Innovations and Reproductions in Cultures and Societies
(IRICS) Vienna, 9 - 11 december 2005

<< Postcolonial innovations and transformations: Putting language in the forefront

A pragma-stylistic analysis of compliments and compliment responses in Cameroon Pidgin English

Joseph Nkwain (The University of Yaounde 1, Cameroon)



The unexampled complexity of the linguistic landscape of Cameroon has fascinated linguists and researchers from within and without. Blessed with a rich socio-cultural and linguistic background (two colonially-inherited official languages - English and French, a de factor lingua franca - Pidgin English, a youth hybridized language - Camfranglais and a substrate of 247 Home Languages), certain interesting linguistic phenomena worthy of investigation have emerged here as users interact in speech acts. Evidently, one of these codes - Pidgin English, hardly to be disclaimed as a de jure language with a quasi-autonomous system and six identified varieties (Mbangwana 2004) has distinguished itself especially through its heavy functional load. It assumes a broad range of communicative functions, disposes a coherent structure, a substantial number of native speakers, hence, its propensity to spread in leaps and bounds in the francophone region of the country.

This paper delves into an aspect of language use in Cameroon Pidgin English - complimenting and the responses they are likely to produce. It identifies the different forms of compliments and their accompanying responses. It also examines some of the conditions which are likely to warrant complimenting, their functions and how they are managed or perceived through the responses they engender. It further correlates complimenting to some sociolinguistic variables like sex, age, social status and the extent to which it could constitute a power play.

Hymes’s (1974) ethnographic framework, which was further elaborated upon by Wardhaugh (1986) is adopted to explore naturally occurring conversations as a source of natural data. In line with Hymes’s relevant factors, which he summarizes in the acronym SPEAKING, the compliments and the responses identified will be analyzed to see how exactly speakers communicate and negotiate meaning so as to maintain or strain social cohesion especially in a complex multilingual setting, like the Cameroonian, with users from diverse socio-cultural backgrounds. This paper, however, establishes that complimenting could either be a conscious or unconscious strategy employed by users in particular contexts. Be it rational or irrational, certain variables when co-related to them reveal some salient and interesting patterns. Apart from being sex-biased, complementing and their responses are usually context-bound as different speech acts might convey a broad range of meanings, divergent interpretations and consequently different responses. Investigating such an aspect in a highly productive and performative language like Pidgin English goes a long way to corroborate the fact that language and language use is meaningful only when it is imbued in a particular context without any intelligibility problems.

Innovationen und Reproduktionen in Kulturen und Gesellschaften (IRICS) Wien, 9. bis 11. Dezember 2005

WEBDESIGN: Peter R. Horn 2005-09-29