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1.1 Background to the study

This study looks at APOLOGY STRATEGIES IN PINYIN. Every day people talk or speak to a variety of destinations. Speaking is the sharing of something and having the intent of the speaker. Toomey et. Al. (2005) has stated that in every effective speech, there must be interrelatedness and mutual understanding between speaker and hearer.

Understanding the meaning behind words is very important to avoid the misunderstanding between the speaker and the hearer and to achieve the communicative goal, especially when the speaker and the hearer are from different cultures. In such a situation, the polite mode is preferred to avoid communication breakdowns or offence. And since the concept of politeness varies across cultures, there appears to be a need for studying apology strategies and speech acts in specific cultures. Such a study may highlight some differences between the Pinyin and foreigners and their view of politeness when apologizing.

Generally, an apology is an admission that you have done something wrong to someone and that you are really sorry for it. Since apologies require humility to put the need of those you have offended over your own, it is literally humiliating. No one, therefore, likes to apologize in other to keep his/her ego. Holmes (1995) defines apology as a speech act that is intended to remedy the offence in which the apologizer takes responsibility and as a result, balances the social relationship between the interlocutors thus, making apology a socio-pragmatic phenomenon.

This means that when the norms of politeness are violated, it requires an apology to mend them depending on the culture of the given community. Thus, an act may be considered as violating the norms of politeness in a given community, which may not be the case in another.

Apology strategies can be measured depending on the speaker and the addressee or both. This depends on the social distance, sex, age, power and social status. These factors classify apology in two categories which can either be highly or least apologetic depending on the social relationship between interlocutors. Apologies can also be made depending on the intensity and type of mistake. Someone may render an apology in other to reduce the punishment to be given to him or her. According to Susan (1999), the overall goal of apology is to restore dignity and social harmony. Lazare (1995), in Susan (1992) identifies four reasons why people make apologies.

  • To restore a damaged relationship
  • To express regrets and reduce pain
  • To escape or reduce the punishment
  • To relieve a guilty conscience

This study aims to provide contrast evidence on apology speech acts in Pinyin and in English showing the differences and the similarities between these two languages regarding apologies. The results of this study aim to provide Pinyin learners with information that may help them improve their pragmatic competence in English. The study also contributes to pragmatics-teaching curriculum and EFL research.


The education system in Cameroon focuses more on teaching English grammar and French and reading. As a result, the Pinyin people are required to study English and French as compulsory languages in Cameroon, but also considered as a foreign language by culture, for approximately sixteen years from primary school to higher education.

The geo-historical description of Pinyin can be examined by tracing the origin and migration of Pinyin which involves; looking at the Pinyin in the colonial and post-colonial period. This is important as, it could help us trace how apologies were done in Pinyin and also how apology has changed over time. It will also help us to understand why apology strategies have changed over time.

The Location of Pinyin

 This work investigates apology strategies in Pinyin. Pinyin is spoken in the North West Region of Cameroon, Santa sub-division, located in the South West of Bamenda, Mezam division. According to SIL (2001), Pinyin has an increasing population of about 2,400 speakers. Alternatively, Pinyin can also be called Bapinyin and Pelimpo dialects. Ethnologue (2013) classifies Pinyin under the Niger-Congo, Atlantic-Congo, Volta-Congo, Benue-Congo, Bantiod, Southern, Wide grass fields, Mbam-Kam, and the Ngemba language families.

Geographically, Pinyin is divided into two parts, the upper part known as upper Pinyin and the lower part known as lower Pinyin. Villages that make up the upper part are; Menka, Buchi, Muwah and Matagem, while those of the lower part are; Metin, Mesaw and Meshi. The area is bordered in the West by Ashong, in the North by Bali Nyonga and Bawock, Babaju in the East and Bamumbu in the South.

Origin and Migration of Pinyin

The question of the origin of Pinyin is very controversial. Two sources of the origin of Pinyin have been postulated. One popularly held by the oral tradition and the other by linguistic evidence. The first theory concerning the origin of Pinyin is that of oral tradition. This theory holds that Pinyin people originated from Widikum which is found in present-day Batibo in the North West Region of Cameroon. The theory claims that migration was led by a single family under the leadership of one man called Teghefeng. This man was also the head of the family.

