Kamtok (Cameroon Pidgin)

January 5th, 2007 by bobebill

Kamtok (Cameroon Pidgin)

(more can be found at the website, but a partial text is below)

written by Loreto Todd
(with help from Martin Jumbam and Herbert Wamey)

Kamtok is the pidginised English of Cameroon. This English-related language has been a lingua franca in the country since at least the 1880s. The 35-year period since 1966 has seen dramatic changes in the attitude of speakers towards the language. Speakers have always recognised the usefulness of the language but, in early writings, it was frequently referred to as “Bad English”, “Broken English” and “Bush English”. Today, due mainly to its extended use in Churches and on Radio and Television, it is becoming known as Kamtok from Cameroon Talk, and is taking its place as a recognised medium of interaction.

It is difficult to distinguish between a widely-used pidgin and a creole. The sociological differentiation, often cited, is that a creole is a mother tongue whereas a pidgin is not. However, this distinction is overly simplistic in West Africa where multilingualism is the norm and where the same language can, at any one time, be a mother tongue, a language of wider communication and a first, second, third, fourth or foreign language. This is the case with Kamtok. It is acquired by many in infancy at the same time as their other mother tongue(s) and spoken at a similar speed and with similar flexibility. Many, including clergymen, traders, travellers, gendarmes, soldiers and prisoners utilise it as the most viable means of communication in a country with two official languages, French and English, and a minimum of two hundred mutually unintelligible vernaculars. Other people, including immigrants and expatriates, learn it with varying degrees of proficiency and a few, albeit a diminishing number, still refuse to speak it because they believe it incapable of civilised discourse.

Kamtok is spoken, in some form, by at least half of the population so it would be overly simplistic to suggest that it could be described in a few pages. What I can do is offer some generalisations with examples, all drawn from live speech unless otherwise indicated. I should just like to emphasise, however, that there are many varieties of Kamtok including:

· Grafi Kamtok, the variety used in the grassfields and often referred to as ‘Grafi Talk’

· liturgical Kamtok. This variety has been used by the Catholic church for three quarters of a century

· francophone Kamtok. This variety is now used mainly in towns such as Douala and Yaoundé and
by francophones talking to anglophones who do not speak French

· Limbe Kamtok. This variety is spoken mainly in the southwest coastal area around the port that used
to be called Victoria and is now Limbe.

· Bororo Kamtok. This variety is spoken by the Bororo cattle traders, many of whom travel through
Nigeria and Cameroon.


Kamtok has an eight-term set of personal pronouns:
a, mi ‘I’ mi ‘me’
yu ‘you (singular)”
i ‘he, she. it’ i, -am ‘him, her, it’
wi ‘we, us’
una, wuna ‘you (plural)’
dem ‘they’ dem, -am ‘them’

Some people use a pronominal set that occasionally reflects sex:
A bin si i. ‘I saw he/she/it.’
Hu? ‘Who?’
Shi, di wuman pikin. ‘Her, the girl.’
and case:
Dei no sabi laik ohs. ‘They don’t really like us.’

Usually, plural is not marked:
ma pikin ‘my child/children’

To avoid ambiguity, however, plurality can be carried by a modifier:
dat tu man pikin ‘those two boys’
wuman boku ‘several women/wives’