The Role of Audiovisual Translation in the Implementation of Language Policies in Cameroon | October 2014 | Translation Journal

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The Role of Audiovisual Translation in the Implementation of Language Policies in Cameroon



Cameroon is a multilingual country with about 286 indigenous languages, one lingua franca (Cameroon Pidgin English) and two official languages (English and French). Inter-ethnic and intercultural linguistic communication among people in a country with such a diversity of languages it is accordingly a problem. Audiovisual translation (AVT) which is the translation of any material in audio, visual or audiovisual format such as subtitling can be used to bridge this communication gap between people with diverse languages and cultures. However, the implementation of this mode of language transfer is virtually impossible without concrete language policies. The aim of this paper is, therefore, to (i) examine language policies in Cameroon and determine the difficulties in their implementation and (ii) show how AVT can effectively facilitate this implementation process. The procedure involves highlighting and analyzing the different language policies from colonization to present and various uses of AVT in the media, education and indigenous language teaching and learning. The results show that even though Cameroon has a number of language policies, their implementation constitutes a major problem to linguistic communication in the country because they are fragmented (not clear-cut) and have no specific objectives and orientation. Therefore, AVT seems to be the only solution here.

Key words: Audiovisual translation, subtitling, language policy, language transfer, indigenous language teaching and learning.


1. Introduction

Cameroon probably has the most linguistically complex situation in Africa. It is sometimes either called “the centre of gravity of the African continent” because of its geographical position at the juncture of the West, North and Central regions of Africa, or ‘Africa in miniature’ (Chumbow, 1998) because it is representative of the cultural complexities of the African continent, including linguistic complexity. It is known to have 286 indigenous languages (Grimes, 2000), two major exoglossic languages (English and French) and Cameroon Pidgin English (CPE), extensively used as lingua franca. However, the level of CPE usage is extremely high in the Anglophone zone as compared to the Francophone zone where it is very scantily used, and even not used at all in certain villages. This situation constitutes a major handicap to linguistic communication in view of the absence of a nation-wide lingua franca that serves as a common linguistic idiom (Echu, 2004). The use of English and French as official languages in the country has an impact on various spheres of public life, including education. The inequitable distribution in the usage of English and French as official languages is also a cause for concern since it affects negatively the policy of official language bilingualism.

The already cumbrous multilingual situation in Cameroon requires the implementation of clear-cut language policies. Although different language policies have been envisaged and executed so as to cope with this multilingual situation, the question as to whether Cameroon can really boast of language policies remains difficult (Echu, 2003b). This is probably due to the absence of a strong institutional framework as concerns the implementation of the policy of official language bilingualism and the lack of clear-cut objectives as regards to the promotion of indigenous languages. The various constitutions of Cameroon (1961, 1972, 1984, 1996), the laws of 1998a, 1998b, 2002, 2004 and related recent decrees show that Cameroon has always had some sort of language policies but the problem has been that these policies have never been comprehensive to include national languages nor seriously implemented since national languages were included in the national language policies in 1996. There are therefore no definite objectives and orientations as regards language policies in the country. This does not in any way promote the indigenous languages and fails to guarantee the appropriate implementation of official language bilingualism (Echu, 2004). In the same vein, Vakunta (2012) asserts that,More than 50 years after gaining symbolic independence from imperial powers (France and Great Britain) Cameroonians still do not have a language policy that protects indigenous languages. There is no language policy put in place…to forestall the marginalization of linguistic minorities”. Even with the adoption of the law on decentralization (2004) which gives all the 360 local government councils the responsibility of bringing government and governance to the people in local languages, things have still not really changed (Rosendal, 2008).

Many other laws and decrees regulating the official language policies have since been officially approved: Decree no. 98/003 of 8 January 1998 which gives the Ministry of Culture the responsibility to register all organisations and institutions working with national languages as well as promote national language strategies in secondary schools and universities through the media; Law no. 98/004 of 14 April 1998 which gives the Ministry of National Education the guidelines for education in Cameroon; Decree no. 2002/004 of January 2002 which directs the regional pedagogic inspectorates of the Ministry of National Education to make provincial institutions responsible for drafting programms for the implementation of the revised position towards national languages. The problem is that fourteen years later (2014) no region or council is seriously implementing these policies.

Faced with the linguistic complexities mentioned above, there is need to investigate other ways or better ways of managing and solving language policies related problems and their implementation in order to alleviate this difficult linguistic situation in the country. Audiovisual translation (AVT) in general and subtitling in particular seems to be the answer here. Thus, the following questions are raised: despite all the efforts made by the Government and researchers (i) why are these language policies not being implemented? (ii) How can audiovisual translation (AVT) help or ease the implementation of these language policies? The answers to these questions may constitute a starting point towards solving some of these linguistic problems. The objectives of this study are therefore to determine (i) the difficulties faced by the government with the implementation mechanisms of language policies in Cameroon and (ii) How AVT can assist in the implementation process of these language policies.

