Wednesday, May 21, 2014

National Day and the Languages of Cameroon: Part 1

As yesterday was the National Day of Cameroon, we thought we'd take some time to acknowledge the languages spoken in the African nation. Cameroon as we know it today was two different countries when it gained independence from its two colonial masters, France and the UK. As Cameroon was two entities, it technically gained independence twice, first from France on 1 January 1960, when French Cameroun became self-governing, and again when British Southern Cameroons became a federal part of the already self-governing Cameroon on 1 October 1961.
The flag of Cameroon
In order for the country to have one national day, 20 May was declared National Day in Cameroon. This is because on this day in 1972, the country's first president, Ahmadou Ahidjo, abolished the federal system and made Cameroon a unitary state.

To say that Cameroon is linguistically diverse would be an incredible understatement. While the country only has two official languages, French and English, Cameroon is also home to an additional 228 languages. 

Aside from Cameroon's two official and colonial languages, the remaining languages fall into a number of language families. As 169 of Cameroon's languages are part of the Niger-Congo language family, we'll attempt to quickly cover those today and get to the remaining languages when we return on Friday. Let's get started!

Niger-Congo Languages

As one of the world's major language families and perhaps the largest language family in the world when you consider the huge number of distinct languages, the presence of Niger-Congo languages in Cameroon is hardly a surprise. The Niger-Congo languages in Cameroon are further divided into subdivisions, perhaps in order to allow us to comprehend their sheer number more easily.

Benue-Congo Languages and Bantu Languages

Of the 169 Niger-Congo languages in Cameroon, the majority, 142 to be exact, are Benue-Congo languages. Benue-Congo languages are also the largest branch of the Niger-Congo family, so mathematics enthusiasts will see this as a given. A total of 900 Benue-Congo languages exist in the world, which means that 15% of them can be found in Cameroon.

130 of the Benue-Congo languages in Cameroon are Bantu languages. The most spoken Bantu languages worldwide in terms of native speakers are Shona and Zulu, though Swahili has the most speakers when you consider non-native speakers.

Adamawa Languages

Around a third of the 90 Adamawa languages in the world are found in Cameroon. As they are all found around central Africa in the Adamawa Plateau, this subdivision of Niger-Congo languages isn't widely accepted as a language family but rather as a geographical grouping of languages. There are only around 1.5 million speakers of Adamawa languages worldwide.

Fula - A Senegambian Language

The only Senegambian language in Cameroon is Fula. We had a look at the Fula language when we covered the languages of Senegal.

So that's the Niger-Congo languages in Cameroon... you didn't seriously think we'd go through all of them individually in one blog post, did you? We'll be back on Friday with the rest of the language groups in the hundreds of languages spoken in Cameroon.

Part 1 | Part 2