I've been taking a cyber-jaunt around the languages of Bénin today-- courtesy of an old Sunday NYT crossword where I finally had to bend the rules & look up some answers. The clue was "Porto-___, capital of Bénin", which turned out to be Porto-Novo. I learned that Bénin is the former Dahomey, located along the southern edge of the West African bulge, near Nigeria, on the Bay of Guinea. When I realized Porto-Novo was a Portuguese term, I wanted to know more, & opened a can of worms.
This little country, about the size of Cuba with a population about that of NYC, has 50! languages. Porto-Novo itself, pop.700,00, was originally an export spot for slaves to the American continent, and has a sizeable population of Afro-Brazilians, descended from freed slaves who returned to the mother country, and its architecture and food reflects this.
Bénin's lasting colonial influence, courtesy of a British bombardment in early 19th.c. from whom they took refuge from the adjacent colonial power, was France. Still today, their "official language" is French. (Of the other 49 recognized languges,"Fon" is the spoken language of about a quarter of the population.) [Yorubo, once the dominant tribal influence,is the next one down at 8%, & there are many more.[
Despite a motley of political influences since that time, French remains the official language-- practically, the only one in which everyone can communicate to some degree.
What I find particularly interesting in my research are the details on the French that is spoken in Bélin. There is "standard" French, which is taught in schools (though much is made of the poor quality of its teaching these days): this is the language of the courts and the schools-- very much in demand as the currency of those with class and education (a large percentage of Bélinois cannot read, let alone speak French). There is "street" French, which, as described in detail is essentially pidgin French. And there is "le Fraançais Snobé", 'snobbish French', which is desribed in detail as a sort of over-the-top, not-necessarily-correct French, used as a way to seduce lovely young things or put down those of lesser learning.
An interesting sideline detailed in this-- sorry Frenchlink,is that even today in Bélin, one may find the practice of "signal" or "symbole" in French classrooms, which dates to the early 19thc: an animal bone or a shell on a string is placed on the child who dares to speak a word of patois-- his mother tongue; it is passed to the next who breaches the rule [once expressed on signs as 'don't spit on the floor - don't speak patois'], & whoever is wearing it at the end of the day can count on extended after-school blackboard-copying.
That was what used to happen in schools in Wales when a child spoke Welsh.
Build a man a fire and he's warm for a day. Set a man on fire and he's warm for the rest of his life.
Ugh, sorry for all the "Benin" typos (even in the heading!). It's Benin with 2 n's! Now you know why I am so poor at crossword puzzles.
You've reminded me of the most highly charged country in Africa: Upper Volta. Unfortunately they suffered a short circuit and ended up as Burkina Faso.
As for Benin, I they like ice cream. I hear Benin Jerry's is big there.
It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society. -J. Krishnamurti