Research Key

English language use at work: the case of some government offices in Buea

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International: $20
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Qualitative method
Analytical tool
Descriptive statistics
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This research seeks to investigate the use of the English language at work. In this light, this chapter presents the background of the study, definition of terms, the statement of the problem, the hypothesis, the research questions, the objectives of the study, scope of the study, significance of the study and finally the layout of the work.

Background of the study

Cameroon is situated at the junction between Western and Central Africa. Like most African nations, it is a creation of the 19th century. In the early 19th century, there were considerable activities in Cameroon by British and American missionaries, but a German connection began in 1868 when the Woermann Company of Hamburg built a warehouse on the estuary of the Wouri River.

Since then, the interest of Germany towards Cameroon kept increasing and in 1884, Germany acquired the country at the Berlin conference when European imperial powers met to partition Africa which eventually led to the decision of Germany to establish a German empire in Cameroon.

In consequence, Gustave Nachtigal arrived in Cameroon that same year to negotiate and sign treaties with the kings of Douala, Bimbia and Batanga, thus declaring “Kameran” a German protectorate. When World War broke out in 1914, aligning British French and Belgian troops against Germany, Germany was defeated and, Cameroon was divided between Britain and France. The British and French thereafter established a joint administration of the territory (condominium), for a few months, and then partitioned it.

The British took the smaller share consisting of two thin strips on the Eastern border of Nigeria. These two regions became known as the British Cameroons. On the other side, the large Western areas ceded in 1911 were returned to French Equatorial Africa, and the remaining central territory became a new French mandate colony, to be known as French Cameroon.

Cameroonians were henceforth subjected to two other types of colonial experiences with new attitudes and cultures. French Cameroon enjoyed more rapid economic and politic development than British Cameroon and, it felt the effects of the independence movements sweeping through the continent after World Warll. As a result, French Cameroon became whether they should be merged with Nigeria or with the already independent French Cameroon.

The question was put to a plebiscite and the Northern region voted to join Nigeria while the Southern region opted for the Cameroon Republic. Then on 11th February 1960, British Cameroons voted union with French Cameroon through a referendum. This association between the two entities was consolidated on the 1st of October 1961 through the Reunification of British and French Cameroons.

This Reunification came with the adoption of French and English as official languages. As a result, the two languages were given equal status. But George Echul (2003:39) observes that even though they are considered to be equal in status, French has defector dominance over English in the area of administration. Sharing the same point of view, Idriss et al (2010:28) said that “French” is the career language of employment in government and civil service.

Definition of terms

Use: according to the Cambridge Advanced learners’ dictionary (pl603) it is the purpose for which something is used.

Work: It is defined as a place where a person goes especially to do their job.

Government: It is the exercise of political authority over the actions, affairs of people or a political unit.

Office: it is a room or part of a building in which people work, especially sitting at tables with computers, telephones, usually as a part of a business or other organization.

Attitude: the way that you behave towards somebody or something that shows how you think and feel.

Statement of the Problem

Since languages are generally associated with social and ethnic groups, it affects peoples’ evaluation and attitude towards those languages. Most of the time, a language related to a numerically inferior linguistic or ethnic group is looked at as less prestigious and negatively compared to the language of the majority.

Since the culture is also reflected through the language, negative attitude is also reflected in the attitude which in its turn influences the usage of English, especially at work.

English is generally perceived as a school subject which explains why it is given less attention outside the field of education, especially at workplaces, in most government offices. Given the importance of this language as a tool of international diplomacy, the password to science and technology, among others, it would be important to investigate the attitudes that Cameroonians have to it, most of which are the result of ignorance.


This study will be guided by the following hypotheses:

  • There is limited use of the English language by workers in public institutions.
  • The English language is the predominant language used in government offices.

Research Questions

In order to verify the hypothesis above, we shall seek to answer the following questions:

  • How often do workers use English?
  • Do they feel comfortable using English?
  • What do they think of the use of English at work?

Objectives of the study

The aims of this study are:

  • To determine the frequency of use of English
  • To investigate workers’ language choices at work
  • To investigate their reasons for choosing a certain language and not the other
  • To investigate their altitudinal tendencies that ensue from their choices
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