State of affairs and prospect of language documentation in Cameroon

Atindogbe,Gratien Gualbert
Atindogbe,Gratien Gualbert
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Language documentation (LD) is a relatively new concept in linguistic research in Cameroon in particular and maybe in Africa in general. So far, with the generally high numbers of languages spoken in the African countries, researchers have been solely or most involved in language description, a term which was, for long, interchangeable with language documentation. However, since Himmelmann (1998), these two terms refer to distinct realities and language researchers are quickly adapting to the requirements of LD. Thus, it is clear that LD demands more sophisticated and up-to-date technology, as well as more specific attitudes in the interaction with the informants and the speech community. This implies new teaching modules (appropriate training), new types of technological devices and a completely new mentality for the researcher, his institution and the speech community investigated. In fact, there is a need for an appropriate qualitative adjustment of all stakeholders for a successful documentation project. This paper examines the problems of language documentation in Cameroon from the three perspectives of the language documenter, the institution he/she belongs to and the hurdles in the field. Obviously, these three components are highly related and the malfunction of one of the links of this chain can jeopardize the whole process. The problems identified range from the lack of institutional support to the researcher to the delicate question of recording people’s spontaneous conversation and images in villages where the contact between modernism, tradition and beliefs can result in a serious clash: some traditional practices make people fear for their image and voice to be captured. Furthermore, how to create lasting records in our universities and in the speech community when we know all the technical problems our universities face? How to convince the stakeholders that language documentation is a priority? Language description is demanding; it has its own sophisticated rules and requires collaboration (Author, 2007). Language documentation is more demanding; it has more sophisticated rules and requires more collaborative efforts. Therefore, how should language documentation be done in a country like Cameroon in order to benefit all partners? References Author (2007). “Documenting in a Multilingual Setting: the case of the Barombi Language in Cameroon.” In David, Maya Khemlani, Nicholas, Ostler and Caesar Dealwis eds. (2007) FEL XI - Working Together for Endangered Languages: Research Challenges and Social Impacts. Pp. 172-177. Bath: Foundation for Endangered Languages. Himmelmann, Nikolaus P. (1998). “Documentary and descriptive linguistics.” Linguistics 36. pp. 161-195. Berlin: de Gruyter.
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