ajagunna

I discuss Nigeria and the world at large because I strongly believe MyOpinionCounts!

Tag: Language

Lost in Transit? A Long Poetic Conversation on Language, Culture and Identity by Ola Dunni (!SiDOS)

dunni

Ms. Oladunni Talabi is a beautiful and wonderful addition to the AhjotNaija!BlogFamily. She is a Doctoral student resident in Germany, young and very-full-of-life. She experiments with different forms of writing; this is one of them: Entertaining while strongly pushing for deep self-discovery/identification and cross-cultural dialogues among other interesting themes

Hasten up,

I’d like to take my shower before we leave

No, it is take your bath, not shower, my friend corrects me

No, it is shower, I insist

No, you shower when you want to cool off your body

And take your bath when it involves scrubbing your body

Whatever, I’m off to the bathroom

Lets continue this English lesson in the bus

Ola I’d like some tea

No I don’t have tea

But I got chocolate if you want that

Well that’s tea, my friend shakes his head at me

No it’s chocolate, I insist

Tea comes in a bag

We argue over this for some minutes

Until I shrug my shoulder, “Whatever leave me be”

 

Hey Ola

Can you direct me to the closest cafe around here?

Sure, it’s right around the corner after the traffic light

You want to get some bread and coffee?, I inquire

What?, my friend stares at me incredulously

I want to print some documents

Oh! Its a print shop you need and not a cafe

No, its a cafe I need to go

 

These are the excerpts of conversations

between my newly arrived Nigerian friends and me

For two weeks, I’ve been made to pay attention to my grammar

With the realisation that I’ve picked up the German English

And lost my Nigerian English

Replacing peculiar Nigerian words for German phrases

It doesn’t end there

 

Wake up, your phone is ringing

The guy slaps the girl lightly on the shoulder

Wake up, it’s your alarm

Wake up, you have a message

I stare at them both incredulously

Why you do you have to wake her up to pick her call?

You should just mute the call and when she wakes, she calls back

Why would I do that?, he replies

Your suggestion is weird

Well, you waking her up to pick a call is weird too

I sigh

 

The guy is gone to class

Just me and my girlfriend at home

Her phone rings

I am awake so I mute it

She wakes up later

Hey Ola, did my phone ring?

Yeah, you were asleep so I put it on mute

Why didn’t you wake me?, she grumbles

You didn’t inform me that you’d like to be woken up to pick a call,

I replied

 

Hey Ola, can I use your perfume

My friend shakes my shoulder to wake me up

Is the home on fire?, I ask sarcastically

My sleep ridden face all squeezed

No, but I’d like to use your perfume

You actually wake me to ask this question?

I wasn’t even pissed

I was flabbergasted

You know you should simply use it or leave without using it

Either way, it’s rude to wake me up

I note the differences in our interaction

It will be difficult not to

 

These differences are very obvious

How I walk, how I interpret and respond to messages

My gestures, short mechanical smile I give to strangers

Do you know that person you just smiled at?

They ask

No, we don’t know each other. It’s just simple mechanical smile

Why you smile then? They ask

The hugs of goodbye and welcome I share with my friends

These ones opening the door without hugging me

Me still talking about the weather while they already gone back to the room

Weird people, I shake my head at them both

You are the weird one, they laugh at me

Why you hugging everyone

You not even in a relationship

 

My two newly arrived Nigerian friends

Remind me of the fact that I’ve lost the authentic Nigerian identity

Yes, I have a green passport

And I say I am Nigerian to everyone I meet

Holding on to that identity

But I realise I am swimming against the tide

And I am at the point of drowning

My friends tell me every minute

You are not Nigerian

You are so German

You wont fit into the Nigerian society

 

I have not visited home in 4years

Without my friends showing me what it means to be Nigerian,

I would continue to insist on my authenticity

Telling archaic stories and slangs

No one uses that word any more

They’d laugh at me. This is how we say it

Even your English is all mixed up

It has lost that peculiar Nigerian accent

Your words are pronounced on a very high pitch

Our pronunciations are very flat and low pitched

You are hybrid, just accept it

 

Then I remember the woman at the train station

On a Sunday morning

Shouting in anger at a young boy

It was a small argument that quickly escalated into a fight

I was tired

It was 5am and I had partied the entire night

All I wanted was to take the bus home in peace

But these two were at it

Exchanging words

And then the outburst

Go back to your country!!!

The woman shouted at the dude

It was obvious his facial structures was Arabian

We all turned in alarm

Shock written over our face

Condemning her in our silence

But of course we said nothing

That’s how it always goes

No one was willing to tell her how terrible that was

Then the dude responded, back to where? Bitch!

I was born here, same as you! I belong here!

I am from Germany!

 

He was from here

This is what he’s known all his life

But his identity was snatched from him in seconds

And he had to fight to reclaim it

Who knows how many times he’s had to do this?

Fight this identity battle

Telling everyone willing to listen, I belong here same as you

I pondered to myself

He didn’t look fazed

His statement was very flat

 

So when you say, tell me about Nigeria

I can only tell you about memories

Locked up

Brought out once in a while

Cleaned till it glitters

And locked up again

To be pushed out when the occasion arises

 

But my Nigerian identity has been contested

By my newly arrived friends

I cannot even eat their food

Neither can they mine

I talk about how we eat pepper a lot

Not realising that I do not eat the Nigerian quantity of pepper anymore

They say my food is bland

I say theirs is too hot

Almost ripping my tongue out

How can you feel the taste of the food if you douse it with this quantity of pepper

They say the pepper is actually the taste

So we decided to cook separately

 

I do not know what I am

Of course I’m not German

But they say I’m not Nigerian either

And I’d have to learn how to be Nigerian

So I cannot in good faith regale you with stories of Nigeria

Or how it feels to be one

That will be claiming an identity I do not 100% fit into

Neither do I 100% fit into the German society

 

So I have decided to juggle both

Be the German in the very Nigerian camp

You should lower your voice when you talk

Use your earpiece when you listen to music

Wait for the traffic light, be very time conscious

And be Nigerian in the very German camp

Laugh at the top of my voice, be the pepper eater, invite strangers into my home

This way I have my peace

And I do not have to try too hard to be anything.

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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