African French is the generic name of the varieties of French spoken by an estimated 115 million (2007) African people spread across 31 francophone African countries. This includes those who speak French as a first or second language in these 31 francophone African countries (coloured dark blue on the map), but it does not include French speakers living in non-francophone African countries. Africa is thus the continent with the most French speakers in the world. French arrived in Africa with colonization from France and Belgium. These African French speakers are now an important part of the Francophonie.
French is mostly a second language in Africa, but in some areas it has become a first language, such as in the region of Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire, Libreville, Gabon and in the Island of Réunion. In some countries it is a first language among some classes of the population, such as in Tunisia and Morocco where French is a first language among the upper classes(many people in the upper classes are simultaneous bilinguals Arabic/French), but only a second language among the general population.
In each of the francophone African countries French is spoken with local specificities in terms of pronunciation and vocabulary.
French African varieties
There are many different varieties of African French, but they can be broadly grouped into three categories:
- the French spoken by Africans in Western, Central, and East Africa - about 75 million first and second language speakers of this French variety
- the French variety spoken by the Arabs and Berbers in Northwest Africa (see Maghreb French) - about 36 million first and second language speakers of this French variety
- the French spoken by Creoles in the Indian Ocean (Réunion, Mauritius, and Seychelles) - about 1.6 million first and second language speakers of this French variety, not to be confused with French-based creole languages which are also spoken in the area.
All the African French varieties differ from standard French both in terms of pronunciation and vocabulary.
Differences in pronunciation between varieties of African French can be quite important (e.g. pronunciation of French in Morocco is quite different from the pronunciation of French in Senegal). Despite these significant regional variations, there exist some trends among African French speakers such as the pronunciation of the letter R, which tends to be pronounced like a trilled R instead of a guttural R, but some speakers can also pronounce it as a guttural (a voiced uvular fricative like ‹غ› in the Arabic word مغرب Maghrib). Pronunciation of [d], [t], [l] and [n], as well as other sounds may be also different.
Standard French intonation can be also either maintained or not.
In most cases, however, it is not possible to make generalizations about the pronunciation of French in Africa, each local pronunciation of French being influenced by the African languages spoken locally.
In terms of vocabulary, there exist three phenomena in African French. First, the presence of words which do not exist in standard French. These words were either coined locally or borrowed from local African languages. As a consequence, each regional variety of African French has its own local words that are not the same as in other varieties of African French, although this local vocabulary only constitutes a small part of the overall vocabulary which for the most part is identical to standard French. When talking to people from other regions or countries, African French speakers often switch to a more standard form of French avoiding this local vocabulary. However, there also exist some African French words that are found across many African countries (see for example chicotter in the Abidjan French vocabulary section below).
A second phenomenon is the use of some words with a meaning different from standard French. For example, the word présentement (which means "at the moment" in standard French) is used a lot in sub-Saharan Africa (but not in the Maghreb) with the meaning of "as a matter of fact", "as it were" and not "at the moment".
A third phenomenon is the variant spoken, especially among the educated and upper classes of sub-Saharan Africa. Educated people there tend to speak a very formal sort of French which may sound a bit old-fashioned and conservative to European and North American French speakers. This is somewhat similar to the way English is spoken by people of the upper class in India.
The local African French vocabulary not found in standard French ranges from slang frowned upon by educated people, to colloquial usage, to words that have entered the formal usage (such as chicotter). The French spoken in Abidjan, the largest city of Côte d'Ivoire, offers a good example of these contrasting registers.
Abidjan French vocabulary
According to some estimates, French is spoken by 75% to 99% of Abidjan's population, either alone or alongside indigenous African languages. There are three sorts of French spoken in Abidjan. A formal French is spoken by the educated classes. Most of the population, however, speaks a colloquial form of French known as français de Treichville (after a working-class district of Abidjan) or français de Moussa (after a character in chronicles published by the magazine Ivoire Dimanche which are written in this colloquial Abidjan French). Finally, an Abidjan French slang called nouchi is spoken by people in gangs and also by young people copying them. New words usually appear in nouchi and then make their way into colloquial Abidjan French after some time.
