African French

African French

African French is the generic name of the varieties of French spoken by an estimated 115 million African people spread across 31 francophone African countries.fr_icon [ "La Francophonie dans le monde 2006-2007"] published by the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie. Nathan, Paris, 2007] This includes those who speak French as a first or second language in these 31 francophone African countries (colored dark blue on the map), but it does not include French speakers living in non-francophone African countries. Africa is thus the continent with the most French speakers in the world. French arrived in Africa with colonisation from France and Belgium. These African French speakers are now an important part of the Francophonie.

French is mostly a second language in Africa, but in some areas it has become a first language, such as in Réunion or in the region of Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire. [fr_icon [ "Le français à Abidjan : Pour une approche syntaxique du non-standard"] by Katja Ploog, CNRS Editions, Paris, 2002] In some countries it is a first language among some classes of the population, such as in Tunisia and Morocco where French is a first language among the upper classes (many people in the upper classes are simultaneous bilinguals Arabic/French), but only a second language among the general population.

In each of the francophone African countries French is spoken with local specificities in terms of pronunciation and vocabulary.

French African varieties

There are many different varieties of African French, but they can be broadly grouped in three categories:
*the French spoken by black Africans in Western, Central, and East Africa - about 75 million first and second language speakers of this French variety
*the French variety spoken by the Arabs and Berbers in Northwest Africa (see Maghreb French) - about 36 million first and second language speakers of this French variety
*the French spoken by Creoles in the Indian Ocean (Réunion, Mauritius, and Seychelles) - about 1.6 million first and second language speakers of this French variety, not to be confused with French-based creole languages which are also spoken in the area.

All the African French varieties differ from standard French both in terms of pronunciation and vocabulary.


Differences in pronunciation between varieties of African French can be quite important (e.g. pronunciation of French in Morocco is quite different from the pronunciation of French in Senegal). Despite these significant regional variations, there exist some trends among African French speakers, such as the pronunciation of the letter R which tends to be pronounced like a trilled r instead of the guttural R of standard French (although some African speakers also pronounce R as a guttural R).

In most cases, however, it is not possible to make general rules about the pronunciation of French in Africa, each local pronunciation of French being influenced by the African languages spoken locally.


In terms of vocabulary, there exist three phenomena in African French. First, the presence of words which do not exist in standard French. These words were either coined locally or borrowed from local African languages. As a consequence, each regional variety of African French has its own local words that are not the same as in other varieties of African French, although this local vocabulary only constitutes a small part of the overall vocabulary which for the most part is identical to standard French. When talking to people from other regions or countries, African French speakers often switch to a more standard form of French avoiding this local vocabulary. However, there also exist some African French words that are found across many African countries (see for example "chicotter" in the Abidjan French vocabulary section below).

A second phenomenon is the use of some words with a meaning different from standard French. For example, the word "présentement" (which means "at the moment" in standard French) is used a lot in sub-Saharan Africa (but not in the Maghreb) with the meaning of "as a matter of fact", "as it were" and not "at the moment".

A third phenomenon is hypercorrection, which is found especially among the educated and upper classes of sub-Saharan Africa. Educated people there tend to speak a very formal sort of French which may sound a bit old fashioned and conservative to European and North American French speakers. This is somewhat similar to the way English is spoken by people of the upper class in India.

The local African French vocabulary not found in standard French ranges from slang frowned upon by educated people, to colloquial usage, to words that have entered the formal usage (such as "chicotter"). The French spoken in Abidjan, the largest city of Côte d'Ivoire, offers a good example of these contrasting registers.

