Ghanaian Chronicle

Speaking And Thinking In Your Local Language

Date published: February 14, 2013


By Kofi Boakye

Ghana has gone far since independence in our quest to progress as expected. Nevertheless, down the years we have witnessed a lot of setbacks and I think one of our setbacks is linguistic dependence after 55 years of independence. It is for this reason I think we should reawaken our thinking caps in case we have forgotten that, it is only when we take our local languages seriously whiles speaking and thinking in our language that we are going to get to the height where we belong.

However, our local languages have unfortunately been relegated to the background thinking that they are archaic and outmoded without any significance in our computer age. This article seeks to outline the importance of our local languages if put into proper use whiles especially doing away with societal stigma attached to our local heritage.

Over the years our local languages have come under diverse criticisms, some say they do not have comprehensive typographical references hence it is difficult to rely on in our education and governance. Again, some critics are of the view that our local languages are of no international significance hence subjecting to it will take us nowhere.

In spite of all these counter arguments, I think our local languages are of great essence if rendered the necessary recognition. Currently, we have great brains who are willing to digest well into our languages to add up to what we already have. The unfortunate thing is that these brains have not been given the needed recognition but instead have been relegated to the background in our educational system and the nation at large. For instance in our educational system GES at a point decided to use our local languages as a medium of study from crèche to lower primary. The question now is how effective is it and is it in use at all?

Even in our higher institutions, university of Ghana Legon, for instance have a whole department for foreign languages labelled as modern languages without giving our local languages the needed reverence as required – (Invariably telling us that our languages are primitive). The languages learnt over there are French, Swahili, Arabic and lately Chinese among others. Hence, I think if our local languages are granted the needed respect and opportunity as given other languages we will make a head way. Comparably, Ghana has been in bondage linguistically though we have enjoyed political independence for 55 years. Most at times I ask myself, after all these years of linguistic reliance on our colonial language where is our country? Have we been able to clinch our ultimate aim as a developed country as we aspire to reach or have we been able to reach their height? I think Ghanaians know the answer better than I do.

Moreover, speaking and thinking in our local can only be enhanced hence overcoming the issue of unavailability of typographical references will be resolved when the social stigma attached to the speaking and use of our local languages is eradicated. Just imagine a situation where colleague students make fun of the fellow just because he is not fluent in the English language otherwise, he is been referred to as colloquial person all because he is fond of using the local language often. The perilous situation over here is that some students leave school with better class though, yet have no practical life. All because the theories presented to them were not comprehensively digested and put into their local perspective.

However, the danger is that they are able to make better grades all because they can easily chew and pour, hence producing graduates with absolutely no practical experience. I know there will be some skeptics about these issues that I am raising but I am a living testimony where I had a lot of friends in the university who never asked a question or contributed in class for the entire 4 years yet they had some doubts about a lot of the un practical theories we were been taught. The point is that it is not as if they cannot speak the language but they are not fluent and also not confident as a result the fear that they will be mocked if there is a slip. And the question is if it is not sheer ignorance and mediocrity, why should you laugh at a fellow when he expresses himself in a foreign language.

Additionally, there is this argument that our local languages are not internationally recognized consequently will not take us any where if we give it reverence. Perhaps, their criticism boils down to the fact that we are not proud of our language period. This is because we do not understand the essence of our language and the substance it gives when we give it cognisance.

Fellow Ghanaians, if we make quality use of our local languages I bet you the foreigners will come here and they will learn without any difficulty but because of the inferiority complex troubling our minds as Ghanaians have made us under dogs in every sphere of life. Let me share few thoughts with you. I was surprise to know at the University of Ghana that, most of the foreigners who are here to study and for the purpose of this article, foreigners, I mean the Europeans and Americans and other white race, took courses relating to African studies,(i.e. our culture and language).

I was one day enthused at a lecture when I was sitting next to an American at a sunny day learning some abstract theories only to find out that this foreigner was learning our Akan alphabets and basic words. This is the kind of people we are dealing with, where before we think they have already thought. Another, example is where one of the greatest modern Philosophers Renes Descartes theory of Skepticism was debunked by a Ghanaian Professor of Philosophy, Prof. Wiredu. According to Descartes, in simple terms he doubts the existence of everything except his own existence, for they are all illusions except himself. Giving the Term “Cogito” I exist therefore I am.