Here are some examples of words used in the African French variety spoken in Abidjan (the spelling used here conforms to French orthography, except ô which should be read as -aw in the English word "law"):
- une go is a slang word meaning a girl or a girlfriend. It is a loanword either from the Mandinka language or from English ("girl").
- un maquis is a colloquial word meaning a street-side eating joint, a working-class restaurant serving African food. This word exists in standard French too but its meaning is "maquis shrubland", and by extension "guerilla", see Maquis (World War II). It is not known exactly how this word came to mean street-side restaurant in Côte d'Ivoire.
- un bra-môgô is a slang word meaning a bloke or a dude. It is a loanword from the Mandinka language.
- chicotter is a word meaning to whip, to beat, or to chastise (children). It is a loanword from Brazilian Portuguese where it meant "to whip (the black slaves)". It has now entered the formal language of the educated classes.
- le pia is a slang word meaning money. It comes perhaps from the standard French word pièce ("coin") or pierre ("stone"), or perhaps piastre (dollar, buck).
When speaking in a formal context, or when meeting French speakers from outside Côte d'Ivoire, Abidjan speakers would replace these local words with the French standard words une fille, un restaurant or une cantine, un copain, battre, and l'argent respectively. Note that some local words are used across several African countries. For example chicotter is attested not only in Ivory Coast but also in Senegal, Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Chad, the Central African Republic, Benin, Togo, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
As already mentioned, these local words range from slang to formal usage, and their use therefore varies depending on the context. In Abidjan, this is how the sentence "The girl stole my money." is constructed depending on the register:
- formal Abidjan French of the educated people: La fille m'a volé mon argent.
- colloquial Abidjan French (français de Moussa): La fille-là a pris mon argent. (in standard French, the grammatically correct sentence should be "La fille a pris mon argent.")
- Abidjan French slang (nouchi): La go a soutra mon pia. (soutra is an Abidjan slang word meaning "to steal")
Kinshasa French vocabulary
With more than 8 million inhabitants, Kinshasa is the second largest francophone city in the world after Paris. It is the capital of the most populous francophone country in the world, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where an estimated 24 million people (40% of the total population) can speak French (essentially as a second language). Contrary to Abidjan where French is the first language of a large part of the population, in Kinshasa French is only a second language, and its status of lingua franca is shared with Lingala. People of different African mother tongues living in Kinshasa usually speak Lingala to communicate with each other in the street, but French is the language of businesses, administrations, schools, newspapers and televisions. French is also the predominant written language.
Due to its widespread presence in Kinshasa, French has become a local language with its own pronunciation and some local words borrowed for the most part from Lingala. Depending on their social status, some people may mix French and Lingala, or code switch between the two depending on the context. Here are examples of words particular to Kinshasa French. As in Abidjan, there exist various registers and the most educated people may frown upon the use of slangish/lingala terms.
- cadavéré means broken, worn out, exhausted, or dead. It is the local pronunciation of the standard French word cadavre whose meaning in standard French is "corpse". The word cadavéré has now spread to other African countries due to the popularity of Congolese music in Africa.
- makasi means strong, resistant. It is a loanword from Lingala.
- anti-nuit are sunglasses worn by partiers at night. It is a word coined locally and whose literal meaning in standard French is "anti-night". It is one of the many Kinshasa slang words related to nightlife and partying. A reveler is known locally as un ambianceur, from standard French ambiance which means atmosphere.
- casser le bic, literally "to break the Bic", means to stop going to school.
- merci mingi means "thank you very much". It comes from standard French merci ("thank you") and Lingala mingi ("a lot").
- un zibolateur is a bottle opener. It comes from the Lingala verb kozibola which means "to open something that is blocked up or bottled", to which was added the standard French ending -ateur.
- un tétanos is a rickety old taxi. In standard French tétanos means "tetanus".
- moyen tê vraiment means "absolutely impossible". It comes from moyen tê ("there's no way"), itself made up of standard French moyen ("way") and Lingala tê ("not", "no"), to which was added standard French vraiment ("really").