2. Cameroon language policies

Language policies deal with decisions about the status and use of one or more languages in society. The policy may be overt, i. e. explicitly stating language rights in legal documents, or covert, i. e. not mentioning any language in documents or otherwise, thus being silent about languages and their role in society (Rosendal, 2008). The importance of communication to man is incalculable, especially when daily human interaction is considered. Language policies should be understood as a systematic attempt to resolve the communication problems of a community by studying the various dialects it uses and developing a viable policy concerning the collection and the use of different languages (Danladi, 2013). In order to better understand this language policies situation, a critical review of the Cameroon language policies and how fragmented they are is outlined below.

2.1 Language policies before independence

From 1884 to 1916, the German colonial language policies encouraged the use of German, although indigenous languages like Basaa, Bulu, Duala, Ewondo, Mungaka and Bamun were still being used for teaching and evangelisation (Mbuagbaw, 2000; Echu, 2004). This meant that the indigenous languages were encouraged to an extent. The French used the policy of assimilation by assuming exclusive responsibility for the education of its African subjects (Bokamba, 1991; Bitja’a Kody, 2005; Rosendal, 2008). The British practised the policy of indirect rule whereby the use of indigenous languages (Bafut, Duala, Kenyang and Mungaka) was almost imposed alongside English in schools (Bitja'a Kody, 1999; Echu, 2004). It can be seen here that different fragments of language policies were being used at the same time by the different colonial masters. This paved the way to a “laissez faire” attitude and disorder since there existed no combined one language policies document for use by all parties concerned.

In 1966, College Libermann in Douala, was already teaching indigenous languages (Duala and Basaa), followed by other Catholic secondary schools such as Chevreuil, Retraite, Mimetala and Le Sillon, while Ewondo was taught by College de la Retraite in Yaounde (Echu, 2003b). Furthermore, from 1970 to 1977, Duala, Basaa, Ewondo, Bulu, Fulfulde and Fe'fe' were taught in the Department of African Languages and Linguistics of the University of Yaounde. Instead of harmonizing and writing all of these language policies into one binding document, they were suppressed for fear that those Cameroonians whose languages were not chosen for teaching at the university will revolt (Chumbow, 1996). Up till now, the fear of suppressing the teaching of national languages has not been investigated. Certainly people and their mentalities may have changed positively. Equally, the worry that a future multilingual status planning will create ethnic destabilization had never investigated 16 years later (Rosendal, 2008). Even though the teaching of national languages at colleges was very encouraging at this stage, there was still no language policies document giving detailed directives on which languages were to be taught in which colleges. Thus, everybody decided and taught or applied what suited them. The need for a common language policies document did not seem to arise. Again, these represent some other fragments of the language policies.

2.2 Language policies after independence

From independence, the official bilingualism option advocated for by the government and clearly spelt out in the constitutions of 1961, 1972, 1984 and 1996 was not being implemented as stipulated. The constitution of 1996, Law no. 96-06 of 18 January 1996 re-edited in February 1996 stipulated the official status of French and English and guaranteed the protection of minorities and indigenous languages in Cameroon. These laws were and are still not fully respected. For instance, most official documents are produced in French. Their English versions are usually produced weeks later or not at all. The University of Buea is sometimes faced with this scenario. Francophones have continued to occupy top ranking positions in the Cameroon society. French is the career language that is required for employment in government and civil service (Rosendal, 2008). This is happening because there is no document giving detailed and concrete directives on how to implement the law. This is probably because, as stated by Bamgbose (1991), “Firstly, the choice of exogenous official languages did not support nationalism but nationism. Secondly, the chosen bilingualism has not been on equal terms as French has a de facto dominant role. Tension exists between Anglophones and Francophones”. This is yet another fragment of the language policies.

Furthermore, decree no. 98/003 of January 1998 empowered the Ministry of Culture to register all organizations and institutions working with national languages and ensure their promotion on the media. Law no. 98/004 of 14 April 1998 on the Ministry of Education gave the guidelines for Education in Cameroon. It also gave powers to the provincial education delegations to produce the relevant documents towards the teaching of the national languages in schools. There is also decree no. 2002/004 of January 2002 on the Structure of the Ministry of National Education that directed the provincial inspections to be responsible for the national languages. It stated that «Les Inspections Provinciales de Pédagogie sont réparties ainsi qu’il suit: l’Inspection Provinciale de Pédagogie chargée de l’enseignement des lettre et des arts, des langues: français, anglais, latin, grec, allemand, arabe, espagnol, chinois, japonais, italien, portugais, langues nationales». Note that national languages are mentioned only towards the end. This shows how less important the government considers national languages. Nevertheless, the provincial inspectorates should have been doing something unfortunately, nothing is being done concretely. In 2004, another decree gave power and authority to the Mayors to design their own programms for the teaching of indigenous languages to people at the various councils thereby bringing the government closer to the local people. Twenty years later, nothing has been done. The laws and decrees not contained in one document represent more fragments of the language policies.

