French Fluency a Privilege of the Few in West Africa

Keynote address at the 42nd Regional Meeting of the Chicago Linguistic Society:

The maintenance of a highly selective school system with important rates of dropouts, combined with low rates of scholarization, just helped keep the European colonial languages as the privilege of a chosen few. School children developed greater competence in the regional lingua franca than in the European language, which they often do not get to practice outside the school environment until after they graduate from high school, if they go that far. The only exceptions are apparently places such as Libreville (Gabon) and Abidjan (Côte d’Ivoire), where no indigenous language has emerged as the dominant vernacular. According to Van den Avenne (1998), Abidjan breaks down into neighborhoods where Dioula prevails as the vernacular and those where either French or le français populaire ivoirien functions as the vernacular.
In the rest of Black Africa, an indigenous language has typically emerged as the urban vernacular and regional lingua franca for the masses of the population, i.e., the overwhelming majorities of the national populations.

7 April 2006
Language Endangerment: An Embarrassment for Linguistics
Salikoko S. Mufwene
University of Chicago

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