Culture, Affluence and the English Language

While I was sitting yesterday at my spot, waiting for my car to be washed at the washing bay. The small boy that had been dancing Azonto a couple of nights before was being issued a tirade of insults from his mother for being a ‘dirty boy’ (well he did look like he had been rolling around in the mud though). The mother is a Hausa laday (from the north) but with the Twi language taking over the nation here as what I would say the predominant local language, she was switching languages between Hausa and Twi. The boy quickly scurried away to look a bit more respectable before coming back to the food kiosk where his mother worked for his lunch.

Insults aside, this boy, probably no more than 12 at his age, can understand Hausa, Twi probably Gas (as a native of Accra) as well as English. He doesn’t come from a wealthy home, his mother sells banku and fish by the roadside and they live in the uncompleted building at the back of the spot. However he can be considered multi-lingual.

I however, although I can hold my own amongst twi speakers, it is a struggle to get my mouth around some of the words and get the toneation right (sometimes it’s sounds like you are singing when you say certain sentences), take me to Kumasi and I can get lost, because there they speak the real indiginous Twi, not the English mix that they speak down south. My sister’s also can barely understand a thing. They can get a few words out of a sentence and put two and two together, but for the most part they don’t hear a thing.

I remember having this conversation with my mother, as to why she didn’t from an early age teach us our language. Her response was that we were living in England and she did not want us to get an accent, plus she didn’t want us to get confused. Besides, it was not like French or German or Spanish which would be of benefit later for work purposes or somehting like that. This got me quite annoyed. English, we would speak English as part of our every day life, in school, in the shops, at work etc…, what is wrong with speaking our local language in the home. Our Asian friends do it. Our friends from the other European countries do it.

Like I said to one lady from Guniea on the matter of why I do not attempt to learn French, the only thing that separates you and me my dear is that we were colonialized by the British and you by the French, else we would all be speaking our local languages.

Sadly it fell on deaf ears, and sadly she is not alone. What I find that, even here in Ghana, although proud of their heritage, the English language and the ability to speak it well is seen as a sign of prosperity. You find that in the homes of my colleagues and even some of my family, they speak the local languages within themselves but to their children they only speak English as if to say, yes we are well educated and our children are too.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s important to have a good working knowledge of the English language. The English language is the predominant language in the world when it comes to working, I also think that good working knowledge of the French language (especially where I work). My point is, if we say we are truly proud of our culture, truly part of our heritage, isn’t our language, just as important. My Grandmother didn’t go to school and so didn’t understand English. Sadly she has passed away long since, but one of the best times of my life was just listening to her tell stories (although I didn’t catch all of it and had to have my mum translate at times). If you listen to some proverbs that are said in the Akan language, they are so powerful and have so much meaning but when you translate it into English, some things get lost in translation and you lose some of the true meaning. These are the things that we have that we cannot pass to our children by speaking English with them all the time, and this is why the little Hausa boy although not as affluent, he cannot go to Frankies to buy ice-cream (another issue which gets my goat, we are building a nation of fatties, but I will save that for another blog), but he has riches which cannot be put into moneatory terms.

As for being a confused kid, I have spent the last 34 years trying to “find myself”, I went through my white phase (all my friends then were white), my Caribbean phase (all my friends were from the Carribean) before I managed to set sail to Africa and even then I passed through Nigeria and Sierra Leone before reaching Ghana, how more confused can I have been. We need to bring our culture back, an our language back or we will end up a poor version of the Western world (and well, it is already coming to that).

Well I will get down off of my hourse now, until the next time.

About efiasworld

A British Born Ghanaian navigating her way through life.
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