The teaching of national languages that was encouraged before independence, stopped completely (Rosendal, 2008). French was adopted as the official language in the French-speaking zone and English was given the same status in the English-speaking zone. Despite the institution of French and English as official languages used in schools, coupled with the establishment of bilingual secondary schools in the country, the implementation of language policies problem persisted probably because firstly the multilingual reality of the country was ignored (Rosendal, 2008) and secondly the sudden stop of the national languages teaching caused the students to fail in their academics as stated here by Rosendal (2008):

The academic results were rather poor; less than fifty per cent enrolled in exams in both languages (Chumbow 1980:291). The Constitution of the Federal Republic of 1961 and of the United Republic of 1972 had the same spirit as the French policy of the 1920s, but was based on the idea of national unity (Bitjaa Kody 2001a). Bilingualism was propagated as the solution to nation building...English and French were chosen as a unifying instrument. Since the early years of independence the national languages have been restricted to informal domains mainly being used at home. Their use in education, which existed in some private schools during the foreign rule in spite of the official French assimilation policy, disappeared almost totally after independence.

Cameroon chose these foreign languages in order to avoid language conflict and related financial and material cost. Thus, “the indigenous languages were kept far away and preference given only to the languages of the former colonial masters…the term 'national language' was unanimously adopted for all Cameroonian indigenous languages” in order to give equal status to all indigenous languages (Echu, 2003a). In this article, the terms “indigenous languages”, “local languages”, “minority languages”, “vernaculars” and “national languages” have the same meaning. The terms “language of wider distribution” and “lingua franca” have the same meaning.

In addition to the laws and decrees mentioned above, different organs have been working relentlessly towards the promotion of indigenous languages, they are: PROPELCA (Programme de Recherche Opérationnelle pour l'Enseignement des Langues au Cameroun) together with ANACLAC (Association Nationale des Comités de Langues Camerounaises) has been active since 1977 and 1989 respectively, concerning mother tongue education in Cameroon as well as the harmonisation  of the writing system of Cameroonian languages in 1979, “a factor that has contributed immensely to the standardisation of some indigenous languages (Echu, 2003a; Rosendal, 2008); SIL (Summer Institute for Linguistics), the Cameroon Association for Bible Translation and Literacy (CABTAL) and the National Association of Cameroonian Language Committees (NACALCO). Although the indigenous languages have always been marginalized, they have never been completely wiped out as they continue to play an important communicational role in the socio-linguistic life of the people, since they express the indigenous culture” (Echu, 2003a, 2004), Alidou (2006), Ayonghe (2009).

Furthermore, Tadadjeu (in Rosendal, 2008) produced the first language planning model by introducing a trilingual approach (also known as the PROPELCA model), approved by the UNESCO and supported by Echu (2003b), which should enable the average Cameroonian to be instructed in at least three languages: (i) an African language (preferably the mother tongue), (ii) his or her first official language and (iii) a language of wider distribution or the second official language. Another model, Tabi Manga’s (2000) “quadrilingual” language planning model was so complex that it was rejected (Rosendal, 2008). Currently, national languages are being taught in some primary schools in the country up to class 4 and the official languages (French or English) are introduced from class 5. That is the case in Bafut where 26 primary schools are involved (Fube, 2014). It should be noted here that all of these language policies are private initiative policies sometimes indirectly supported by the government. Unfortunately, none has officially been adopted by the government.

2.3 Language policies based on Cameroonian languages

Chumbow (1998) asserts that:

            There was no provision in the 1961 first constitution of the Federal Republic of Cameroon giving any status of any kind to indigenous Cameroonian languages. In fact, there was open government hostility to efforts to develop local languages which were viewed as a potential source of strife, division and disunity, an enterprise incompatible with the task of nation building. Fear was expressed that the development of these languages would encourage tribalism and polarise citizens. There was therefore an unwritten policy to close the Pandora’s box of 239 Cameroonian languages very tightly and deal only with the two languages of civilisation: English and French.

Despite the Government’s negative attitude towards indigenous languages, missionaries have continued to use them. Linguists and other scholars have continued to impress on Government the need to valorise Cameroonian languages. Nowadays, the PROPELCA model is being used in some primary schools. What is clear here is that there has not been a separate language policies document, rather the bits and fragments given through laws and decrees with no clear-cut mechanisms for implementation. At a certain given time, one can easily get lost or confused handling too many different fragments or bits of language policies at the same time. Why not have everything in one whole document (of language policies)?

2.4 Language policies in universities: influence of colonisation

English was, until recently, the less favoured and generally marginalised of the two official languages in Cameroon. In recent years, however, following the admission of Cameroon into the Commonwealth of Nations, the sustained status of English as a world language, and globalisation, has weakened the French language monopoly (Mforteh, 2005). The fact that more Cameroonians, including the Francophones, want to learn English now more than ever, is a sign of an increase in the number of English language learners. This, in turn, adds a new level of complexity to the linguistic difficulties faced by these learners in higher institutions of learning, especially abroad.

The Germans used their language in administration and education and allowed the missionaries to use vernaculars in the schools and churches. The British in turn made English the official language of administration and education but allowed the use of the vernaculars in schools and in local government. This was in accordance with its well-known policy of ‘indirect rule’ (government by the British through the ‘native authorities’) [Chumbow (1998), Echu (2003a), Rosendal (2008)]. Meanwhile Pidgin English flourished in the churches (Catholic and Baptist) and schools. The French, with their well-known policy of assimilation did not permit the use of vernaculars in administration or education [Chumbow (1998), Echu (2003a)]. This complex situation in which people were forced to learn languages that were either their second (English), third (French) or fourth (German) language led to the rapid growth and expansion of the lingua franca (CPE) (Chumbow, 1998).

