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MP for Akwatia Constituency, Hon. Mercy Adu Gyamfi was criticised for her inability to speak English

Re. Ghanaians’ absurd infatuation with spoken English

By: Kwawukume, Andy C.Y.

Andy Kwawukume

Kwawukume, Andy C. Y.

A lot of valid points have been made as comments on his piece but I picked on one by Sika as a prop to write my rejoinder. I agree with Sika that those calling for Twi to be made the national language are indeed fools and mere ethnic supremacists. As such, they cannot recognise that Twi is not the mother tongue of the majority of Ghanaians, even though a majority of Ghanaians may be speaking it now. Fact is, they don’t even know that the MAJORITY of Ghanaians ARE NOT AKANS! Akans altogether, with their various dialects, with even the Nzemas grouped among them, form the largest ethnic group in Ghana, now comprising about 47% of the population. It used to be 44% but due to the high birth rate or number of children per woman among them than other ethnic groups, their proportion of the population has been steadily increasing. Nevertheless, they don’t constitute an absolute majority in the country as we constantly read or hear from many of them, including the supposedly highly educated who are the main culprits and purveyors of their ethnocentric agenda and claims. The mass of uneducated and less educated among them have no clues about such things anyway, and so don’t their heads about such things.

The same argument Adofo, who has distinguished himself as a bigot too, used to claim that even those foreigners who learn English fluently in England – presumably even those born and bred in the UK and speak only the English language – would never be recognised as English can be used against non-Akans learning to speak Twi too: they’d never be recognised as Akans. To many non-Akans, Twi is just as Greek to them as any other foreign language. They’d certainly prefer to have English, a world language, imposed on them than a parochial language like Twi which has been left stunted since the 1960s, just as other Ghanaians languages whites put into the written form.

Ignorant as he is, he thinks that those who are English today have progeny dating back to posterity, completely failing to recognise that successive invasions from continental Europe, with William the Conqueror being the last, followed by immigrations over the centuries of other Europeans, have led to the English language and the people known as the English. That’s why a lot of words in English have Latin, German and Norman/French roots.

English today is as much a language created by foreigners mixing with Bretons just as many English people have foreign origins, their very royalty included.

By the way, some African societies developed written languages long before the whites came. Ethiopia stands up tall amongst them. Amharic has been written for 1000s of years. I learned that their form of mathematics is behind the algorithms that form the basis of the computer language. The Nubian script, yet to be deciphered, is even older than the hieroglyphics of ancient Egypt. The ancient Congo Kingdom also had a form of written notations, just as a kingdom in the Cameroons.

Having said that, when some point to those Asian countries and others as using their own languages, they seem to forget that they have had written languages for 1000s of years. Their languages continue to be developed through the active actions of their scholars, adding new words to cover new things. Over the years, one language, usually that of the supreme ruler, assumed dominance over others, just as Mandarin Chinese has done in China.

They may speak officially and teach in schools in their languages but their political leaders are very highly educated people, often very fluent in English, French, Russian and Germans, some having studied abroad. In Ghana, it is only the illiterates, semi-illiterates and the poorly educated people who cannot speak good English. English is therefore a measure of how well a person is educated in Ghana. Laughing at people who don’t speak it fluently is more so a look down upon the less educated, a practice in Ghana which has led to the failure to develop pidgin English as a common medium of communication just like in the other West African English-speaking countries.

I consider this as rather unfortunate but it does not mean Ghanaians have an absurd infatuation for English, whereas it can be said more correctly that most Akans have such an absurd infatuation for Twi. In Nigeria, Liberia and Sierra Leone in particular, even those who did not have formal education learn to speak pidgin English fluently when they move to the big towns and cities. Official business is thus conducted strictly in English and practically all the relevant population understand. In Ghana, it has become common practice that government Ministers, public officials, TV and radio presenters speak in Twi at public events with even expatriates in the audience without the benefit of interpreters! This is what is absurd. Is it Twi they are going to use to make Ghana into the Gateway into West Africa, as we often hear top government officials proclaiming?

