BUEA, CAMEROON – Joana Lum, 47, sells vegetables at the main market in Buea, the capital of Cameroon’s Southwest region. She says she never fails to listen to Global Voices, the lone Pidgin English program broadcast on Cameroon Radio Television Buea, every Tuesday.
“Whenever I pack my vegetables to take to the market every Tuesday mornings, I don’t forget to pack my two-battery radio,” she says, pointing to her radio perched by her display of vegetables.
Lum says she is not a fervent radio listener, but there are two programs that are dear to her heart in the Southwest, one of the two English-speaking regions in Cameroon.
“I don’t know much about programs on radio, but at least I know about Pidgin News over Mount Cameroon FM and Global Voices over CRTV Buea,” she says, smiling. “If I fail to listen to these programs, I feel like I have skipped a day’s meal.”
Global Voices addresses women’s issues, while Pidgin News is a humorous media program. Mount Cameroon FM is a station under Cameroon Radio Television, the main state radio and television station in the country.
Lum says pidgin English is the language she grew up speaking. She spoke English only during primary school because it was the language of instruction. But outside of school, she resumed speaking pidgin English with peers and family members.
For Lum, pidgin English is a language of intimacy, a language she identifies with.
“When I listen to pidgin programs, I feel so happy that the educated journalists have come down to my level,” she says. “I see myself at the same level with the journalists and other contributors of the program. I feel secured. I feel like a Cameroonian. I feel so special and also glad that the uneducated population is taken into consideration as far as radio programs are concerned.”
Lum says that all Anglophone Cameroonians can understand pidgin English programs because many view it as a first language, even though the official languages of the country are French and English. She says that broadcasting in pidgin English is a matter of social inclusion.
“I am appealing to all radio stations to include more pidgin English programs,” she says.
Educated and uneducated Anglophone Cameroonians alike say that the few pidgin English broadcasts on national radio are dear to their hearts. But some Cameroonians say that the language destroys one’s ability to speak proper English. Radio executives say that broadcasting in pidgin English preserves local culture, though there are currently no plans to expand the number of programs on national radio. Tomorrow marks World Radio Day, an international celebration designed to raise awareness and to promote access to information and freedom of expression.
When the Europeans colonized Cameroon, they divided it between the French and the British, says Agnes Tangye, head of the history department at Government High School Mambu in Bamenda, capital of the Northwest, the other Anglophone region in Cameroon. When the British spoke with the community in English, the people misinterpreted many of the words and phrases, leading to new words and phrases that formed the basis of pidgin English locally.
There is no data on the number of listeners of the pidgin English broadcasts under Cameroon Radio Television Buea, says Henry Mekole, chief of service for the station’s programs. But he says that pidgin English programs draw a wider listenership than those in English or French.
There are community radio stations outside Buea that broadcast in pidgin English. But pidgin English broadcasts make up less than 4 percent of programs on state radio.
Vida Mosina, 21, a student in the English department of the University of Buea, says she tunes into Pidgin News at 4 p.m. every weekday.
“I can’t afford to miss Pidgin News over Mount Cameroon FM,” she says. “I am addicted to Pidgin News.”
Because it is one of the only programs broadcasted in Pidgin English, she listens to it even if she is in class.
“I even listen to Pidgin News during lecture time,” she says. “If I am in a lecture at 4 p.m., I make sure I connect to Mount Cameroon FM, using my earpiece and my phone hidden under my long hair. Just getting the headlines and traditional wise words in pidgin English makes my day.”
Mosina says Pidgin News is more than just news.
“Pidgin News carries with it sound humor and comedic undertone,” she says. “Most often, I am interested in the humor and comedy it presents, thereby making the news to stick in my memory. It is a kind of news that makes my day after a busy day at school. It actually heals me of exhaustion.”
Mosina says she identifies more with pidgin English programs because they remind her of her roots.
“I grew up in a plantation where pidgin English was the dominant language of communication amongst peers and family members,” she says, touching her heart. “It is for this reason that pidgin English is my first love.”
But she says that some people don’t believe that an English language major like her would fall in love with a pidgin English program.
Thaddeus Muffi, a parent, says that radio stations should scrap pidgin English programs.
“I hate pidgin English programs over radio,” he says.
He says he doesn’t allow his children to tune into these programs.
“Pidgin English programs are taboo programs in my house for my children,” he says. “I want my children to be good English speakers. I don’t want the little that they know to be infiltrated by pidgin English.”
Muffi says he still suffers the effects of growing up speaking pidgin English, as traces of pidgin English continue to sneak into his English. He wants his children to speak better English than he can.
“Children are good imitators,” he says, “quick to learn by observing and imitating. They will quickly copy what they hear. I don’t want them to copy wrong words and usage of English. They must be good and fluent English speakers in future.”
Muffi says that pidgin English programs usually feature the crudest pidgin language, which kills one’s ability to speak English well. He says radio stations should desist from broadcasting in pidgin, or they should do so late at night, when children are in bed.
Mekole says that pidgin English broadcasts have the widest listenership among Cameroon Radio and Television programs. He attributes this to the programs’ handling of societal issues.
“From the nature of pidgin English programs,” he says, “which touches on societal issues, listenership is wider.”
He says programs in pidgin English are also clearer and easier to digest for the majority of the population.
“Pidgin English programs break down concepts in its simplest and more understandable form,” he says.
Mekole says that, according to Cameroon Radio Television policy, programs should be in English or French. So there is just one program in pidgin English on the Buea station, Global Voices.
He did not say whether there are currently any plans to add more pidgin programs. But he affirms that broadcasting in pidgin English is important to save the language.
“Pidgin English is part of our culture,” Mekole says. “We cannot leave it to die.”