The early use of the mother tongue in education has significant long-term benefits with respect to maximising the development of the intellectual potential of the child (Chumbow, 1996). Certainly, most students in Cameroon are affected by the situation described above. The fact that there are no clear strict mechanisms for the implementation of language policies gives room to anybody to apply any type of policy. Students at universities may suffer difficulties derived from inadequate implementation of language policies added to the fact that English is their second or third language. The pre-eminence of English is felt both within and outside the country. Constitutionally, “it is a medium of official communication alongside French; it is used among educated Anglophones and is also a medium of instruction in the English speaking part of the country” (Fontem & Oyetade, 2005).

According to Chumbow (1998), Echu (2004), Rosendal (2008), English and French were declared Cameroon's official languages with constitutional equality in 1961. This was when British (Southern) Cameroons opted for reunification with former French Cameroons to constitute the Federal Republic of Cameroon. This policy, according to Chumbow (1998), was called the policy of ‘official bilingualism’ (English-French bilingualism), and was, “dictated by expediency and pragmatic considerations: the need to make reunification a success” (Echu, 2004). The Government opted for these two languages in a bid to strengthen the unity between the two linguistic communities and consequently to facilitate national integration. Apart from this policy statement on English-French bilingualism, there is no other policy statement on the languages of Cameroon (Chumbow, 1998). Although successive constitutions of the country since independence in 1960 (1961, 1972 and 1996) have always reiterated the policy of official bilingualism, there exists no well-defined language policies to date as to its conception and implementation (Echu & Grundstrom, 1999), Rosendal (2008). Even though some Cameroonians are proficient in both languages, the majority are not. Some can speak and understand their second official language (English or French) to some extent, but are not equally proficient in reading and writing it. Furthermore, many Cameroonians could be said to be neither Francophone nor Anglophone since they can only speak one or more of the indigenous languages.

The bilingual education implemented in Cameroon since 1996 in four of the State's institutions of higher learning favours French, with 80% of the lectures being presented in French and only 20% in English (Njeck, 1992). It could therefore be said that French dominates English in the areas of administration, education and the media because there is no effective language policies that guarantee the rights of minorities. For example, the Cameroon Radio and Television Corporation (CRTV) broadcasts a majority of films and programms in French even when they were originally made in English (in which case the dubbed version is broadcast). Broadcast time on radio and television is very unevenly divided between English and French programms. Consequently, Anglophones who share equally in the burden of financing CRTV, get far less than a quarter of the service provided by this public utility. This may have something to do with the fact that Cameroon has a population of 16.1 million inhabitants (MINEFI, 2002) out of which 12.9 million (80%) are from the Francophone zone and 3.2 million (20%) from the Anglophone zone. Although the division regarding broadcasting times in the country may actually be a fair reflection of the proportion of Francophones to Anglophones, the constitution emphasises equal exercise of bilingualism (French and English) at all levels.

2.4.1 The Origin and Evolution of Cameroon Pidgin English

To further understand the problem of linguistic difficulties at universities and in tertiary institutions as a whole, it is necessary to outline the origin and evolution of CPE in the country. The origin of CPE could be traced back as far as the 18th century when English traders and missionaries set foot on the coast of West Africa (Echu, 2003a). Pidgin English was developed to serve as effective communication language in the area of trade and evangelisation. Even after the slave trade, this language continued to spread all over the coastal region, including the Cameroonian coastal town of Victoria where some of the newly freed slaves from Fernando Po, Liberia and Sierra Leone worked in the agro-industrial complex, the Cameroon Development Corporation, created by the Germans in 1884 (Echu, 2003a).

Throughout the German colonial period in Cameroon (1884-1918), Pidgin continued to be extensively used. In British Cameroon where it was mainly spoken, English and the indigenous languages enriched its vocabulary. In 1961, with the birth of the Federal Republic of Cameroon, CPE experienced further influence from local languages. By the early seventies, 80% of the CPE lexicon was English-based, 14% came from indigenous languages, 5% from French and 1% from other languages (Mbassi-Manga, 1973). This was probably due to the political evolution of the country which moved from a federation to a unitary state. According to Echu (2004), CPE eventually became a language with a possible national dimension. In urban as well as rural areas, CPE is used in churches, in market places, in motor parks, in railway stations, in the street, as well as in other informal situations. In fact this 'no man's language' is very present in the daily socio-economic lives of the people, a role it began to play as far back as the German colonial period.

The fact that ‘Standard English’ and not ‘Pidgin English’ is required for writing and speaking at tertiary institutions is a major problem for students. They are so used to speaking CPE out of academic contexts that they tend to speak and write CPE instead of Standard English. Consequently, there is need to include CPE in the Cameroon language policies.

