Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The power of language

When the colonialists set foot on this gene-rich but technology-deficient continent ages ago, they started taking away more than just our resources. They took away our languages, and with it our culture. I always get irritated when you read or hear international news media saying "...Portuguese speaking Mozambique or Angola, French speaking Cameroun or English speaking Uganda..." The connotations behind these labels reach far beyond merely labelling one sovereign country with a language of an erstwhile forceful colonial master. It represents, me thinks, a perpetual, permanent and irreversible mark which we are being made to carry for centuries to come.

Africa has so far managed to unlock political free will, independence which to some extent now encompasses economic sovereignty and other freedoms to the exclusion of our freedom to our languages. I remember when I was in Primary School in the 1980s, our teachers suddenly passed a rule that all indeginous languages had been banned from the school grounds, and we were expected to start speaking in English. Those found wanting were sent for punishment which often included hard labour. When I look back now, I get the feeling that we have been battered so much that we are no longer proud even of our own selves.

In the United Kingdom alone, I know of many African families whose kids cannot speak any word of their mother toungues to the total preference of English. In Africa, you still get respect and high societal positions by being merely eloquent in English, or French, or Portuguese. The more you "break" your own language the better.

Language encompasses more than just a means to pass messages from one person to another. Language is a heritage. Language is culture. You are who you are because of where you came from, and where you came from is characterised by language. We must begin to be proud of our languages, our cultures, our heritage. I have heard of the argument that you cannot express certain scientific methods or processes in some languages, but that argument falls flat if you look at the Chinese, the Japanese, the Asians, and the Arabs. Language, like culture is dynamic, it evolves and adapts to circumstances.

Be proud of who you are!

1 comment:

  1. So true, PP, and the european languages do not even make for us to use them without insulting ourselves. So we still use words like "Idol" and "Tribe" for ourselves.