Combatting language cannibalism

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UiB News 6.4.2006
Combatting language cannibalism

In the Cameroon, 239 tribal languages are in the process of dying out because of the linguistic single-mindedness of the authorities. Academics at the University of Yaoundé 1 are fighting to keep some of them going. By Hilde K. Kvalvaag “Official policy in the Cameroon can only be described as linguistic cannibalism. The most important thing for the authorities today is to create a unified nation. They are doing this by going in very strongly for French as a language, and there is a real danger that many of the country’s other languages will die out within a short time,” Says Alexis Belibi from the University of Yaoundé 1.Belibi claims that this situation is also due to the fact that France is supporting such a language policy as part of its own geopolitical ambitions. Alexis Belibi has just been visiting the University of Bergen’s Department of Romance Language and Literature, which signed a cooperative agreement with the Cameroonians in 2004.

Radio programmes

Belibi, who is a linguist, tells “På Høyden” that he has organised groups at his University who are transcribing tribal languages in an attempt to preserve them. The also broadcast radio programmes on which they talk about tribal languages in the languages themselves. These programmes are extremely popular in the Cameroon, attracting large nubers of listeners, but they have no political support, and they are financed by the academics themselves.Belibi also points out that cooperating with the University of Bergen is interesting for several reasons.“Norway’s own history means that we share some similar experiences. Norway has also been ?? another country, and has developed its own language in the wake of this experience. Norway’s linguistic consciousness has made us aware of similarities with our own language situation and can take home impulses from here,” says Belibi.

Norway has something to learn

In 2001, Belibi set up a research centre called “Centre d’innovation pédagogique” (CIP, which aims to concentrate itsa research efforts on the development of a written culture on the premises of the local inhabitants in both their mother tongue and with French as a langua franca.
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