2.4.2    Anglophones and Francophones in Cameroon

According to Simo-Bobda (2001), the term Anglophone, “as it is understood in Cameroon, has a primarily ethnic connotation: It refers to a member of an ethnic group in the North West and South West Regions which were formerly part of British Cameroons”. Cameroon has ten regions, two of which are English-speaking. Due to the fact that the medium of instruction in the latter is English, Cameroonians from this part of the country are called Anglophones. The term Francophone refers to “a member of an ethnic group in any of the eight regions which were formerly part of French Cameroons” (Simo-Bobda, 2001) and the medium of instruction here is French. As has been indicated earlier, not all Anglophones can speak English and not all Francophones can speak the French language. Students from all regions, however, have to be proficient in both languages. Since there are a multitude of indigenous languages in the country, it is assumed that every student speaks at least one indigenous language and the lingua franca (CPE), in addition to the language of instruction at the university. However, this is no longer the case since there are now children of the rising generation whose mother tongue is CPE. That is, children who speak no Cameroonian language other than CPE.

Although Cameroon is lukewarm about language issues, it all the same encourages private initiative in this domain. This explains why experimental projects in the area of teaching and research have long been carried out through private initiative with the silent approval of the Government. Such initiatives as observed through the action of the Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL) in Cameroon, the Cameroon Association for Bible Translation and Literacy (CABTAL), the Operational Research Programme for Language Education in Cameroon (PROPELCA), the National Association for Language Committee (NACALCO), and so forth, constitute the way forward since national languages are promoted through standardisation, teaching and research, as well as their effective use at the socio-cultural level (Echu, 2004), Alidou (2006).

It can be seen from the abovementioned, that all of the languages policies presented above are effectively fragmented into laws, decrees, etc. and various ministries. There is effectively no clear-cut document that encompasses all these different language policies. It can also be deduced from Echu and Vakunta’s views that it is difficult to discuss language issues in a context where there is no clear-cut policy for languages (both official and indigenous) in general and for minority languages in particular.

3. Reasons for ineffective language policies implementation in Cameroon

It is clear from the foregoing that Cameroon has always had language policies in bits and fragments. The problem is that these policies are implemented in a disorderly manner (Echu, 2003b) or not implemented at all. The reasons for this poor or non implementation are outlined below:

(i)There is confusion among researchers on the number of national languages in Cameroon. For instance, Ethnologue and SIL International list 279 living languages (Gordon, 2005), Rosendal (2008). Echu (2003a) refers to 247 languages. Essono (2004) believes the number is around 250 to 300. Grimes (2000) established 286 languages. Ethnologue (2013) found 281. Dieu and Renaud (1983) identified 239. Breton and Foutung (1991) through the project Atlas linguistique du Cameroun (ALCAM) found 248 national languages. Bitja’a Kody (2004) identified 282 national languages. “Despite uncertainty about the exact number of languages in Cameroon, the prevailing opinion is that Cameroon has between 250 and 300 languages represented in three of the four language phyla of Africa - Afro-Asiatic, Nilo-Saharan and Niger-Congo. Only the Khoisan family is not represented at all” (Rosendal (2008). There is no clear-cut Cameroon Government position to this issue. This poses a serious problem to the implementation process.

(ii) The fact that there was an abrupt and complete stop of the teaching of national languages in primary, secondary schools and in the University when English and French were instead being encouraged, posed a serious implementation problem, since the drop in students’ performance during this period produced worse results as compared to the previous results when national languages were being taught. “The evaluations show that the introduction of mother tongues in primary school, especially in rural Cameroon, has had a positive effect with regard to the quality of education, and has simultaneously lowered the drop-out rate” (Cameroon Tribune, 2002; Anchimbe (2006); Rosendal, 2008). This firm position which led to the abolition of indigenous language education in Cameroon was perhaps ignited by certain factors. According to Anchimbe (2006), as early as 1966, College Libermann, a private secondary school in Douala, taught indigenous languages – particularly Duala and Basaa. A few years later, other private and mission schools like Chevreuil, Retraite, Mimetala and Le Sillon, followed. Between 1970 and 1977, Duala, Basaa, Ewondo, Bulu, Fulfulde and Fe'efe'e were taught in the Department of African Languages and Linguistics of the University of Yaounde. By the end of 1977, the teaching of these languages was abruptly suppressed due to increasing fear that groups whose languages were not taught could revolt (Chumbow, 1996).

(iii) Language policies lack coherence (Echu 2003b). For instance English and French are used in all documents, written and oral communications. National languages are never used in situations where the State was involved except during electoral campaigns (Bitja’a Kody, 2001a). Persons employed by the State are forced to use either English or French in their communication with clients even if they know the client’s national language and thus creating communicative problems. Not every persecuted person in court can speak English or French. Someone may have to translate between the official and the national language and these translations may be incorrect. This is very risky. In schools, teachers must teach in official languages. Pupils can only communicate in their national languages during breaks. In hospitals, some doctors had to communicate in a language which was their third best (Chia, 2001; Rosendal, 2008). There were occasionally misunderstandings between doctors and their patients, which could lead to deaths.

(iv) The Government media house (Cameroon Radio Television) and the State-owned daily newspaper (Cameroon Tribune) reflect official language policies with programs uniquely in English and French. The promotion of national languages in Regional radio stations is done haphazardly because, “in spite of some general recommendations, it seems that each regional radio station makes its own language choice” (Rosendal, 2008). These national language choices sometimes may depend on the current National Education Minister who could be influenced by his relatives or village people even if his language is not widely spoken.

