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International Visitor Spotlight: Adams Bodomo

By Armine Pillikan

Adams Bodomo, an FSI- Humanities Center International Visitor in October and November of this year, has been researching a relatively new and unexplored phenomenon: the migration of Africans to China and the type of Sino-African relations emerging from this process.

Bodomo is currently African Studies Programme Director at the School of Humanities, University of Hong Kong, as well as Associate Professor in the Department of Linguistics. We asked him to tell us about how migrant African populations interact with Chinese civilians on a daily basis, and how this is creating types of cross-cultural and cross-linguistic collaboration.

Tell us a bit about communication between these two populations.

Africans don’t know much Chinese; they don’t speak, read or write it, and vice versa. One of the most unique communication techniques I’ve seen is what I call “calculator communication.” In a buying and selling situation, the African customer approaches the Chinese seller and points to the commodity, and the seller types out the price on the calculator and points to it, and this goes on until the sale is either agreed upon or aborted. I’m seeing that it’s possible to use all media available to us to communicate!

How does this migration affect language?

Africans have developed a form of pidgin, just picking up small words and intermixing them with their own language. So there are mixes of Swahili and Chinese, Arabic and Chinese, Hausa and Chinese. The primary way Africans in China communicate is through English or French.

What’s interesting is the influence that their presence has on the way that the Chinese learn to speak English. This phenomenon comes about because many Africans who have set up shops decide to employ Chinese salesmen. These salesmen end up beginning to learn English and they learn it in a way that is very clearly African-English, not Chinese-English.

Tags: International News