth from 7 to 77.”
  • [17]
    Generally called “Pidgin” by its speakers but also named Kamtok in some recent publications.
  • [18]
    Camer: apocope of “Cameroon,” “Cameroonian.”
  • [19]
    Appellations that we also find in other research (see Féral 2009).
  • [20]
    “Watiser”(? Pidgin English wat ? Engl. white, “blanc”): “talk like a White person.”
  • [21]
    For its part, the non-negligible role of Pidgin, which does not enjoy any prestige, is totally hidden (see Féral 2007, 2009)!
  • [22]
    The role played by the linguist as a creator and conveyor of representations is discussed particularly in Nicolaï 2007a, 2007b and Blanchet et al. 2007.
  • [23]
    Camfranglais or Francanglais are not listed in Ethnologue (Lewis 2009).
  • [24]
    Let us recall that the label “youth language”is already a reification.
  • [25]
    An extreme example of this kind of categorization is from E. Tsoungui’s novel, about which it is has been said, on the Internet and in the Cameroon Tribune, that it was written in Camfranglais, whereas only about 10 lexemes (loanwords from Pidgin and/or English, in particular) in this book of 208 pages allow it to be classified as such.
  • [26]
    Which contributes to what I have called “linguistic stigmatization” (2011, 46).
  • [27]
    Which comprises two French words, “moi” and “mes,” a borrowing from English “back,” a lexeme that is probably the truncation of “dollars,” with French syntax.
  • [28]
    This risk of “giving the impression that written practices form ‘one or several languages’ that are separate” has already been emphasized by Trimaille (2004, 122) on the subject of “current descriptions of youth vernaculars” that lead to a real “focus on the ‘deviant’” (Trimaille 2004, 114; see also Gasquet-Cyrus 2002, 63–64).
  • [29]
    Which is far from arriving at a consensus, as the title The Mixed Language Debate attests (Matras and Bakker 2003).
  • [30]
    Bulot 2004 (see below) also notes this.
  • [31]
    Indeed, Pidgin is perceived by its speakers as a proper noun rather than as a language category, and the portmanteau word kamtok (kam: “Cameroon”; tok: “language”) is now used by some linguists out of concern for creating recognition of this pidgin, which it no longer is, as a language that is specifically Cameroonian, and thus to give it a certain legitimacy; see Féral 2009).
  • [32]
    Given that Pidgin is of English lexical origin, it is difficult to tell whether such loanwords in Camfranglais/Francanglais were directly from English or if they passed first through Pidgin (see Féral 2006b for a development on this question).
  • [33]
    According to Ngo-Ngok Graux (2006), it is spoken in particular—but not exclusively—by people aged 12 to 35.
  • [34]
    This inventory shows the extent to which the boundaries between Camfranglais/Francanglais, popular French of Cameroon, and Pidgin are vague in actual practice.
  • [35]
    “Bro”? pidg. broda ? English brother (in the broad sense, which is commonly employed in Africa).
  • [36]
    In contrast to the north, where Peul has a strong lingua franca function.
  • [37]
    I take up the qualification used in A Simo--Souop’s thesis (2009) again here. It is useless to insist on the fact that it does not concern homogenous practices (see the study of French in Douala done by Feussi (2008) in the framework of a constructivist approach).
  • [38]
    “Let us not forget that we developed it to talk without our fathers and mothers being able to understand us.”
  • [39]
    Subtitle: “The site of the black Francophone community.”
  • [40]
    See note 18.
  • [41]
    “Blancs” (French) (? English white).
  • [42]
    “Why should we only speak like the whites? [Camfranglais] is our own language that we have.”
  • [43]
    “Malians speak their Bambara, Senegalese their Wolof, therefore when we are amongst ourselves, Cameroonians, we need for the other West African guys to be unable to understand what we say, especially since that irritates them and we can trick them no problem.”
  • [44]
    See Féral 1989 for an illustration of the alternation between what was called in the 1970s pidgin makro and français makro.
  • [45]
    Recent examples can be found in Nguetchuing-Timnou (2004) and Schröder (2007), but their analyses are quite questionable.
  • [46]
    The frequency of the use of certain traits also seems to be a differentiating factor (Trimaille and Billiez 2007; Jamin 2009).
  • [47]
    Meaning “woman”/“wife.” Found in the 2010 edition of the Petit Robert dictionary with the description Arg. Fam (Slang Familiar), that is, “slang word that has become part of colloquial language.”
  • [48]
    Whose age is also vague: Anatrella (2003, 38), for example, situates adolescence between 18 and 24 while remarking that the “young generations enter [it] earlier and earlier [. . .] and leave it later” (42). He thus makes references to “adolescents” of 15 to 19 years (43, note 10).
  • [49]
    We also know from Labov (1972) of the influence that peer groups can have on the way that adolescents talk (see also Romaine 1984, 182–95), which justifies the fact that we can be particularly interested in their practices.
  • [50]
    I thus found my name, my photograph, and some of my work cited and commented on in the blog, Le Blog du Prési.

The categorization “langue des jeunes”/”parler jeune” (“youthlanguage”) used by certain linguists and sociolinguists for about the last fifteen years is the result of both social and linguistic stigmatization. Indeed, some “youth” are said to be distinguished from “others” in particular by the ways they speak. These ways of speaking are said to have “specificities” adhering to linguistic processes shared by other “youthlanguages.”
After first discussing the categorization “youth” with the help of questionnaire data from France and Cameroon, we question the extent to which it is useful—and justified—for the linguist to appeal to the category “youthlanguage.” We also note that linguists’ reification of some language practices can be useful to speakers, since it allows them to claim a certain legitimacy, as in the case of Camfranglais/Francanglais in Cameroon.


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Carole de Féral
Laboratoire BCL, BCL UMR 7320, Univ. Nice-Sophia Antipolis; ISHSN
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