Abidjan French vocabulary

"According to some estimates, French is spoken by 75% to 99% of Abidjan's population, [fr icon cite web|url=|title=La situation multilinguistique d’Abidjan|author=Marita Jabet, Lund University|format=PDF|accessdate=2007-05-29] either alone or alongside indigenous African languages. There are three sorts of French spoken in Abidjan. A formal French is spoken by the educated classes. Most of the population, however, speaks a colloquial form of French known as "français de Treichville" (after a working-class district of Abidjan) or "français de Moussa" (after a character in chronicles published by the magazine "Ivoire Dimanche" which are written in this colloquial Abidjan French). Finally, an Abidjan French slang called "nouchi" is spoken by people in gangs and also by young people copying them. New words usually appear in "nouchi" and then make their way into colloquial Abidjan French after some icon cite web|url=|title=Variétés lexicales du français en Côte d'Ivoire.|author=Bertin Mel Gnamba and Jérémie Kouadio N'Guessan|format=PDF|accessdate=2007-05-29]

Here are some examples of words used in the African French variety spoken in Abidjan (the spelling used here conforms to French orthography, except ô which should be read as -aw in the English word "law"): [fr icon cite web|url=|title=Le lexique français de Côte d'Ivoire|author=Suzanne Lafage|year=2002|accessdate=2007-08-01]
*"une go" is a slang word meaning a girl or a girlfriend. It is a loanword either from the Mandinka language or from English ("girl").
*"un maquis" is a colloquial word meaning a street-side eating joint, a working-class restaurant serving African food. This word exists in standard French too but its meaning is "maquis shrubland", and by extension "guerilla", see Maquis (World War II). It is not known exactly how this word came to mean street-side restaurant in Côte d'Ivoire.
*"un bra-môgô" is a slang word meaning a bloke or a dude. It is a loanword from the Mandika language.
*"chicotter" is a word meaning to whip, to beat, or to chastise (children). It is a loanword from Brazilian Portuguese where it meant "to whip (the black slaves)". It has now entered the formal language of the educated classes.
*"un braiseur" is a colloquial word meaning an arsonist or someone who kills a person by burning that person alive (usually during a lynching). This word exists in standard French too but its meaning is "someone who grills or roasts meat". The local meaning proper to Ivory Coast was first recorded in 1993.
*"le pia" is a slang word meaning money. It comes perhaps from the standard French word "pièce" ("coin") or "pierre" ("stone").When speaking in a formal context, or when meeting French speakers from outside Ivory Coast, Abidjan speakers would replace these local words with the French standard words "une fille", "un restaurant" or "une cantine", "un copain", "battre", "un incendiaire", and "l'argent" respectively. Note that some local words are used across several African countries. For example "chicotter" is attested not only in Ivory Coast but also in Senegal, Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Chad, the Central African Republic, Benin, Togo, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

As already mentioned, these local words range from slang to formal usage, and their use therefore vary depending on the context. In Abidjan, this is how the sentence "The girl stole my money." is constructed depending on the register:
*formal Abidjan French of the educated people: "La fille m'a subtilisé mon argent."
*colloquial Abidjan French ("français de Moussa"): "Fille-là a prend mon l'argent." (in standard French, the grammatically correct sentence should be "La fille a pris mon argent.")
*Abidjan French slang ("nouchi"): "La go a momo mon pia." ("momo" is an Abidjan slang word meaning "to steal")

Kinshasa French vocabulary

With more than 7 million inhabitants, Kinshasa is the largest francophone city in the world after Paris. It is the capital of the second most populated francophone country in the world, the Democratic Republic of Congo, where an estimated 24 million people (40% of the total population) can speak French (essentially as a second language). Contrary to Abidjan where French is the first language of a large part of the population, in Kinshasa French is only a second language, and its status of "lingua franca" is shared with Lingala. People of different African mother tongues living in Kinshasa usually speak Lingala to communicate with each other in the street, but French is the language of businesses, administrations, schools, newspapers and televisions. French is also the predominant written language.

Due to its widespread presence in Kinshasa, French has become a local language with its own pronunciation and some local words borrowed for the most part from Lingala. Depending on their social status, some people may mix French and Lingala, or code switch between the two depending on the context. Here are examples of words particular to Kinshasa French. As in Abidjan, there exist various registers and the most educated people may frown upon the use of slangish/lingala terms.