The second view claims that Pinyin people originated from Tadkou. The movement from Tadkou was also known to have led by Teghefeng. Although the two views have different places where they think Pinyin people originated from, one thing is important here because they agreed that Teghefeng was the founding father of Pinyin. Despite the controversy on the origin of Pinyin, written records help to clarify the doubts. Research from resend report have proven that Tadkou is in the South West area of the Bamenda grass fields and on the fringes of the forest zone are found in the present-day Momo and Mezame division of the North West region of Cameroon (Fonso 1989).

They are also a group in the Mghamo and Menemo (Meta). They are also frequently referred to as the Widikum group. We can therefore conclude that Pinyin people originated from Pinyin.

Although the first two versions of the oral tradition traced the origin and father of Pinyin, they did not mention anything beyond that. This makes another version to be inevitable. The third version of the oral tradition left out by the first and second version is the fact that there was a mass movement from Widikum led by Fombo Ngoni of Bambuluwe. The Bambuluwe were accompanied by five other groups which were Bambili, Bamun-Kumbit, Bawaju, Baminyan and Bapinyin (Pinyin). Each of the group was having a leader.

The route followed by the migration as North Easterly to the present day Bafut. It was here that they settled before Bawaju and Baminyam moved to the present day West Region of Cameroon, Bambili in the Bafut area, Bamun-Kumbit in Ndop.

It was now from Bafut that Pinyin people under the leadership of Teghefeng left the others, went South and finally settled in the Ngemba area. Despite the fact that this version had some contradiction with the previous account as to the number of people that left Widikum, they also agreed on some very important points which are; Teghefeng as the founding father of Pinyin and Widikum as the origin of Pinyin people. Another issue addressed by this account is that it goes beyond Widikum by tracing the taken by Teghefeng and his family which was left out by the previous version. This, together with the previous versions makes us to come out with a convincing origin of the Pinyin people.

The mythical of ancestors’ theory links the Pinyin people to the Ngemba village of the North West Region of Cameroon. It holds that it was at Widikum that the mythical ancestors of the Ngemba village Mbeka, emerge from the earth. Mbeka then transforms in to a river guarding spirit and then into a men (Fanso 1989). His descendants founded fondoms in the grass field such as Ngemba, Meta and Moghamo. It is said that Mbeka appeared and had a children. It is generally accepted that all of the above fandoms came from his decendants.

This theory thus maintains that the above mentioned fondoms had something in common with respect to their languages. For instance, a Pinyin man understands a Mankon when he or she speaks and same for a Mankon man when Pinyin man speaks. Also, a confirmation of the mythical theory, Pinyin and other Ngemba villages share similar cultures, for example, eating habits, dressing and traditional dances. But these common habits can also be as a result of inter-marriages.

Pinyin in the Colonial Period

The history of the Pinyin in the colonial period can be divided into two parts; from 1884-1915 (German annexation) and 1916-1961 (defeat in 1916 by Britain and France). After the annexation of Cameroon in 1884 by the Germans, they decided to expand the annexation further in the interior.

As a result, Zintgraff was sent to explore the Bamenda Highlands. He arrived Bali Nyonga in 1890. Although he did not pass through Pinyin, he passed through areas that Pinyin was administered under; Bali Nyonga. Before Zintgraff’s arrival, the Bali and the Pinyin had strength relationships due to Bali raids in the 1880s. As a result, the Pinyin left and sleeked refuge the Moghamo in the South and later into the Bawaju, now in the Western Regions of Cameroon. The later came back in the 1980s and acknowledge the sovereignty of the Bali till the British regime.

The victory of the Bali people over the Pinyin people was as a result of the support from the Germans. This brought Pinyin under the rule of Bali. Pinyin also fought wars with Moghamo, Bamessang and Bawang under the leadership of Kahanmechi and Piegha. These wars were as result of raids on the Pinyin traders. This wartime of Pinyin made the name of Pinyin to bere moved from the Bali sub-town.

The second phase of the Pinyin colonial history was from 1916-1961 following the defeat of the Germans by the British and the French in World War 1. Pinyin felt under the British sphere which known as British Cameroon but still administered under the Bali towns.

Economically, Pinyin was viable in agriculture as they cultivated tobacco, maize and kola nuts. Bali was used as a source of the market by the Pinyin people. From the above points, we can see that the History of Pinyin was characterized by wars

Pinyin in the Post-Colonial Era

The history of Pinyin in the post-colonial period saw the independence of French Cameroon in 1960 and subsequently reunification with British Cameroon in 1961 till today. Pinyin history witnessed a series of events in the political, social and economic domain.

