Research Seminars

Research seminars

Investigating tone in a spoken corpus of Cameroon Pidgin English

Tom Devlin (University of Huddersfield) 

Wednesday 3rd April 2019

Cameroon Pidgin English (CPE) is an expanded pidgin/creole spoken by around 11 million people, often alongside the prestige languages French and English and a variety of indigenous languages (Lewis et al. 2016). Following the publication of the first grammar of CPE (Ayafor and Green 2017), this paper explores the use of tone in a sample of 15 CPE speakers from the larger corpus, balanced for sex, age, geographic locations, professions, educational and linguistic backgrounds.  

The existing literature on tone in West African Pidgin Englishes (WAPE) is patchy in terms of description and inconsistent in terms of findings. While Maurer et al (2013) describe CPE as having a reduced system, and Mbassi-Manga (1973) and Simo Bobda (1992) consider this to be a simple high-low distinction, more recent research by Nkengasong (2016) describes three tones in CPE. Our study provides evidence supporting the latter description by Nkengasong (2016) that CPE is a tone language with three levels (low, mid and high).

Adopting Dwyer’s (1966) assumption that CPE tone consists of pitch and stress, we employ acoustic analysis (Coupe 2014) to investigate tone in a selection of the most common monosyllabic, disyllabic and multisyllabic words in our corpus, spanning different parts of speech. In line with other WAPEs, the results seem to show tone differences between lexical and grammatical words, and according to a range of contexts such as syntactic position and morphological function.

For example:
go as a verb = ‘góe’ (High tone)
go as a future tense marker = ‘gòe’ (Low tone)