(v) The fact that national languages are usually perceived as second-class by not only the Government but also by the working-class Cameroonians is a weakness to the implementation process. “The indigenous languages are generally treated as low, inadequate, non-prestigious and local languages best suited for use at home, in ethnic or tribal contexts, and in other remote situations; and as odd-sounding noises that can “call the rain” when spoken in public” (Anchimbe, 2006).

(vi) Economic and political reasons also pose a problem here (Echu, 2003a), Anchimbe (2006). The lack of teaching facilities, unavailability of other speakers, political or ethnic conflict, identity concealment, and above all the quest for economic survival. Due to the economic strength of certain languages, many speakers of other languages drift towards them. This is exactly what is happening to many Cameroonian languages. Parents prefer to offer their children a broader horizon of international opportunities through education in the ex-colonial official languages rather than ‘limiting’ them to the indigenous languages. Some of these indigenous languages are spoken only by a few thousand people, are not used in any employment domain, are symbols of inter-ethnic conflict, do not seem to have any chances of becoming officialised given the huge numbers of different indigenous languages, and are generally treated as low and non-prestigious languages (Adegbija 2000, Echu, 2003, Anchimbe, 2006).

(vii) The absence of a separate document designed only for language policies in Cameroon which include concrete, clear-cut guidelines for implementation in all sectors (economy, politics, law, health, education, religion, etc.) and in all regions is one of the highest problems faced by Cameroonians including persons in charge of implementing these policies. This probably explains why since the decentralization law, fourteen years after, no effective implementation is being carried out. How can language policies which are fragmented into many different documents/laws/decrees be implemented?

4. The role of AVT in the implementation of language policies

According to Suh (2011),

Translation has a significant role to play in all aspects of language policy in Cameroon as it is used as a tool for the implementation of multilingualism…and would play an even greater role in the promotion of Cameroonian national languages if policy makers and translation institutions that design macro-translational paradigms assigned new functions to this essential tool of multilingualism.

So does audiovisual translation (AVT) too. The term audiovisual is used to bring to the forefront the multisemiotic dimension of all broadcast programmes (Gambier, 2003). AVT is, “the process by which a film or television programme is made comprehensible to a target audience that is unfamiliar with the original’s source language” (Luyken et al., 1991). Better put, “AVT is inter-semiotic translation which operates at either intralingual or interlingual levels. It is simply the translation of all forms – radio, television, internet – of audiovisual material” (Ako, 2013). In the context of translation, and expressed in general terms and rather than technical terms, subtitling consists in: the rendering in a different language of verbal messages in filmic media, in the shape of one or more lines of written text, presented on the screen in sync with the original verbal message (Gottlieb, 2004). Subtitling is seen as a unique type of translation. As a basis for comparison with other main types of translation, subtitling can be defined semiotically as: prepared communication using written language acting as an additive and synchronous semiotic channel, as part of a transient and polysemiotic text (Gottlieb, 2004). Subtitling may be defined as a translation practice that consists of presenting a written text, generally on the lower part of the screen, that endeavours to recount the original dialogue of the speaker, as well as the discursive elements that appear in the image (letters, inserts, graffiti, inscriptions, placards, and the like), and the information that is contained on the soundtrack (songs, voices off) (Diaz Cintas & Remael, 2007). Subtitling may be either intralingual (same language i.e. the spoken language is the same with the subtitles’ language) or interlingual (different languages i.e. the spoken language is different from the subtitles’ language). AVT in general and subtitling in particular can be used in teaching, in learning, in the classroom, in cinemas and at home. Subtitling has been found to be very cheap to buy, easy to use and it can be used anywhere. That is why it is believed that AVT will be the answer to the language policies implementation process.

The use of subtitling to improve comprehension of video material dates back to 1903 when the first subtitles were created (Ivarsson & Carroll, 1998). People's entertainment in the early 1900s through silent films depended largely on intertitles to aid comprehension of scenes containing dialogue. The deaf community then started to use subtitling to gain access to the dialogue and soundtrack of audiovisual texts (Markham & Peter, 2003). The trend nowadays in many countries is to use subtitling widely in programms in TV audiences’ own language for the benefit of the hearing impaired.

The main purpose of subtitling is therefore to convert continuous or intermittent speech and dialogue into a form in which it can be read on a television screen. Inevitably, however, many television viewers do not need subtitles but make use of them nevertheless, just because they are on the screen, and it is notoriously difficult not to read something that is put before your eyes (Ivarsson & Carroll, 1998). This statement already points to the immense potential of subtitling in many contexts to achieve various objectives. Although the terms captioning and captions are used to refer to all forms of subtitling in contexts such as in the USA and in Australia, in this article, the terms captioning, captions, subtitling and subtitles will be used to refer to all modes of subtitling (open and closed, interlingual and intralingual).

The fact that subtitling is used for a better understanding of programms and languages on television across the globe makes it necessary to assess whether this common resource can also be used in other contexts such as teaching and learning national languages. Kilborn (1993) demonstrated that with subtitling, the original soundtrack is conserved and a written version issued in the form of a series of titles, which keep the viewer informed about what the person in question is saying. The unique merit that subtitling has over other language transfer methods, is that it allows the viewer to retrieve the original material without destroying valuable aspects of the authenticity of the material. An extra advantage to subtitling is highlighted by the fact that the original speech and dialogue remain intact in the subtitles. This means that viewers can pick up certain tonal inflections and colouring, which even though they are in a foreign tongue, can still often provide a clear understanding of personality, mood or intention. It is possible that these qualities demonstrated by Kilborn (1993) could make subtitling very useful in primary, secondary and university contexts.

