ajagunna

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Tag: language freedom

Tanimomo’s Piece of Mind (TPoM): Advocacy for Nigerian English (Tiwantiwa)!

Mr. Tanimomo is a scholar resident in Germany. He guest-blogs on http://www.ahjotnaija.wordpress.com He is author of the popular bi-weekly: Tanimomo’s Piece of Mind (TPoM).

You cannot expunge your language from your culture and by extension your identity. Words possess the meaning we ascribe them and who we are helps us give meaning to words.

I bear no grudge against the English Language. However, I dislike the pretence the language assumes; for example the Queens English is never wrong. Only speakers in the post-colonial countries can be wrong! The language changes according to the culture of the Brits. Consequently, the Anglophone keeps adjusting all along like train-waggons attached to the locomotive engine. So we grapple with what they call pronunciation and grammar problems. I have however realized that pronunciation problems like languages are constructs too. A few examples will suffice.

My grandmother pronounces the number 7 as seh-bin; a pronunciation that will earn her the tag of a semi-literate. Interestingly, Germans pronounce the same number almost in the manner just that theirs begin with sie and not seh. No one dares call them semi-literates as a result of the non-alignment of their pronunciation to English pronunciation rules. They have their own rules and culture which are products of history, fantasy, culture and experiences.

Another example is the French way of pronouncing tomato. To the French, it is tomate. This pronunciation is close to the prononciation by Yoruba speakers of the English language. We call it: tomati. Some pronounce tomat depending on which part the Yoruba speaker comes from. So if the British and American speakers of the English language evolve and alter several pronunciations for their convenience, what stops the Yoruba speaker of the English language from doing same?

In trying to convince me to see reasons to speak the ‘proper’ English, a friend argued that for every invention, the manufacturer’s manual should be followed. To me, that argument is not valid on two grounds: Firstly, Inventions are made with the cultural atmosphere of its target society in mind. The car manufacturer Toyota does not send left-hand drive vehicles to the UK or South Africa. Secondly, inventions are products of inventions. My knowledge of the Sciences betrays me here but I am aware of the fact that inventions by Einstein, Editon, Newton and other scientists inspired other inventions. Here is an example: The invention of smartphones are not unconnected from the existence of electricity. The world started with Abacuss. now there are modern and faster computer products. Inventions need be altered to suit the times.

Some have also argued that it is easier to understand each other when there are universal rules of usage. I do not subscribe to this argument. If comprehensibility is the premise for this argument, then the argument may also be flawed. Homi Bhabha, Prof Soyinka, Gayatri Spivak are some of the best post-colonial users of the English language but they are not easily comprehensible to the ordinary man. In fact Spivak has been accused of using inaccessible euphemism and academic jargon to avoid comprehensibility.

Furthermore a constraint to this universal rule of language usage is the question of who cares for the minority in the vast sea of the major Englishes? I like food and it pains me that any time I have to write Fufu and Egusi (Yoruba/African food) etc, the words are signaled as incorrect. Thus, I have to italicize them.

And the simplest reason I have heard for keeping the Queens English is this: It is more intelligible than our languages. In protest, I point out severally that ‘the response you are welcome is the weirdest I have ever heard to thank you.

By the way, I have learnt not to trust a language that says a slim person is skinny. Skinny should refer to a person with (a lot of) skin: So skinny should mean fat or something close to that if the English language was so intelligible. In the same light, how can inflammable be synonymous to flammable? Does the prefix, in- not negate?

Also, we may have to interrogate why the middle of the ocean is called sea , as in high-sea. Take a look at this too: Why should the earliest part of the morning be called night as in –midnight– in an intelligible language?

Beyond this, there is a pertinent question: What happens to words in the English language that have assumed different meaning in usage in the commonwealth countries like Nigeria? Here are some examples: A word like tribe and a sentence like I am coming do not have the same meaning as they do in the English language of the UK.

In addition, concepts in our native languages are at the risk of extinction if we keep up with the Queens-English-only-mentality. This is my proposition: Words that can only be translated loosely into English such as Alakoba, Olofofo, Ekule, Eleda among others should all be incorporated into the suppositional Nigerian English.

On a final note, let me remind of my submission at the start of this piece of mind: A language is a construct; it is an invention and it is dynamic. Therefore, it can be dynamically de-constructed and re-invented. So let the discourse begin. I strongly believe, we can all find our voice and put it into even better use by the tool of the language speak.

