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Languages: Crowd-Sourced Online Nouchi Dictionary

Categories: Languages

Je suis enjaillée!

If you have a basic command of French, you might recognize the first two words in the preceding sentence, but the meaning – “I am happy” – may well elude you. Indeed, what you have just read is a typical Nouchi expression that you are most likely to come across in the streets of Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire.

Loosely defined, Nouchi is a French-based creole language, which relies on a number of Ivorian languages for its vocabulary as well as creative twists with standard French. The origin of the term ‘Nouchi’ is explained on Wikipedia [1] [fr]:

« NOU » means ‘nose’ in malinké [language] while « CHI » means (body) hair. In a word, it comes to ‘nose hair’ hence ‘moustache’ to signify the bad guy, the one everybody wanted to be like.

Nouchi started out as street slang used by disenfranchised youths in the capital, Abidjan, but has since gained prominence and even given rise to a writing system [2] elaborated by Ivorian linguist Blaise Mouchi Ahua [3]. Although statistics as to the number of speakers are difficult to establish, Pr. Jérémie Kouadio's research led to the conclusion that Nouchi could be the first language [4] of young people from 10 to 30 years old.

Despite Nouchi not receiving good press from everyone and being particularly stigmatised at school [5] and in official institutions, a project called Nouchi.Mobi has taken on the task of putting together an online crowdsourced dictionary [6] for the language :

[…] Nouchi.Mobi fonctionne donc tout simplement comme un dictionnaire ou les mots, ou expressions, sont ajoutés par les membres. C'est une application sociale du concept de « crowdsourcing » ou l'intelligence collective est mise a profit d'un but, dans ce cas, le recensement du langage Nouchi.

[…] Nouchi.mobi thus works quite simply like a dictionary whose words or idioms are added by the members. It is a social application based on the concept of ‘crowdsourcing’ where collective intelligence is harnessed towards a goal, in this case the documentation of the nouchi language.

Thanks to Nouchi.mobi [7], words like dôgôfari (girlfriend) or yaako (sorry) have made an appearance online. So far, each dictionary item contains the word in Nouchi, its translation into standard French as well as an example of its use in context. Users can use the web-based application or their Facebook profile to contribute words and definitions.

How much support it will gather is anyone’s guess but this initiative was stirred by social entrepreneur Abou Koné (@abookone [8]), a Ivorian software developer currently living in the United States, with the help of Benin-based designer Giovanni de Souza.

An iPhone and Android version are in the pipeline, as the site’s objective is to become a mobile platform for the promotion and documentation of Nouchi. In this regard, nouchi.mobi is not unlike the Kenyan website sheng.co.ke [9] which is turning out to be a major reference point for the Sheng [10]–speaking community.

This is a manifestation of Côte d’Ivoire 2.0, bringing to the fore using digital media tools, what was long considered a mere ‘slang’ associated with gangsters and brandishing it as a flourishing urban culture.