Politically, Pinyin during the colonial period was divided into three villages which were later increased to five. The struggle for chieftaincy which started during the colonial period went on its peak and Pinyin witnessed two important conflicts in 1968 and 2007. During this period, Pinyin was administered under Santa which later became a sub-division in 1961.

Economically, agriculture in Pinyin was at its peak. They cultivated potatoes, carrots, maize, beans and coffee. They also expanded on their markets by selling their products all over the region. The money obtained from their produce especially coffee was used to educate most of the Pinyin kids. Coffee was the highest economic activity in Pinyin by then.

From then presentation of the geo-history of Pinyin, from the pre to the post-colonial period, we can easily situate Pinyin and equally view the characteristics of some events that marked the history of the Pinyin people. The changes and made by the Pinyin people during this period are going to help us understand how apologies have changed in Pinyin and the causes and effects of this change as will be seen in the following chapters of this work.

The Pinyin Apology

In pinyin, apologies are not always done through speaking although; some are depending on the gravity of the offence and also on the social relationship between the speakers. Verbal apologies are regular between friends of the same age group were a friend can just say “ndaa” which means “I am sorry” to another when he or she is offended. But in more serious cases like those that involve older people, apologies are mostly made nonverbal. This means that most apologies in Pinyin are nonverbal in nature although some may also be a combination of both verbal and nonverbal strategies. A combination of verbal and nonverbal strategies of apology is always necessary when a subject apologizes to the Fon or to an elder.

The introduction of education and western cultures has also affected the way in Pinyin people apologize. The teaching of the English and French languages in both primary and secondary schools in Pinyin has greatly affected the way Pinyin people apologize. Most of the educated people now apologize according to cultures of languages of education, since learning a language also means learning the culture of the people.   Also, Pinyin people through migration to other parts of the country and also out of the country have led to the importation of other cultures in the land. This has affected the social relationship and harmony between individuals as a result of the use of inappropriate ways of apologies.

1.2Problem Statement

The teaching and learning of the language in some secondary and primary schools is based on the reading and writing of the language without putting into consideration the use of the language in concrete situations out of the classroom such as teaching them how to apologize properly. There is, therefore, a need for other aspects of the language such as the socio-pragmatic aspects to be investigated.

In addition, there has also been a lot of deviation in cultural practices by Pinyin speakers. Most of them especially youths from urban areas do not respect their traditional system. They copy sociolinguistic facts from other cultures to the extent that most of them are not able to render appropriate apologies with respect to cultural norms of the Pinyin community.

Pinyin speakers have also lost appropriate ways of apologizing in their language; a situation that quite often leads to the lack of social harmony and threatening social relations.

The introduction of education and modernization has also affected the way Pinyin people especially the youths apologize. They incorporate the cultures of the languages of education and aspect of modernization during their apologies which result in the inappropriate way of apologizing.

Furthermore, since Cameroon is a multicultural country; different cultures prefer a different way of apologizing. Some of the cultures prefer the use of a category in most of their apologies while others may prefer to combine two or more strategies in a single situation of an apology.

This work, therefore, intends to investigate is the inappropriate combination of more than one strategy of apologies by Pinyin speakers.

1.4 Research Questions

This study will attempt to answer the following research questions:

  1. What are the different types of apology in Pinyin?
  2. What are the different apology strategies in Pinyin?
  3. What is the Pinyin speaker’s view of apology as an aspect of linguistic politeness?
  4. What are the effects of the present strategies of apologies on Pinyin?
  5. What are the verbal and nonverbal ways of apologizing in Pinyin?

1.5 Objectives of the study 

1.5.1 Main objective

The main aim of this work is to describe the various ways in which Pinyin speakers render apologies.

1.5.2 Specific Objectives

 In other to achieve this aim, the following sub-objectives will guide this study.

  1. To assess different ways in which speakers apologize to each other in different situations.
  2. To examine the different ways in which Pinyin people apologize in the past.
  3. To describe apology strategies in present-day Pinyin.
  4. To evaluate the effects of the present strategies of apologies in Pinyin.
  5. Describe the verbal and nonverbal ways of apologizing in Pinyin.









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