Feature: Safe Guarding our Languages

Hon. Sam George, my “son,”and fellow Dangbe and the National Democratic Congress (NDC) MP, for Ningo-Prampram, was in the news again when he spoke bitterly about how some minority languages were not taught in our basic schools.

So many languages, across the world have died out as the millenniums went by and Africa is not exempt. In Ghana today, it is clearly noticeable in the way we generally speak our local dialects.

In most cases, including even traditional gathering and on radio and television programmes of local languages, it is almost unlikely that a paragraph of dialect would be spoken without adding a word or more of English.

When people speak like this,they don’t get corrected and so it is, when news is being given in local languages, try hard as the local newscaster would, a few words of English will flow in.

One interesting thing is that whenever someone is speaking a local language and he or she mixes in a word of another local language, they are quickly rebuked and corrected. Looks like it is okay to mix our dialect with English, showing how intelligent and literate we are, but certainly not the language of the next-door ethnic group.

With the way things are going, by the next millennium, our major local languages will metamorphosis into another language or completely die out.

There is the need to teach all indigenous languages in our homes and our schools.

Ghana is a country with about seventy-three languages. And with language, comes identity, tradition and culture. So, when one says “I am an Asante,” or “I am a Dangbe” or “I am an Anlo,” immediately one would expect you to speak Twi, Dangbe or Ewe. That is your proof of identity.

With the way things are going we must do our best to preserve our various seventy-three languages. We must do something the civilized West failed to do, so today, words that meant something some fifty or more years ago, mean something different today.

In the sixties, when you tell your parents, “I am gay,” they will be happy that everything is going on well, with you. But today, when you tell your parents, “I am gay,” it will invite an emergency family meeting, a powerful man of God, and opinion leaders to find all means possible to getting you, normal.

Nice, used to mean silly or foolish, but today it is a good compliment. Silly, originally used to mean something worthy or blessed, but today it refers to someone who is foolish. Long ago, if you are naughty, it meant you had nothing, but today it means you are badly behaved. A guy used to be a frightful figure, but today it refers to men in general.

Meat, used to refer to food in general, but today, it refers to animal flesh.And more recently, the word viral which means, of, relating to or caused by virus, now means circulating information quickly from person to person especially through the Internet.

These changes in the English language come with changes in meaning of the English words. But from the way we are going here in Ghana, with our original traditional words being replaced with English (the Queen’s English, Cockney English or Pigin English), are language will gradually be lost.

Hon Sam George’s worry was not exactly in line with what is stated above. He is very much concerned about how Dangbe is not taught in schools in Dangbe land. Determining to halt this unfortunate incident, he pushed for Dangbe people to be trained in the language so that they could teach the Dangbe children.

After their studies, coming out as experts in Dangbe, these teachers were however transferred to non-Dangbe communities, where they were not even going to teach the language.

Of course, this is disheartening, and Hon Sam George had every right to be disappointed. As the only Dangbe in the House of Parliament, who stands for the entire Dangbe ethnic group, and he must be recommended for that, Hon Sam George has prompted the whole of Ghana of what is particularly happening to his local dialect and could generally happen to some other Ghanaian languages.

Why is it that the Ghana Institute of Languages and the Ghana Education Service are not treating this local language issue, seriously?

The most widely spoken language in Ghana is Akan Twi, with the Akan ethnic group, making up 45.7% of the population, leading the top nine. The rest are the Mole-Dagbon at 18.5%, the Ewe at 13.9%, the Gurma at 6.4%, the Dangbes at 4%, the Guan at 3.2%, the Gas at 3.4%, the Grusi at 2.7%, Mande-Busanga at 2% and the others at 1.6%.

The search for a second official language has become very problematic in this country, even though, Twi, is the most widely spoken language after English. There are some non-Akan communities, where Twi is the preferred language when dealing with people who do not understand the indigenous language.

Swahili, is the second official language in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. In Ethiopia, Afan Oromo which is spoken by 33.8% of the population is the official language. IsiZulu spoken by 23% of South Africans is the country’s first official language.

But here in Ghana, even though Twi is spoken by over 75% of the population, some non-Akans are against, giving it the official second language status, saying that it could lead to the dying out of their indigenous dialect.

A Ga tele-evangelist, came on social media saying that whenever Gas start speaking other people’s language, they will be “colonised” and the Ga language will disappear. At first, I thought this man was heading the right direction in drawing our attention to the need to speak exclusively in our local dialect.

But in his next sentence, there was a direct attack on Twi, the Akan language. To him Gas, should not speak Twiat all or they will be subdued by Akans and their dialect will disappear. So, what happens if there is a family made up of one parent, an Akan and the other a Ga, what language should the children speak?

What happens if people decide to speak only in their ethnic dialect? How will communication go on especially if one or both parties do not understand English?

If Twi officially becomes our second language, the other languages will also be acknowledged and soon almost all,if not all, Ghanaian languages will be spoken.

I want a situation where Ghana Institute of Languages will have a data base of all indigenous languages. Such data must have the languages in their purest and original form. This means chiefs and traditional councils must be consulted to come out with the exact words as originally and uniquely spoken.

The next step will be to make Ghanaian languages compulsory in all schools, private and public. All the top nine languages should be taught in primary level. In Junior High level, the top five, should be taught and in the Senior High level, the top three should be taught.

Meanwhile, the indigenous language in the area where a school is located, must be taught. In this way, all our local languages, including the minority group making up 1.6%, will be taught.

We must safeguard all our languages and make sure they are spoken anytime in their pure and unique form. We must stand out among all of Africa as a nation who is protecting all its indigenous languages.

And to protect our languages is all that Hon. Sam George is talking about. Why should GES transfer Dangbe teachers to non-Dangbe communities, where they will not teach Dangbe, when there is a great need of such teachers in Dangbe land?

It is very disheartening when after going through the trouble of getting these teachers, trained in the Dangbe language, for them to come and teach the young, how to read and write Dangbe, only for these qualified Dangbe teachers to be transferred to areas where they will not get to put their knowledge to use. What an unpardonable waste of resources!

And Dangbe is the fifth largest ethnic group in Ghana.

It is about time that Ghana and Ghanaians take what Hon Sam George said seriously and make sure that the right things are done. Such unpardonable things are contributing to the wrecking of this nation. We have people who can help lift up this country, but someone or some people in authority do not want that to happen.

Many experts are leaving this country because they have been made redundant, meanwhile they could certainly fit in somewhere and do well in the areas of their expertise.

Some qualified doctors and nurses have nowhere to go, meanwhile their services are needed in medical facilities all across the country. Tens of thousands of nurses who successfully passed out of training school, were put on hold during the NDC Mills/Mahama administration and as it is today, there is a backlog which is gradually being reduced. However, most of these nurses who could not wait, have left Ghana, and our hospitals and clinics are in need of a lot of nurses.

The lack of nurses and doctors clearly shows when one visits a health facility. The nurses and doctors are not resident but during the day they work in more than three hospitals and clinics. A nurse told me she worked four shifts a day including nights. And there are many doctors and nurses who are leaving Ghana because there is no health facility to work in.

Ghanaians must thank Hon. Sam George for bringing this issue about Dangbe teachers on the floor of Parliament. For it is not only about teaching Dangbe, not only about teaching at all but it is about the reckless way our administrators place qualified people. Ghana will never make it, if this continues. So, we must all say, “Thank you, Hon Sam George and God bless you.”

By Hon Daniel Dugan



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