Nouchi – from disregarded sociolect to integration and identity language

Gisella Ferraresi & Elvis N’cho (Otto-Friedrich-Universität Bamberg)

After Ivory Coast attained independence in 1960 and consequently experienced an economic boom, the capital Abidjan underwent a process of rapid urbanization. French was made the only school and official language in the Ivorian constitution (Kouadio 1977). With more than 60 languages spoken in the country, this decision was based on the intention to create a nation with a single common language. However, only the elite had a good command of French while for many children this was a foreign language and thus formed a barrier at school. Therefore many Ivorian children left school at a below-average academic level.

The economic recession at the end of the 70s led to a situation where many children of workers who had lost their jobs and had no public assistance, became ‘street children’. They lived together with orphans on the streets (Kouadio 1990). These street children – often seen as delinquents – developed a code, which became quite soon a sociolect called Nouchi. In the 80s and in the first half of the 90s, this sociolect (like its users) was stigmatized by society, it was not to be used neither at school nor in the family.

From the second half of the 90s onwards, Nouchi found its way in schools and universities, and in the 2000s it is even spoken by politicians as a kind of emulation of the youth language. The point reached in the public debate today regards the question if Nouchi should be standardized and how. Nouchi seems to have become an identity and integration language (Aboa 2015).

In our talk we will show through the analysis of speakers’ biographies from different generations and of different social status how this once forbidden sociolect (the ‘delinquents’ language’) has become the expression of an Ivorian identity for many Ivorian people in the country and abroad through e.g. music and the media. Moreover, we will discuss the question if Nouchi – like most youth languages – is being replaced by another variety when spoke by adults, and we will also examine which trace the language policy in Ivory Coast has left in the different speaker generations.

Kouadio, N. J. (1977) L’enseignement du français en milieu baoulé, problèmes des interférences linguistiques et socioculturelles, Thèse de 3e cycle, Université de Grenoble 3.

Kouadio, N. J. (1990) Le nouchi abidjanais, naissance d’un argot ou mode linguistique passagère ?, in Gouaini/ Thiam (éds.), Des Langues et des villes. Paris, ACCT/Didier Erudition.

Aboa, Alain Laurent (2015) La dynamique du Français en milieu urbain a Adidjan, in Revue electronique internationale de sciences du langage. Sudlangues 24. (11.12.2016)