French language in Africa

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French is very common in Africa and is spoken by more than ninety million Africans. It has regional variations and is distinct from the French spoken in Europe. Through the settlement of French-speakers via colonization, French has blended with local languages (such as Wolof, Kikongo, Lingala, Ciluba, and Swahili) to precipitate Creole languages. Previously, the "creolization" of French in Africa was viewed as a dangerous trend which threatened the purity of the language.[by whom?] Today, linguists respect and study emerging languages.

French speakers in Africa[edit]

According to the High Council of the International Organization of the Francophonie, in 2010, 96.2 million French speakers were living in various countries in Africa:[1]

French has been imported to most of these countries through colonization, and it is not a mother tongue to most residents. However, the majority of francophone African nations do not consider it a foreign language. Instead, it plays a major part in national and international communication. As French is usually the medium of instruction in schools, it has become increasingly understood and used by younger generations, who have generally had greater educational opportunities than their parents. In cities, particularly, local varieties of French have developed, with unique vocabulary. Some linguists discuss a "second French language"[2] or even an "African French language".[3]

According to Paul Wald, "The notion of ownership of an imported language begins when – despite its identification as a foreign and/or vernacular language – its use does not imply a relationship with the foreigner."[4] French can thus be considered the result of functional and vernacular ownerships, satisfying the needs of a society with new sociocultural and socioeconomic realities. French has begun developing into almost independent varieties, with creation of different types of slang by speakers with a sufficient knowledge of French. Examples include the Ivorian jargon "Nouchi" in Abidjan and the Cameroonian "Camfranglais", which is a mixture of French and English with elements of indigenous languages.

Since colonization, French has been spread mostly via the education system, be it in French only (as in Côte d’Ivoire and Gabon) or bilingual (as in Togo and Rwanda). Instruction is based on the literary use of French by notable authors and the forms defined by grammarians. Street-learning, especially in countries or regions that lack a common local language (as in Côte d’Ivoire or in Cameroon), is also a common way of learning French. African standards of French different from European ones.[5]

Variations in African French[edit]

V.Y. Mudimbe describes African French as possessing "approximate pronunciation, repressed syntax, bloated or tortured vocabulary, intonation, rhythm and accent stuck in the original African language flow; many phonetic, morphologic and lexical africanisms."[6] The differences from European French are due to influence from the mother tongues and the complexity of French grammatical rules, which inhibit its learning by most non-native speakers.

The difficulty linguists have in describing African French comes from variations, such as the "pure" language used by many African intellectuals and writers versus the mixtures between French and African languages. For this, the term "creolization" is used, often in a pejorative way, and especially in the areas where French is on the same level with one or more local languages. According to G. Manessy, "The consequences of this concurrency may vary according to the social status of the speakers, to their occupations, to their degree of acculturation and thus to the level of their French knowledge."[7]

Code-switching, or the alternation of languages within a single conversation, takes place in both Senegal and in Democratic Republic of the Congo, the latter having four "national" languages – Kikongo, Lingala, Ciluba, and Swahili – which are in a permanent opposition to French. Code-switching has been studied since colonial times by different institutions of linguistics. One of these, located in Dakar, Senegal, already spoke of the creolization[inconsistent] of French in 1968, naming the result "franlof": a mix of French and Wolof (the language most spoken in Senegal) which spreads by its use in urban areas and through schools, where teachers often speak Wolof in the classroom despite official instructions.[8]

The omnipresence of local languages in francophone African countries – along with insufficiencies in education – has given birth to a new linguistic concept: le petit français.[7] Le petit français is the result of a superposition of the structure of a local language with a narrowed lexical knowledge of French. The specific structures, though very different, are juxtaposed, marking the beginning of the creolization process.

Français Populaire Africain[edit]

In the urban areas of francophone Africa, another type of French has emerged: Français Populaire Africain (Popular African French) or FPA. It is used in the entirety of sub-Saharan African, but especially in African cities such as Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire; Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso; Dakar, Senegal; Cotonou, Benin; and Lomé, Togo. At its emergence, it was marginalized and associated with the ghetto; Angèle Bassolé-Ouedraogo describes the reaction of the scholars:

However, FPA has begun to emerge a second language among the upper class. It has also become a symbol of social acceptance.

FPA can be seen as a progressive evolution of Ivorian French. After diffusing out of Côte d'Ivoire, it became Africanized under the influence of young Africans (often students) and cinema, drama, and dance.

FPA has its own grammatical rules and lexicon. For example, "Il ou elle peut me tuer!" or "Il ou elle peut me dja!" can either mean "This person annoys me very much" or "I'm dying for him/her" depending on the circumstances. "Il ou elle commence à me plaire" signifies a feeling of exasperation (whereupon it actually means "he or she starts to appeal to me"), and friendship can be expressed with "c'est mon môgô sûr" or "c'est mon bramôgo."[9]

FPA is mainly composed of metaphors and images taken from African languages. For example, the upper social class is called "les en-haut d'en-haut" (the above from above) or "les môgôs puissants" (the powerful môgôs).


  1. ^ Wolff, Alexandre (2011). "La langue française dans le monde 2010 (synthèse) [The French language in the 2010 world (summary)]" (in French) (Nathan ed.). Organisation internationale de la Francophonie. 
  2. ^ Lafage, S (1998). Le français d’afrique noire à l’aube de l’an 2000: éléments de problématique [French in black Africa at the dawn of 2000: problematic elements] (in French). Paris: Université Paris III. 
  3. ^ Dumont, Pierre (1990). Le français langue africaine [The African French language] (in French). Paris: l'Harmattan. 
  4. ^ Wald, Paul (1994). "L'appropriation du français en Afrique noire: une dynamique discursive [The appropriation of French in black Africa: a dynamic discourse]". Langue française (in French) 104: 115–124. 
  5. ^ Manessy, G (1994). "Pratique du français en Afrique noire francophone [The practice of French in francophone black Africa]". Langue française (in French) 104: 11–19. 
  6. ^ Mudimbe, V. Y. Quel enseignement de la littérature et de la culture françaises? (in French). Conseil international de la langue française (Colloque). 
  7. ^ a b Manessy, G (1978). "Le français d'Afrique noire: français créole ou créole français? [The French of black Africa: French creole or creole French?]". Langue française (in French) 37: 91–105. 
  8. ^ Calvet, M. "Le français au Sénégal: intérférences du wolof dans le français des élèves sénégalais [The French of Senegal: Wolof interference in the French of Senegalese students]". Le français en France et hors de France (in French) 7: 71–91. 
  9. ^ a b Bassolé-Ouedraogo, A (2007). "Le français et le français populaire africain: partenariat, cohabitation ou défiance? FPA, appartenance sociale, diversité linguistique" (in French). Institut d’Études des Femmes, Université d’Ottawa. 


  • de Féral, C (1994). "Le français en Afrique noire, faits d'appropriation". Langue française (in French) 104: 3–5. 
  • Bal, W (2008). "Particularités actuelles du français d’Afrique centrale". Le français hors de France (in French). Dakar: Les Nouvelles Éditions Africaines. pp. 340–349.