*"cadavéré" means broken, worn out, exhausted, or dead. It is the local pronunciation of the standard French word "cadavre" whose meaning in standard French is "corpse". The word "cadavéré" has now spread to other African countries due to the popularity of Congolese music in Africa.
*"makasi" means strong, resistant. It is a loanword from Lingala.
*"anti-nuit" are sunglasses worn by partiers at night. It is a word coined locally and whose literal meaning in standard French is "anti-night". It is one of the many Kinshasa slang words related to nightlife and partying. A reveler is known locally as "un ambianceur", from standard French "ambiance" which means atmosphere.
*"casser le bic", literally "to break the Bic", means to stop going to school.
*"merci mingi" means "thank you very much". It comes from standard French "merci" ("thank you") and Lingala "mingi" ("a lot").
*"un zibolateur" is a bottle opener. It comes from the Lingala verb "kozibola" which means "to open something that is blocked up or bottled", to which was added the standard French ending "-ateur".
*"un tétanos" is a rickety old taxi. In standard French "tétanos" means "tetanus".
*"moyen tê vraiment" means "absolutely impossible". It comes from "moyen tê" ("there's no way"), itself made up of standard French "moyen" ("way") and Lingala "tê" ("not", "no"), to which was added standard French "vraiment" ("really").

African member states of La Francophonie

Membership of the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie does not require or imply that the French language is a primary language, or even a widely understood language, in a particular country. The names of countries that were never ruled by a Francophone colonial power are "italicised". Note that Algeria, a former part of metropolitan France and the second largest francophone country in Africa, has so far refused to join the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie due to political tensions with France.
* Benin (official language)
* Burkina Faso (official language)
* Burundi (official language, with Kirundi)
* Cameroon (official language, with English)
* "Cape Verde"
* Central African Republic (official language, with Sango)
* Chad (official language, with Arabic)
* Comoros (official language, with Shikomor and Arabic)
* Democratic Republic of the Congo (official language)
* Republic of the Congo (official language)
* Côte d'Ivoire (official language)
* Djibouti (official language, with Arabic)
* Egypt
* "Equatorial Guinea" (official language, with Spanish and Portuguese)
* France (official language)
**Mayotte (official language)
* Gabon (official language)
* Guinea (official language)
* "Guinea-Bissau"
* Madagascar (official language)
* Mali (official language)
* Mauritania ("French is commonly used")
* Mauritius (official language, de facto)
* Morocco ("French is commonly used")
* Niger (official language)
* Rwanda (official language, with Kinyarwanda and English)
* "São Tomé and Príncipe"
* Senegal (official language)
* Seychelles (official language, with English and Creole)
* Togo (official language)
* Tunisia ("French is commonly used")

African countries with the largest numbers of French speakers

According to the 2007 report by the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie, the African countries with more than 5 million French speakers are:
*Democratic Republic of the Congo: 24,320,000 people can speak French either as a first or second language
*Algeria (not a member of the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie): 19,000,000fr icon cite web|url=|title=Le français dans le monde|first=Government of France|last=Ministry of Foreign Affairs|accessdate=2007-06-10]
*Côte d'Ivoire: 12,740,000
*Morocco: 10,131,000
*Cameroon: 7,343,400
*Tunisia: 6,360,000
*Guinea: 6,000,000

African countries with the largest percentages of French speakers

According to the 2007 report by the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie, the African countries where more than 50% of the population can speak French are:
*Réunion (France): 94.5% of the population can speak French either as a first or second language
*Gabon: 80%
*Mauritius: 72.7%
*Côte d'Ivoire: 70%
*São Tomé and Príncipe: 65%
*Tunisia: 63.6%
*Guinea: 63.2%
*Seychelles: 60%
*Republic of the Congo: 60%
*Equatorial Guinea: 60%
*Mayotte (France): 59% [fr icon cite web|url=|title=Les résultats statistiques du RP 2002|first=Government of France|last=INSEE|accessdate=2007-06-10]
*Algeria (not a member of the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie): 57%

ee also

*North Africa
*French West Africa
*Sub-Saharan Africa
*Latin Africa
*Colonisation of Africa
*French language


External links

* [ LE FRANÇAIS EN AFRIQUE - Revue du Réseau des Observatoires du Français Contemporain en Afrique]
* [ Links for Afrique francophone]
* [ Dictionaries of various French speaking countries]
* [ For French speaking Africans in London]
* []
* [ RFI - L’avenir du français passe par l’Afrique]

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