African member states of La Francophonie
Membership of the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie does not require or imply that the French language is a primary language, or even a widely understood language, in a particular country. The names of countries that were never ruled by a Francophone colonial power (France or Belgium) are italicised. Note that Algeria, a former part of metropolitan France and the second largest francophone country in Africa, has so far refused to join the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie due to political tensions with France.
- Benin (official language)
- Burkina Faso (official language)
- Burundi (official language, with Kirundi)
- Cameroon (official language, with English)
- Cape Verde (Portuguese as main language)
- Central African Republic (official language, with Sango)
- Chad (official language, with Arabic)
- Comoros (official language, with Shikomor and Arabic)
- Democratic Republic of the Congo (official language)
- Republic of the Congo (official language)
- Côte d'Ivoire (official language)
- Djibouti (official language, with Arabic)
- Equatorial Guinea (official language, with Spanish and Portuguese)
- France (official language)
- Gabon (official language)
- Guinea (official language)
- Guinea-Bissau (Portuguese as main language)
- Madagascar (official language)
- Mali (official language)
- Mauritania (French is commonly used)
- Mauritius (official language, de facto)
- Morocco (French is commonly used)
- Niger (official language)
- Rwanda (Although Rwanda has changed its second official language from French to English, French is spoken by the older generation)
- São Tomé and Príncipe (Portuguese as main language)
- Senegal (official language)
- Seychelles (official language, with English and Creole)
- Togo (official language)
- Tunisia (French is commonly used)
African countries with the largest numbers of French speakers
- Democratic Republic of the Congo: 24,320,000 people can speak French either as a first or second language
- Algeria (not a member of the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie): 19,000,000 
- Côte d'Ivoire: 12,740,000
- Morocco: 10,131,000
- Cameroon: 7,343,400
- Tunisia: 6,360,000
- Guinea: 6,000,000
African countries with the largest percentages of French speakers
- France with the:
- Gabon: 80%
- Mauritius: 72.7%
- Côte d'Ivoire: 70%
- São Tomé and Príncipe: 65%
- Tunisia: 63.6%
- Guinea: 63.2%
- Seychelles: 60%
- Republic of the Congo: 60%
- Equatorial Guinea: 60%
- North Africa
- French West Africa
- Sub-Saharan Africa
- United States of Latin Africa
- Romance-speaking African countries
- Colonisation of Africa
- French language
- List of colonies and possessions of France
- ↑ 1.0 1.1 Population Reference Bureau. "2011 World Population Data Sheet." (PDF) URL accessed on 2011-08-03.
- ^ United Nations. "World Population Prospects: The 2010 Revision." (XLS) URL accessed on 2011-08-03.
- ↑ 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 (French) La Francophonie dans le monde 2006-2007 published by the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie. Nathan, Paris, 2007
- ^ (French) Le français à Abidjan : Pour une approche syntaxique du non-standard by Katja Ploog, CNRS Editions, Paris, 2002
- ^ (French) Marita Jabet, Lund University. "La situation multilinguistique d’Abidjan." (PDF) URL accessed on 2007-05-29.
- ↑ 6.0 6.1 6.2 (French) Bertin Mel Gnamba and Jérémie Kouadio N'Guessan. "Variétés lexicales du français en Côte d'Ivoire.." (PDF) URL accessed on 2007-05-29.
- ^ (French) Suzanne Lafage (2002). "Le lexique français de Côte d'Ivoire." URL accessed on 2007-08-01.
- ↑ 8.0 8.1 (French) Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Government of France. "Le français dans le monde." URL accessed on 2007-06-10.
- ^ (French) INSEE, Government of France. "Les résultats statistiques du RP 2002." URL accessed on 2007-06-10.
- LE FRANÇAIS EN AFRIQUE - Revue du Réseau des Observatoires du Français Contemporain en Afrique
- Links for Afrique francophone
- Dictionaries of various French speaking countries
- Le Français et le Français populaire Africain: partenariat, cohabitation ou défiance? FPA, appartenance sociale, diversité linguistique
- La mondialisation, une chance pour la francophonie
- RFI - L’avenir du français passe par l’Afrique
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