Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Word in Pidgin

Pidgin English is no longer a makeshift language it once was, and has grown to maturity, as a language can, and satisfies the complex linguistic needs of the many people here who need a common tongue. To my surprise I came across the New Testament in Cameroonian pidgin this morning. It is entitled: Gud Nyus Fo ol Pipul (I think you’ll be able to work this out!), and this edition was published in Yaounde, in 2005.

Whilst there is a clear resemblance to English, the structure of the language is definitely African. The first verse of St John’s Gospel reads:

“Fo fest fest tam, yi weh na de Tok e bin dei: de Tok e bin bi witi God, an de Tok e bin bi na God.”

It’s clear that Tok comes from the English talk and that fest is first and tam is from time, but the structure is un-English. I'm starting to understand it, but it's not easy.

The pictures here are of:
1. The New Testament in pidgin. The banana is of no significance!
2. and 3. Roadsigns!


onguene said...

It is worth noting that there is really no standard Pidgin English and that the Pidgin English in the Northwest province is very different in pronounciation and structure from the Pidgin the the Southwest province. The pidgin structure in the NW is greatly influenced by the local languages while that spoken in the SW is much closer to standard English and therefore much easier to understand. For example, in the Southwest, the title "Gud Nyus Fo ol Pipul" will simply be written - and pronounced - "good news for all people".
BTW, as a Cameroonian who has spent close to half a century in Kumba (SW province)and has spoken pidgin all of his life, the following sentence is completely incomprehensible - "“Fo fest fest tam, yi weh na de Tok e bin dei: de Tok e bin bi witi God, an de Tok e bin bi na God.”
For more on the different types of Pidgin spoken in Cameroon, check out this link -

Bill Chapman said...

Thank you for that. I've shown the New Testament text to a few people here in Bamenda who can read and understand it at first sight, but I accept that a Pidgin, like any language, has a lot of regional variation.

sec said...

It's really fascinating to read about the use of pidgin and about the different varieties that exist there. All this lovely language and birds of prey too! (But the organisational stuff is interesting to read about as well - honestly).

yr hen goes said...

Dipyn bach fel iaith y cofis??...e.g.."Gwd niws ffor ol pipyl".
Da iawn chdi!...'cip yp ddy gwd wyrc' yn 'fana,- fel mae'n nhw'n deud,ie ciw.
Falch bod petha'n mynd yn iawn,.. heblaw am y tacsis,...sowndio'n waith na tacsis dre!(-ownli jyst!!)
Www!...'sa'r hen Byses Nedw'n setio'fyny 'na,-'sa nhw'n llnau i fyny!
Ol ffor naw,...meddwl amdanat.
Tec cer,
Hen Goes Cofi Dre(dal i fod!)xx

Karlz JBilz said...

I have been following the foregoing with interest and might as well put my signature to the discussion.

I espouse to Mr. Onguene's point of view. The Pidgin Language of Cameroon is as varied as the folks who speak it, each variously using the paradigms of the language's so-called grammar according to the linguistic sub-stratum they represent.

Whereof it is legitimate to have the people of the North-western region of the country enunciating words which are traditionally English based on the intonations of their vernaculars. Their South-western 'compatriots' practice this rule as variously as their dialects are different. Yet, because the language has no structured grammar nor a mainstream blueprint regarding phonemes, morphems and syntax, nay, a standard lexicon, i very much wonder how it would be legitimate to transcribe the language for literary works without the necessity of setting up a council to set up a standard for the language in the first place.

The English language I presently read and comprehend, took me a couple of formal studies to acquit myself normally in. The lexicon i see from the clipped Pidgin Bible passage is neither conventional nor accepted except if it were meant for a smaller audience. Even so, because the language is basically not alphabetic, it would surely take some second language skills to comprehend the words. That implies folks who do have formal literacy and numerical skills in English. But eighty-percent of the speakers of Pidgin live in rural communities and majority know not these formal skills. Reading the Pidgin Bible therefore seems not to be any different from reading a Bible in the English language.

So i question lightly the raison-d'etre of transcribing the Bible into Pidgin, when unfortunately the target population do not have the basic skills and the speakers are yet to fathom it formally.

Also, because the language lacks an alphabet, phonetic transcription should be used in the stead in order to fill that niche. To readily understand a text written in Pidgin for instance, phonetic skill must be required as well as those of semantics. I tell u that albeit i am a traditional pidgin speaker, i find it very difficult to understand a typical verse in the "Pidgin Bible."

However the pidgin language is very complex and i can't be oblivious to the good job and discretion of those who initiated the project. I honestly commend them and I am in no way soliciting the contrary mindful of my thoughts herein expressed. This is a threshold endeavour to standardize the language anyway.

I also commend Mr. Chapman for the interesting subject.

@ Mr. yr hen goes, if that is Pidgin Language you wrote, it would serve as an adequate exposition to justify the incumbency of phonetic transcription for the lingua franca.

Bill Chapman said...

Thanks for expressing your view. I don't know the anglophone South West, so I am reluctant to comment. I do know that when I presented the text to colleagues here in Bamenda, most of whom had never seen the language written before, they were all able to read it with ease at first sight.

The language used by Yr hen goes is Welsh, a Celtic language still very much in use in Wales. There are also different varieties of Welsh and a written standard exists, even if my anonymous contributor chose to use a Caerrnarfon spoken variety!