English Language use at work: The case of some Government offices in Yaoundé
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This study investigates the use of English in government offices by workers. The research was driven by the hypotheses that there is a rejection of the use of English at work, and also, that French is the predominant language used at work. In order to verify these hypotheses, we made use of two main research instruments which were the questionnaire and the observation.
A partly closed, partly open-ended questionnaire assessing the frequency of the use of English language at work as well as the frequency of the use of French, the language which is mostly used in interactions with colleagues and the language chosen to perform the certain professional task was given to both males and females respondents.
The observation was meant to see how the participants would behave, the language they actually used and their impressions about the questionnaire. The results proved that workers show a great interest concerning the use of English at work, even though French remains the predominant language by workers, both francophones and Anglophones.
Therefore, we encourage the government to create workshops or conferences on language which will encourage workers to practice and develop new skills in English and which will teach them how to overcome their fear of making mistakes, but also which will teach workers how to interact in a professional domain with workers from different linguistic groups.
Background of the Study
Cameroon is a country lying at the junction of Western and Central Africa. Like most African nations, it is a creation of the 19th century. In the early 19th century, there was considerable activity 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, Gustav Nachtigal arrived in Cameroon that same year to negotiate and sign treaties with the kings of Douala, Bimbia and Batanga, thus declaring Kamerun a German protectorate. When World War I 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 political development than the British Cameroons and, it felt the effects of the independence movements sweeping through the continent after World War II. As a result, French Cameroon became independent on the 1st of January 1960.
Meanwhile, the question remained as to the future of the British Cameroons 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 Echu (2003:39) observes that even though they are considered to be equal in status, French has a de facto dominance over English in the area of administration.
Sharing the same point of view, Idriss ct al (2010:28) said that: “French is the career language of employment in Government and Civil Service”.
Definition of Terms
English Language: It is an Indo-European language belonging to the West Germanic branch. It was born out of the dialect of three Germanic tribes (The Angles, the Saxons and the Jutes) who settled in Britain in about 450 AD. It was first spoken in England in the early Middle Ages. Nowadays, it is spoken in many countries around the world as a native, second or foreign language.
Use: According to the Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary (p 1603) it is the purpose for which something is used.
Work: It is defined by the Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary (p 1678) 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: According to the Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary (p 985) 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.
Statement of the Problem
Since languages are generally associated with social and ethnic groups, it affects people’s evaluations and attitudes 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.
Within the context of Cameroon, the Anglophone culture is generally considered as a subordinate culture by francophones.
Since the culture is also reflected through the language, this 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.
This study will be driven by the following hypotheses:
- There is a rejection of the use of English by workers
- The French language is the predominant language used in government offices
This study aims to answer the following questions:
- How often do workers use English?
- How often do workers use French?
- 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 determine the frequency of use of French
- To investigate worker’s language choices at work
- To investigate their reasons for choosing a certain language and not the other
- To investigate their attitudinal tendencies that ensue from their choices