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Le Nouchi

Updated: May 7

What it is

Le Côte d'Ivoire

In the streets of Abidjan, the largest city of Côte d’Ivoire, people speak a very choco language. Choco, an abbreviation for 'chocolate,' is slang for 'sweet' or 'cool' in the Ivorian language known as Nouchi. In a country where over sixty different local languages and dialects are spoken, Nouchi unites speakers across languages. With over 28 million inhabitants, the diversity of languages contributes to the cultural tapestry of the nation, but it also makes centralized communication difficult. 


While French long provided a mainstream language of communication, growing postcolonial movements across Africa have initiated a shift towards the promotion of local languages. From the inclusion of Wolof as an official language in Sénégal to South Africa’s recognition of eleven national languages, African nations continue to uplift local languages. In Côte d’Ivoire, this promotion left a need for a centralized language. This gap was filled with Nouchi, which mixes dozens of local languages and French together into a new, distinct language. 

Where it came from

Like many postcolonial language creations, Nouchi started in areas that had lower access to education. This is often the result of a lack of proficiency in national languages, such as French, amongst school teachers.

However, the precise origins of Nouchi are debated. It emerged in the '70s and gained traction in the '80s. It began as the speech of the poor, of young folks who didn't have access to education. It bears heavy French influence; some sources claim up to 35% of the language comes from French in the form of grammar rules, especially in syntax (word order). The rest of the language finds its origins in the many local languages and dialects of Côte d'Ivoire, with some influence from other European languages.

Language, in a postcolonial state, consistently becomes intertwined with social status and level of education. However, both across Africa and in Côte d’Ivoire, languages like Nouchi are expanding. 

Where it's going

Today, all ages and social classes speak Nouchi; it is the language of the people. It is spoken in schools and universities, in the media - it is a language of comedy, of expression, and communication across diverse groups. 

It's also a language of music. The movement called  “Zouglou”was created with Nouchi as its foundation. This movement serves as a source of national unity and playful linguistic development. 

Nouchi’s grammar structure and vocabulary, however, are not yet standardized. Depending on the speaker, one might include more or less of their native language while speaking Nouchi. Dozens of crowd-sourced dictionary projects are now underway to try to begin the process of formal standardization of Nouchi. With such a diverse nation of people, this unifying language provides a common identity and shapes their national culture. For many Nouchi speakers, the language is a source of Ivorian pride. 

Written by Jasmine Grace and Kaleb Houle-Lawrence, University Interns

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