- Cameroon Pidgin English: A comprehensive grammar by Miriam Ayafor and Melanie J. Green
Cameroon Pidgin English, by Miriam Ayafor and Melanie Green, is the latest and, as the subtitle 'A comprehensive grammar' suggests, most extensive work yet on the African English-lexifier creole language Cameroon Pidgin English (CPE). CPE is the second-largest English-lexifier contact language in the world after Nigerian Pidgin, and it belongs to a chain of closely related, mutually intelligible varieties spoken in the West African littoral zone in The Gambia (Aku), Sierra Leone (Krio), Ghana (Ghanaian Pidgin English), Equatorial Guinea (Pichi), and Nigeria (Nigerian Pidgin, also referred to as Naijá). Both authors are well placed for the task of describing CPE. A, a native speaker of CPE, has done significant work on the language (e.g. Ayafor 2008), and G is an Africanist linguist who has conducted work on Hausa (e.g. Green 1997). The linguistic examples and texts in the grammar are almost without exception extracted from a 240,000-word corpus compiled by the authors themselves, which is, to my knowledge, the largest publicly accessible corpus of any African English-lexifier contact language so far (Green, Ayafor, & Ozón 2016).
Two introductory chapters provide a state of the art and a typological and sociohistorical overview of the language. Subsequent chapters cover phonetics, phonology, and orthography (Ch. 3), the lexicon (Ch. 4), the noun phrase and pronouns (Chs. 3–6), and tense, mood, modality, aspect, and negation (Ch. 7). An overview of basic clause types (Ch. 8) is followed by a description of more complex structures, including serial verb and light verb constructions (Ch. 9) and combined clauses (Ch. 10). A final chapter (Ch. 11) deals with aspects of information structure, including topic and focus. Cameroon Pidgin English covers all of the central aspects of the language, including in-depth treatments of topics that have occupied creolists for decades, like serial verb constructions and tense and aspect. There are some aspects, however, that could have been addressed differently, and I focus here on three of these, namely the orthography, the treatment of tone, and glossing.
The often contentious nature of the graphization of oral languages has received some attention in the literature, including the specific case of creoles (see Deuber & Hinrichs 2007). CPE is no exception in this regard. Suggestions for the orthographic standardization of CPE have alternated between more etymological (hence English-oriented) and more phonemic systems (see Sala 2009 for an overview). As in other cases, the wide range of opinions within a small group of experts and the general absence of polity-driven codification are therefore at least partly responsible for the absence of a widely accepted orthography of CPE. The orthography used in this book therefore represents one of various individual graphization initiatives (see Ayafor 1996 for a precursor).
The authors state their wish to adopt a transcription system that is 'as accessible as possible to CPE speakers' (43). This is, however, contradicted by the opaque nature of some of the graphization choices made. Although the authors' system employs distinctions in line with earlier phonemic approaches to graphization (e.g. de Féral 1989), it also introduces some idiosyncratic distinctions (e.g. dey /dè/ '3sg.sbj' vs. de /dé/ 'day' vs. deiy /dé/ 'locative copula; there' and wey /wé/ 'way' vs. weiy /wé/ 'relativizer'). In other instances, the system is (partly) etymological in relying on standard English orthographic principles for representing the distinction between the high /o/ (e.g. gote /gót/ 'goat', stone /stón/ 'stone') and the low /ɔ/ (e.g. jos // 'just'). This, in turn, leads to inconsistencies between monosyllabic words, such as noe /nó/ 'negator' and foe /fó/ 'associative preposition', and polysyllabic words containing the same vowel where the spelling is phonemic, such as folo /fólò/ 'accompany' (which should be foeloe, if consistent) or kola /kólà/ 'kola nut' (which should be koela). Further complications are introduced by the use of graphemic [End Page 562] distinctions where...