What language do you speak?
Posted Sunday, March 3 2013 at 02:00
The International Mother Language Day passed quietly in February 21, but got me thinking about whether the preference of foreign languages has left us unsteady like a house on sand. Somebody first remind me if the language policy that would have native languages as the medium of instruction in lower primary schools was implemented.
Otherwise creative individuals would be earning big from the development of writing and reading materials in these local languages.
The use of local languages would also be a wonderful step in defining our multiple identities from our multiple ethnic groups. But it is only when we have a major language like Swahili spoken all around like is done in Kenya and Tanzania that a national identity would be possible.
The power of the mother tongue to infiltrate the thinking of the local people was demonstrated when Ngugi wa Thiongo dumped English and started writing in Gikuyu in 1985. The famous play he co-authored with Ngugi wa Mirii titled Ngaahika Ndeeba (I Will Marry when I Want) was first written in his language before it was translated. It was well-received by the local audience and the panicky political establishment jailed the author before he fled into exile.
Thus Ngugi has convincing reasons as to why we should grow “our own roots in African languages and cultures.” English has particularly subjugated our long-cherished mother-tongues that nowadays you must speak it with an accent to become employable! Ask our radio presenters! No wonder Gerald Moore branded English “the chosen language.”
So has English sunk in our psyche that Prof Timothy Wangusa once admitted that he dreams in very old English: “art thou”, “thine” and such! Not that anything is wrong with having a grasp of foreign languages particularly in today’s competitive global village, but these languages should not be used to obliterate our mother tongues which have a deep connection with the social and cultural norms we identify with.
Remember, the formation of the OAU-Inter African Bureau of Languages was inspired by the fact that much of Africa, though politically independent, still suffered from a linguistic problem whose epicenter lay in the continued overdependence on ex-colonial languages at the expense of the languages of majority populations in the conduct of public affairs.
So I say as part of being proud of who we are, let us espouse all that is noble, true, right, pure, lovely, admirable and excellent about our indigenous languages, for there the African heritage dwells.