The African continent is one of the most linguistically diverse places in the world. According to Wikipedia, over 2,000 languages have been identified among its 54 countries, with over 500 languages actively spoken in Nigeria alone.
Economically, as of 2008, the McKinsey Global Institute reports that the continent’s combined GDP of $1.6 trillion is expected to surpass $2.5 trillion by 2020, with consumer spending forecast at $1.4 trillion by the same year. Eighty percent of the continent’s GDP in 2005 was shared between 15 of its countries, chiefly among natural resources, commerce, farming, and telecommunications. Private foreign capital spiked dramatically from $10 billion to almost $90 billion from 2003 to 2007.
In addition, McKinsey suggests that “four groups of industries together will be worth $2.6 trillion in annual revenue by 2020. These are consumer-facing industries (such as retail, telecommunications, and banking); infrastructure-related industries; agriculture; and resources.”
Being an emerging economy with a wealth of spoken languages, how does African commerce communicate?
For a country that ranks 153rd out of 180 countries in the United Nations Development Program’s Human Development Report, Cameroon tends to be the unknown country on the African continent. Its population isn’t wealthy by any means, but it’s not the poorest country on the continent either. The country is not in the news due to a civil war or a coup d’etat, but it’s not an African “success” story either. It’s just another western/central African country struggling to get by. That’s why le football is such a lifeline. It’s a way for this country to feel proud about itself and get its name out onto the world stage.
When Cameroon lost today 0 – 1 to Japan in the biggest upset yet in the World Cup, Cameroonians lost a little bit of hope and self-esteem as well. Le Football is the great equalizer. Anyone and everyone plays no matter their gender, religion, tribal affiliation, or poverty level.
Every few years, French purists talk about the supposed decline and fall of the French language. Then there's a vain attempt to ban words like le t-shirt or le weekend. This language patriotism tends to coincide with elections, anti-immigration initiatives, non-conformist music fads (i.e. French-Arabic rap), and anytime France falls into a periodic malaise.
A malaise is going on right now fueled by a stark economic crisis, decline in global superiority and influence, lack of popular support for the government, and fundamental, yet unavoidable, changes to a way of life that has persisted for centuries.
Michael Kimmelman in The New York Times writes about this latest crise of identity and language in the midst of a world that's going global. And the French are going global with it — kicking, screaming and throwing their exception-riddled subjunctive tense into the poubelle.
Let’s talk weather — a topic that is neutral and relevant to everyone. In many parts of Africa, the weather dictates people’s livelihoods and determines how much food will be for dinner. So it makes sense that many African languages place additional emphasis on words and expressions related to Mother Nature and all her whims.
This is true for Fulbe, the language of the nomadic Fulani people of Central and West Africa. The 27 million Fulani live in the arid, sparsely populated countryside spanning from Mauritania in the west to Sudan in the east.
In northern Cameroon, Fulfulde is actually the lingua franca; non-Fulani also speak it on a daily basis. With over 200 tribal languages in Cameroon, a unifying, local language emerged along with the official languages of English and French. Fulfulde became the dominant language in the north, just as pidgin English became the dominant language in the country’s western areas.
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