A senior translator, terminologist and researcher at the Yaounde University I, Soule Saidou Nchouat, says Cameroon’s bilingual policy is only based on a constitutional assumption.
He made the remark in an interview with The Post in Yaounde on January 28, as activities marking this year’s national bilingualism day came to a head. According to the translator, the country’s bilingualism is fraught with so many irregularities that Cameroon can only be referred to as “a French bilingual country”. To him, what is referred to as official bilingualism (giving equal status to French and English) is almost in existent.
The French language, he maintained, has been put on a higher pedestal in a way that it is virtually assimilating the English language, as far as official bilingualism is concerned in Cameroon. Further expressing his views, the researcher remarked: “policy is made up of instruments which give orientation to it. Bilingualism is a concept in Cameroon that is based on constitutional assumption.”
Quoting Article 1(3) of the Constitution of Cameroon, he said “English and French shall be the official languages of Cameroon. Both languages,” he stated, “are supposed to have equal status and that Government is charged with the responsibility of ensuring the promotion of bilingualism and its implementation and protection all over the country, as well as national languages.”
The Senior Translator said, so far, the Government has made a good attempt at promoting bilingualism in the country by creating pilot linguistic centers and bilingual Secondary and High Schools all over the country. Nevertheless, he said the implementation of the policy has been a mess.
“For one thing, the constitution does not say how it should be implemented. There is even no text that defines what bilingualism is all about. There is no law prescribing punishment for officials who issue official documents only in one language,” he observed. What obtains now, he went on, is that someone who ignores the other language (English), is not violating any law. Answering a question as to who is a bilingual person in Cameroon, he said anybody who speaks two or more languages is bilingual.
“These languages can be Ejagham, Mungaka, Lamnso and so on,” he said. He said the issue of English and French has to do with official bilingualism. To him, the problem of bilingualism in Cameroon is further compounded when some officials ignore professional translators and get quacks to translate official documents from French into approximate English.
“Whenever money is concerned, people prefer to bring their relatives (quacks) to do the work of translators,” he said. Soule said some of them have learned to develop linguistic shock absorbers for the ridiculous quality of the English language that they see in some of the billboards in town.
He added that hierarchy does not care about English. As far as unofficial bilingualism is concerned, Soule said the English language was sustaining an assault over French. Citing a recent study, he said a majority of Cameroonians in the Northern Regions who speak both official languages speak 60 percent of English.
He also said many Francophone parents are sending their children to Anglo-Saxon schools to learn English. Official bilingualism in Cameroon, he said, has failed. As a remedy, he said: “we need a law to govern bilingualism in Cameroon and its attendant decrees of application, otherwise, Cameroon will remain a French bilingual country”
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