Enregistering Modernity, Bluffing Criminality: How Nouchi Speech Reinvented (and Fractured) the Nation


Department of Sociology and Anthropology
College of the Holy Cross
Beaven Hall 220
1 College Street
Worcester, MA 01610


This paper traces processes of the enregisterment of modernity in French and Nouchi (an urban patois) in Côte d’Ivoire, arguing that the struggles to define the indexical values of Nouchi and the performative bluff of urban street life associated with it have played a central role in the production of Ivoirian national identity. Speakers of Nouchi integrate references to American pop culture with local Ivoirian lexical content, which allows Nouchi use ambivalently to index both modernity and autochthony. In so doing they overturn the hierarchical schema of evaluation defined by proximity to the French standard. Nouchi indexes a new pan-ethnic Ivoirian identity based on the alternative modernity of cosmopolitan urban youth. Urban youth reject the Francocentric elitism of the postcolonial state but themselves exclude Northern migrants, whom they qualify as less than modern, from Ivoirian citizenship. [modernity, enregisterment, French, Nouchi, indexicality, Côte d’Ivoire]