The very poor level of English by even Ghanaian journalists does not put English in Ghana on a pedestal. A host of school leavers from some parts of the country, especially from the Akan areas, could hardly express themselves in English, leading to the Twinisation of Accra-Tema and the airwaves! I doubt if they can even read and write in Twi properly!

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I quite recollect an incidence during the Kufour regime period when Papa Ankomah paid his first official visit to the UK when he was appointed majority leader in Parliament. During an interview on one of the Ghanaian FM stations by one Space, he responded that he’d like to answer a question in Fante in order to bring out the gist of the matter, a request which unsettled me. There was so much hype about the man. The whole interview soon turned into Twi. I tuned to my favourite Jazz station, instead of listening further to their kind. It is simply arrogant, crude and insensitive for government officials and TV and radio presenters at national functions to speak in Twi without the benefit of interpretation to non-Twi speakers.

The crass, mediocre thinking that the uneducated can understand and run modern governance systems and institutions is behind allowing a stark illiterate like Akua Donkor to form a political party, with the delusion that she could be President of Ghana. Tweah! No wonder Ken Kuranchie came out of prison and blurted out that Ghanaians were not civilised! Modern governance is not for the unlettered and illiterates.

Former Prime Minister Bathiar imposed Malay as the national language in Malaysia in order to give an advantage to his less educated fellow Malays over the dominant Chinese and Indian migrants. One of the actions he took before his retirement was to re-instate English as a national language and medium of instruction. The Chinese and Indians made sure their children acquired proficiency in English through private tuition or education in America, the UK, India, etc. Instead of their dominance reducing, it rather increased in many respects. They were becoming the partners to the foreign investors. Malay graduates struggle to express themselves in English, just as some who came to invest in Ghana. Others have therefore travelled that unfruitful path before in this increasingly competitive world and found it unworthy of continuing on it. We shall therefore not sit down and allow some uninformed and uneducated people to lead us down a blind alley.

If researches done in other countries under different conditions show that children taught in their mother tongues perform better (I know all about this in Norway), does it mean that teaching Ewe, Ga, Gonja, Grunshie, Konkomba, etc. pupils in Twi will make them to perform better? And if the adoption of one language unites a people, why are the Congolese bumping each other off in millions; the Somalis indulging in brutal slaying of each other, and the Hutus and Tutsis of both Rwanda and Burundi committing genocide on each other since the 1950s? The minority Watutsis have even adopted the language of the majority Hutus.

I recollect the story of the only two surviving speakers of a language in Mexico which was about to go extinct not on speaking terms with each other. Language, per se, doesn’t unite or bring peace between people, or there won’t be so much intra-family quarrels. In fact, we may observe negative correlation.

Can that woman even read and write Twi so that she can read translated legislation in Twi? And some want interpreters to be employed for her, thus adding to the bloated cost of running Parliament. Look, it is a pure anomaly that she is in Parliament. It sends the wrong message to young people that one can drop out of school, as she did, and even become an MP in Ghana!

We in the FTOS Campaign for the adoption of the Production Sharing Agreement formula for Ghana’s upstream oil contracts have got Masters and PhD holders reading our articles and frankly confessing that they could NOT offer informed opinions because the field of oil contracts is not their areas of specialisation, and we have people defending this school drop-out as fit to be MP and calling for Twi to be imposed on Ghana in order to accommodate uneducated Akans in the governance system, as if the incompetence and mediocrity we have in the state institutions are not pervasive and damaging enough. Let them operate at the district level then, as I knew Akua Donkor was advised to continue doing but she was misled by some people interested in swindling her to go and form a party. As if that is not enough, some even robbed the poor, naive woman at gun point!

We have had enough of this nonsense about adopting Twi as the official, national language in Ghana. It is ill-informed. We need an African language policy as one Prof. Prah suggested decades back but the discussion of that is beyond this rejoinder.

Andy C. Y. Kwawukume

cyandyk@ymail.com

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