Global broadcasting aided by subtitles is rapidly transforming the world’s viewing habits and making cultural transfer an everyday occurrence. According to Ivarsson and Carroll (1998), in many countries subtitles are also being used to revive and teach minority languages, improve mother-tongue literacy, teach a country’s official language, and promote foreign language competency. In Cameroon, where there are about 286 active or ‘living’ indigenous languages and where many difficulties related to the introduction of these languages in secondary schools and purely academic contexts in universities exist, the use of subtitles could provide a good start towards solving this problem. When speakers give up their languages for more economically and socially promising ones like in the case of Cameroon, the languages fall into attrition (Mufwene, 2003). The use of subtitling may well be reduced to a greater extend (i) the fear of political instability in the country and (ii) the cost involved in the teaching of national languages. The points below will show how AVT in general and subtitling in particular can improve the teaching and learning of national languages in Cameroon thereby easing the implementation of language policies.

(i) A wide variety of public and commercial television programms of potential use in reading or listening instruction are subtitled including news, documentaries, dramas, films and advertisements. Thus, educators may choose from an abundant supply of programms of potential use with language learners of all ages and interests (Spanos & Smith, 1990). Subtitled film songs and music videos can improve reading skills of over 325 million people in India (Kothari et al., 2002). Beginning readers recognise more words when they view television that uses captions (Linebarger, 2001). Captions improved university-level ESL students' general reading comprehension, vocabulary acquisition, and listening comprehension (Huang and Eskey, 2000). Within the context of language acquisition, these studies have shown the usefulness of subtitles for bridging the gap between L2 learners’ competence in reading and listening. These studies have equally provided substantial evidence that subtitling has the potential for enhancing language acquisition (be it foreign or not).

(ii) Mbele (2010) in her research work titled Le Rôle du Sous-Titrage dans la Promotion et la Revalorisation des Langues Locales au Cameroun, demonstrated that viewing a movie in Bamun (Cameroon national language) with foreign language (French) subtitles, even for a short time, enhances the vocabulary acquisition of that language. Interlingual (Bamun-French) subtitling is therefore a powerful and educational tool that the Government could exploit in the teaching, learning, enhancement and promotion of national languages in Cameroon. This same system can be used, with success, for other national language combinations. However, the government has to include this teaching mode in the separate language policies document described in 3 (vii) above. As already said, subtitling can be used in primary, secondary and tertiary schools, in classrooms, in cinemas and at home.

(iii) Ayonghe (2009) in her article Subtitling as a Tool for the Promotion of Bilingualism/Multilingualism in Cameroon, showed that subtitling (intralingual and interlingual) can promote not only bilingualism (English-French and vice-versa), but also multilingualism (national languages). The main national languages could be broadcast on TV once a week for about 30 minutes each (as a starting point) with interlingual subtitles (English and national language) in which case the programm will be either in English, with subtitles in the national language and vice-versa. Similarly, intralingual subtitles could be used in the place of interlingual subtitles in which case the programm will be in the national language with subtitles also in the same national language. If a programm is broadcast in English or French, CRTV could re-arrange signals to play subtitles in a national language and vice-versa. It should be noted that Intralingual subtitling is also suitable for persons with hearing impairment, and Interlingual subtitling is equally suitable in second and third or foreign language teaching to improve comprehension and learning (Kruger et al., 2003).

(iv) Caimi (2006) underlined the importance of intralingual subtitles in language learning and acquisition by demonstrating that they serve as (i) accessibility aid for a target audience, which is deaf or hearing-impaired and (ii) as didactic aid for those who are not familiar with the language spoken in the audiovisual text.

(v) Subtitling offers the opportunity to unify or harmonise dialects or languages (Kruger et al., 2003). This means that if subtitling is used in the implementation of language policies in Cameroon, it will unify and harmonise the country’s 286 national languages. Thus, the fear of political instability based on which national language to officialise will be reduced. Subtitling, if used properly, seems to offer the best alternative and possible ideal starting point towards the promotion of multilingualism.

(vi) The role subtitling could play is immense as it has been noticed that many children tend to forget or ignore their mother tongue while learning and trying to master the official languages (Ayonghe, 2009). This problem could be solved by the use of subtitles with mother tongue in their early education since it will have “significant long-term benefits with respect to maximising the development of the intellectual potential of the child” (Chumbow, 1996).

(vii) Subtitling has proven to be the most accessible and cost-effective mode, as compared to other modes of language use and development such as dubbing and voice-over. Evidence has shown that in terms of production costs, subtitling is seven times less expensive than dubbing for instance, which often requires a large number of participants while subtitling can be done by only one person (Kruger & Verhoef, 2002; Ayonghe, 2009).