Tanimomo’s Piece of Mind (TPoM): Political Self-Rule is not enough!

Mr Tanimomo is a scholar and resident in Germany. He guest-blogs for http://www.ahjotnaija.wordpress.com with Tanimomo’s Piece of Mind (TPoM)

Nearly two decades ago, there lived Wanayo on my street. Wanayo is Togolese. The assumption was: He was dull; as dull as an ass because he spoke no English. It would need no mentioning that Wanayo spoke French instead. He is from Fracophone West Africa. We laughed at him, questioned him in English and did whatever we could just to get him out of his shell and hear him shell in English. To us, English was a sign of good education and intelligence. Wanayo was not the only person we laughed at, We laughed at other pupils in my primary and secondary schools who did not speak good English.

Around the same time, one of my science teachers won an award as the best science teacher. I need point out that this particular teacher, like Wanayo, also spoke bad English; so bad an English that we dedicated a book to chronicle his grammatical mishaps. The book even had a name: Ish Okay Tabons. This science teacher had been nicknamed Ish Okay, because he punctuated warnings with “Ish Okay”.

Let us fast forward now: I was admitted into the university to study French. Subsequently, my parochial thinking of tying English language to intelligence changed. I did not want to study French but my grades were not so bad so I stayed.

Initially, I had no problems with the language. I was a bit above average, and at times I was a dark horse in some courses in which I did well enough to be noticed by my lecturers. I had no issues with the language until I travelled to Porto-Novo in my second year as part of a immersion programme. It was a big revelation. For the first time in my life I felt like an illiterate; a real dull illiterate. I suddenly became even duller than Wanayo. I was starved, a powerful tool had been taken away, was practically stripped of my communicative abilities. I gesticulated more than I spoke to explain what I meant. I had awkward feelings each time people laughed when I spoke. I was in another world, a world where English Language had been stripped of its dignity. I felt dull but I knew I was not dull; I knew I was intelligent, I mean I was one of the best students at OAU pre-degree entrance exam in 2005 and I made my school leaving exams at the first shot. I was just a magician whose magic wands had been stolen.

Consequently, I was compelled to see that there was (and still is) an “over-hyping” of the English Language. English has nothing at all to do with intelligence. Nobody gives so much a hoot about the English Language saving the Anglophone countries and allied countries/protégés, namely the`”Scandinavian countries”.

Truly the English Language, and many other language of colonialism could be seen as possible hinderance to and of many intelligent minds. Many African countries became independent but are yet to severe the one crucial tie to colonialism, namely the language. The truth is that language is never innocent. In all cases, it expresses the interests of its producers. I laugh at friends who in patriotic pride say things like: Africans have culture and Europeans do not. I laugh because behind this statement is an unconscious undoing. Culture is about the mask, the masquerade and the ankle long dresses. To the true owner of the language, who invented the word culture, this is what culture is: Culture is more than those, culture goes beyond the mask, it is a way of life. The reason the inventor wakes up in the morning to be productive, the reason he saves up for the future, the reason he is aware of his environment and climate etc.

By the way, have you noticed the connotative differences between the words: ‘tribalism’ and ‘nationalism’. One is pregnant with negativity while the other is tied to some positive heroic deeds; one is an infantile love for a tribe while the other is the love of one’s father-/motherland. Have you noticed that Africa was divided into tribes and not into nations? A love for your tribe gets a negative tag while a love for a nation makes a hero. I wonder how one can love a nation when one don’t love the tribe. Meanings of words are derived from what the producers wants and intends them to be.

This is a plausible question: Why can’t we develop our own brand of the English Language or any national language for that matter that reflects our culture(s) and recognizes our ways of life? Yes, we have the Standard Nigerian English, but like almost all products made in Nigeria, ours is perceived not to be good enough. So if you speak the so called Nigerian English in the presence of a Nigerian English language perfectionist, you may get some knocks because it is “sev’n” and not the Nigerian version pronounced with a stressed h as in “seh-ven”.

Certainly, there is more to independence/freedom other than political self-rule. Political independence without an accompanying cultural and language independence/freedom might as well be a good way to prevent complete freedom from ignorance and self-degradation. It is undoubtedly a bad package.

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