On dit quoi?
At first glance, Côte d’Ivoire’s colorful argot can be difficult to decipher. Some call it a dialect, some call it a creole, while others may consider it a completely different language. No matter which way you see it, you’ll certainly hear it spoken in Abidjan and many other parts of the country. This article outlines tips and tricks to learn Nouchi.
But first… c’est quoi le nouchi?
Essentially, Nouchi is a variant of French that draws from local languages like Malinké and Baoulé, as well as global languages like English and Spanish. It is unique to Côte d’Ivoire, having emerged in the urbanization of the 70s and 80s. Nouchi is considered to be a low-register (slang) form of communication, so it should not be used in formal or professional situations.
So why learn Nouchi? Although you can travel most of Côte d’Ivoire using ”proper” French, Nouchi is a linguistic phenomenon that you’ll hear everywhere. Some Nouchi speech can be incomprehensible, even for the average French speaker. At the very least, learning to understand some local phrases can help you to adapt more quickly and converse more easily.
If you’d like to dive deeper into the historical and linguistic context of Nouchi, I recommend visiting some of the following links (some of these links are in French):
- Vlogger Nadar Fakhry’s video on the role of Nouchi today
- Talk Afrique interview and this BBC report on Nouchi and cultural identity
- A study by linguist Blaise Ahua on the words, phrases and syntax of Nouchi
- Why linguist Hannah Sande believes that Nouchi should be considered its own language
Finally, a few words of wisdom: before you try to learn Nouchi, you should have already studied some (standardized variant of) French. The national language of Côte d’Ivoire is French, and without it, you won’t be able to participate in most daily conversations and transactions. Secondly, there isn’t really a ”standardized” form of written Nouchi, so you’ll see some interesting spelling variations throughout this article (so sorry if I transcribe something wrong!)
Resources to Help You Learn Nouchi
To begin your studies, here are a few helpful resources and tips:
Make Ivorian Friends
The only place you’ll really use Nouchi is when interacting with the Ivorians. So if you’re traveling in Côte d’Ivoire or interacting with the Ivorian community abroad, start by making local connections.
If you’re studying French ex situ but still want to learn Nouchi, you can try to set up a language exchange online with an Ivorian who wants to learn your language(s). Not only will this improve your proficiency, but you’ll also make a friend along the way!
The Online Nouchi Dictionary
The online Nouchi dictionary is one of the best online resources for everything Nouchi. The website contains an online dictionary, as well as grammar guides, comics, proverbs, jokes, and other authentic materials. Since it’s a crowd-sourced site, users can contribute new words and phrases as new language continues to evolve.
Otherwise, the French Wikipedia page on Nouchi is also a good place to go for an overview.
RTI and NouchiTV
Radiodiffusion Télévision Ivorienne (RTI) is an Ivorian news company created by and for Ivorians. They also have a humorous segment called NouchiTV, where interviewer Julien Goualo goes around asking people their favorite words, teaching them new phrases, and discussing all things Nouchi.
Music and Media
Music is one of the best ways to get familiar with a culture. Some popular Ivorian styles, such as Coupé Decalé and Zouglou, are filled with Nouchi words and phrases. However, you might need an Ivorian friend to interpret for you since Nouchi lyrical translations aren’t readily available online.
Additionally, you can also find Nouchi all over social media: YouTube, Instagram, and TikTok. Content creators like Wilfried Yao or Momo Sayegh make videos that are entertaining but also linguistically enriching.
Learn a local language
There are around 70 local languages spoken in Côte d’Ivoire, and learning a few of them can help you communicate with a wide range of people across the country. Some of these languages, such as Jula, have also influenced Nouchi vocabulary.
Before I arrived in Côte d’Ivoire, I studied basic Jula, which helped me acquire several Nouchi words just by going back to the original definitions:
- On dit quoi, mogo? (how’s it going, buddy?)
- Jula: mɔ̀gɔ = person
- Tu connais muso la? = Do you know that woman?
- Jula: mùso = woman
- Faut me djege = I have to take a shower.
- Jula: jɛgɛ = fish (a bit of a stretch, but fish, water…)
- Yafoye = il n’y a rien (There’s nothing), extremely useful phrase to say pas de soucis, or ”No worries.”
- Jula: foyi = nothing
Bonus: Useful Phrases in Côte d’Ivoire
Additionally, here are some useful phrases you might hear on a day-to-day basis. Some of these phrases are purely loan words, while others are French words that take on different meanings.
Bonne arrivé! = as opposed to bienvenue, Ivorians will usually say this to welcome you in a place
On dit quoi? or C’est comment? = Comment ça va? (How are you?)
Ça fait deux jours! = It’s been two days! Alternatively, I’ve heard that this expression becomes ça fait trois (3) jours! in other West African countries like Benin. When you haven’t seen someone in a long time (no matter the exact number of days), you can use this phrase to say that you’ve missed them.
Je suis calé = Je suis là (I’m here). Another popular slogan by Wave the phone company goes: ”Ton djê est calé”.
Qu’est-ce que tu m’envoies? = What did you get (send) me? There are many situations where I’ll come or leave a place and people (usually acquaintances and complete strangers) will blatantly ask me what I bought and brought for them. From the beginning, I’ll admit that this behavior made me quite uncomfortable, and it sometimes still does (like, I don’t even know you!).
Nevertheless, this is a situation that happens, and you’ll need to use language to navigate it. Beyond the larger sociocultural and moral musings on whether these interactions should happen or not, here are some ways to respond:
- Actually get them something. You can bring small gifts, or you can ask them what they want before leaving.
- Don’t get them anything. Personally, I’m guilty of having said ”après” or ”la prochaine fois”, since this response makes people somewhat happy for the time being.
- Bring something intangible. I once observed someone saying that they brought with them “la bonne sante” (good health) or “le bonheur” (goodness). Nowadays, I tend to use this strategy the most, and it works out well (but also, I honestly do want other people to have these gifts).
- You can be like my colleague and tell them ”Moi, je suis le cadeau!” (I’m the gift!). In many cases, this has brought some chuckles. Perhaps your presence really is a present.
***Yako (in Jula, one says ”ifu”) – Yaco (pronounced ”ya-koo”) comes from the Baoulé language and is an extremely useful word in situations when you want to express sympathy. A family member passed away? Yako. A friend has come down with malaria? Yako. Your luggage got stolen in a red taxi in Abidjan? Yako.
Once, I was sitting on the bus heading back towards Yamoussoukro. The bus had stopped, and in front of me, there were three women. The elderly lady got up and spit out of the window, but I saw that some of that spit fell onto the nearby passengers. She smiled politely at them and said only: ”Yako.”
Transactions involving djê (money)
If you ever find yourself buying or selling something, whether for a taxi or at the local djassa (market), you can use the following values:
|= 100 francs CFA
|= 100 franc CFA
|= 500 francs CFA
|= 1 000 francs CFA
|= 2 000 franc CFA
|= 5 000 francs CFA
|= 10 000 francs CFA
What are your resources to learn Nouchi?
Without a doubt, Nouchi is a linguistic and cultural gem of Côte d’Ivoire, and studying it can help you develop relationships with Ivorians as well as gain a deeper understanding of the country’s culture, history, and identity. I hope that these resources help you to learn more about Ivorian language and culture! As always, please send me any corrections or revisions to the language I’ve shared above.
Do you speak Nouchi or are currently studying it? If so, what are your go-to resources for learning? Add your thoughts, corrections, ideas, and favorite words in the comments below!