5. Discussion

Due to the lack of well-defined language policies and the large number of indigenous languages, subtitling seems to offer a possible solution or at least a practical strategy for addressing the problem. Subtitling could raise the status and levels of proficiency in national languages like Bafut, Duala, Kenyang, Mungaka, Ewondo, Bulu, Basaa, Fufulde (Bija’a Kody, 1999); Ayonghe (2009), Suh (2011). Whichever way one looks at it, subtitling is the key here. For instance, subtitling has been proven to promote bilingualism, multilingualism, national languages (e.g. Bamun). It also takes care of language problems faced by the hearing and vision impaired. In addition to all the strategies presented above, the government will have to: make subtitling an official mode of translation used in Cameroon; ensure that subtitling is used at primary, secondary and tertiary levels without discrimination; train subtitlers (this is easy and cheap); assess the type of subtitles used, the number of persons or viewers in a language and perhaps the literacy level of these viewers (this is not compulsory). It is necessary to devote specific research to determining the level of access to television sets (nearly every household in Cameroon has a television set).

AVT can be used to show programms in any indigenous languages on CRTV via subtitling  (just like in South Africa), unfortunately there is no language policies governing these issues in the country. The Government can either use the Tadadjeu model or copy from Nigeria [(Hausa (spoken by fourteen million people), Yoruba (spoken by five million people), and Igbo (spoken by five million people), Danladi, 2013] and identify 2-3 national languages per Region [North West (Bafut, Mungaka and Lamnso); South West (Mokpwe, Kenyang and Akoose); Centre (Ewondo, Beti-Fang and Tuki); South (Bulu, Yembala and Eton); East (Makaa, Kako, Koonzime); West (Fe´fe´, Yemba, Ghomala´); Littoral (Douala, Basaa and Yabassi); Adamaoua (Mundani, Denya and Mumuye-Yendang); North (Fulfude, Shua-Arabic and Hausa); Far North (Fulfulde, Mafa, Mofu-North)]. This will make a total of 30 national languages to officialise. AVT could then be used to teach these 30 languages. That is why it is strongly believed that AVT can trigger the development of clear-cut language policies in the country because AVT cannot be used without proper control. AVT therefore calls for strict implementation measures. Language policies in the second sense also involve continued, increased support for, for instance, Cameroon-produced films and other cultural manifestations that make use of the language (Herslund, 2001). Therefore well-developed language policies will boost AVT programms in these languages. This will not only promote the teaching and learning of indigenous languages in the country, it will also valorize them as well as maintain peace and harmony among the people.

6. Conclusion

This study has analysed, argued and asserted that AVT and language policies are linked because they need each other for promotion and proper implementation. AVT has as a whole incontestably established itself and continues to improve as a tool for promoting a country’s culture and economy. South Africa for instance, has 11 official languages and is making great use of AVT to broadcast a variety of programmes to its people and teaching these languages not only in the primary and secondary schools but also in universities. Cameroon should copy from them, because it has all the potentials for doing what South Africa amongst other countries, is doing. The general observation is that locally produced Cameroonian films tend to suffer from inadequate advertisement and that film producers have a propensity to produce films while overlooking the cultural and linguistic plurality of the country. Also, CRTV has persistently refused to broadcast subtitled material because, according to them, Cameroonians are not ready or prepared to watch them (Ako, 2013). This problem can only be solved with clear-cut and well implemented language policies.

Nevertheless, the promotion of Cameroon's official languages remains a national challenge. Language issues in the country need to be more seriously addressed than has been the case in the past. Due to insufficient language policies and the large number of indigenous languages, an intervention such as subtitling seems to offer a possible solution or at least a practical strategy for addressing parts of the problem. Subtitling could raise the status and levels of proficiency in official languages like English and French (Ayonghe et al., 2009) and some indigenous languages such as Bafut, Duala, Kenyang and Mungaka, which were formerly used alongside English in schools in the British territories as highlighted by Bitja’a Kody (1999). More importantly for this study, subtitling has the potential to improve not only language abilities in schools and academic contexts, but also the literacy of the general population. Subtitling can make television a very powerful tool in disseminating information in matters related not only to education but also to economic, legal, politics, as well as health, for example, HIV/AIDS, and general knowledge transfer. The complex linguistic situation in Cameroon calls for the investigation of this and other modes in other spheres as well.

Based on the various uses of subtitling discussed so far, it seems that this mode of translation may well be a potential solution to at least some of the problems discussed above, because it is a translation and communication tool that can be used for teaching and learning national languages.


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About Ayonghe Lum Suzanne

Ayonghe Lum Suzanne

Dr Ayonghe Lum Suzanne, Advanced School of Translators and Interpreters (ASTI), University of Buea, South West Region, Email:, P.O. Box 109 Buea, South West Region, Cameroon. Tel: +237 77744862

Dr Ayonghe Lum Suzanne is a lecturer in the Advanced School of Translators and Interpreters (ASTI), University of Buea, and Head of Division I (Translation). She holds a BSc degree in Economics, an MA in Translation and a PhD in Language Practice. She currently teaches Audiovisual Translation and Computer Assisted Translation at the University of Buea. Her research interests include Audiovisual Translation, Computer Assisted Translation, Subtitling and its various uses for the promotion of bilingualism, multilingualism and the teaching/learning of national/indigenous languages.


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