On the other hand, a Ghanaian born Prof. Wiredu debunked Descartes assertion in simple terms all because he made good use of his local language. “Akan” According to Wiredu, for Descartes to say he is certain of his existence implies that there is something that exists apart from his existence. i.e. Space. Why does he says this, let us analyse his proponent together. For Wiredu in the Akan language to say “I exist” is translated as “me wo ho” (I am there) implying that if you are certain about your own existence then according to our local perspective then you should be certain about the space where you are existing.

This simple assertion though may seem to you have received a lot of applauds from the so called world acclaimed Philosophers, as a result of this and many other contributions of Wiredu, he is now in Florida University impacting their lives with African Philosophy. Personally, I think is quite unfortunate because Ghana and Africa at large are in dire need of such brains to take our country to the height where it belongs.

Speaking and Thinking in your local language on the hand can take Ghana to places and I believe if we render it the utmost respect, the foreigners will come and learn this rich culture of ours. How can this be manifested someone will ask. Let’s consider the way currently we have over copied the foreign language and culture, consequently almost eradicating our cultural heritage.

Today someone meets someone in the vicinity and decides to pass by all because the foreign culture is well imbibed in him to the extent that he thinks “each one for himself and God for us all.”  Unlike our ancient culture, where everyone found in your environs is considered as a brother or sister. Brethren, we have lost this sense of brotherliness we use to enjoy. Look at a situation where a brother meets you with this pidgin language “charle what’s up” and with the response “I dey”.

Compare this to the Akan man for instance who meets the fellow and greets, “menua makyee oooo” (my brother good morning) he response “yaa nua” (good morning my brother), and continues  ” na apo muee” (and how are you doing) response “nyame adom ooo me ho ye na woe” ( by the grace of God I am good and you) it will go on and on so at least with just a greeting one initiates, you can know how a neighbour or a friend is faring.

I know some people will argue that so can’t you do same if you greet in English or pidgin?  But ask yourself how many times do you ask a friend all these questions when you greet in English or otherwise. Perhaps the language has this ideology that “time is money”.

Fellow Countrymen, we have followed these ideologies of theirs for the past 55 years, yet we have not reached their height, why don’t we be proud of our own language and make good use of it. No wonder these days families will be living together in the same country or city but barely see the other for years. All because if he picks up a mobile phone and call the other and thinks that is all it takes. Fellow Ghanaian it goes beyond that, as a matter of fact we have a custom which teaches us to be each other’s keeper.

How can you be his keeper on phone, probably the sister is going through a psychological trauma and just needs someone to encourage her to be strong. Brethren we have to bear in mind that it is not everything that is said on phone. So for such people if they don’t meet at a family gathering or somewhere, be it a funeral, wedding etc, barely do they meet together as family or friends. I think all these problems are as result of the foreign culture we have inculcated into our world. But I am very optimistic that, if we begin to speak and think in our local languages that is where we will begin to appreciate the substance associated with our language.

So, what then, is the way forward for Ghana? I am very optimistic that we need to start from somewhere and the time is now. First of all, I think Ghana has become of age at least 55 years after independence is enough to be dependent linguistically. Personally, I think the directive by government for the use of our local languages in our lower primary schools should be enforced and well implemented by providing all the needed logistics for its enhancement.

Again, Ghanaians should desist from the stigma we have attached to our local languages where people are looked down upon whenever they expressed themselves in the local parlance. Because I think people are able to make meaningful thoughts whenever they express themselves in their local language. Empirical evidence is realized on our radio stations that use the local language in their broadcast. We realize that a lot of Ghanaians even Parliamentarians who keep mute for the entire duration in office are able express their thoughts whenever they are called upon to voice out their views in the local language.

Finally, I think we can make head way, when we give a lot of reverence to our languages and a platform where our languages would be heard at the International level. I sometimes find it strange where even a local Chief addresses his local people in English all because there is a foreign dignitary. Enough is enough, let us rekindle our faith in our local languages and we will surely clinch the Ultimate.

In regards to all these concepts about the adaptation of our local parlance the simple recipe I think is to “think through in our local Ghanaian language, and on the basics of the results, review the intelligibility of the associated problems or the plausibility of the apparent solutions that have tempted you when you have pondered them in some metropolitan language.” Long live Ghanaian Languages, Long live Ghana!!!

Kofi Boakye

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