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Opinions of Thursday, 25 February 2010

Columnist: Kuyini, Ahmed Bawa

Concern About The Survival Of Ghanaian Languages ...


Citizenship Is More Than Being An Advocate Of A Dagomba Or Akan Cause My recent article “Let us save the Ga language” drew both praise and criticism from readers on the Ghana and I must say that some of the counter ideas were interesting. Yet others contained nothing but some twisted portrayal of my intentions for writing that piece.

While some people thought I was exaggerating the issue, others accused me of inferiority complex because- in their view- I appreciate Ga more than my own language. Well, they are entitled to their opinions. However, the most unfounded accusation was one which suggested that I was anti-Akan or envied Akans, by someone who seems not understand what I stand for. In any case this suggestion is baseless. What would be the basis of my envy of Akans, when I have learnt and can speak Akan reasonably well and have many Akan friends?.

The writer who accused me of being Anti-Akan in his article of 23/2/2010 (The Survival of Languages is Economically Determined, My Dear Arch- Nemesis!) does not understand the principles by which I visualise issues besetting our nation. I do not write articles based solely on narrow interests but on a strong belief in the principles of social justice and the value of our diversity. Being a citizen of Ghana is more than being ONLY an advocate of a tribal (Frafra, Dagomba, or Akwapim) cause. It is about living up to the responsibilities of a good citizen. I have written many times on this forum of the need to see ourselves as Ghanaians first and second as tribes/ethnicities. Some have said that such an orientation is nonsense. Although it is debatable, the thrust of my suggestion is about carving out a philosophical position on identity that would serve the interests of all Ghanaians, without diminishing or diluting our diversity. Will there be intra-individual conflicts if one tries to adopt this proposed citizenship orientation? Yes there will be! However, that will be nothing new because we are Akans, Gonjas , Ewes, etc and also Christians, Muslims, African traditional believers etc. Thus we are able to recognize and harmonise our identities in different contexts or domains of life, and considering ourselves as Ghanaians first, and tribes second may be nothing too difficult to do.

I will be glad for readers to know that I stand unreservedly for social justice and diversity, which crystalise into an admiration of cultural relativity. Therefore, many of my articles, which usually address broader national or particular regional issues such as northern Ghana, are underpinned by these beliefs rather than hatred for other communities. This I must continue to pursue /foster as a responsible citizen because the business of government and public policy are conscious purposive activities. And as John Rawls (the great American champion of the theory of justice) noted, whenever there is a conscious human activity, then the issue of justice comes to the fore. In my attempt to bring issues of social justice to the fore, it is likely that sections of our country that are not negatively impacted upon by the issues under focus may take a defensive stand. And rightly so because it will be against the very elementary principles of human rationality for individuals or groups to not voice opposition to changes in conditions that favour them. However, if those in positions of advantage and power are inclined towards social justice, they are more likely to admit that something needs to be done to those victimised by the existing situation. In the case of the saving the Ga Language or any other language, this is what one would expect of a responsible citizen of Ghana. Two of the fundamental realities of notion of citizenship are that it (citizenship) confers both rights and responsibilities. As a citizen of Ghana I have the right to make observations and also have responsibility to my fellow countrymen to point out issues that I feel need attention. I have written about important national issues. For example take a look at my article about saving the Weija Dam from pollution and improving town planning in Accra. In light of this, my concern about the Ga language has nothing to do with envy of Akans. It is about the drawing attention to prevailing structures and processes around the national capital that inadvertently would lead to erosion of the cultural heritage a whole community and by extension our entire nation in some form. Although I agree with the argument that language is a choice, I do not agree that the survival of language is determined solely by economics as given prominence by the article of 23/2/2010. I don’t also agree with the writer’s imposition or projection of his personal tendency to give up his identity for economics onto other peoples /populations. It is sad that he thinks everyone is like him; a man who erroneously and without pride thinks that mimicking Englishness is the greatest thing that could ever happen to a Ghanaian. Sorry...... very few people ever feel psychologically at peace when they give up part of their identity for economics. I will never do that. I speak 5-6 languages (3 local and 3 foreign) but I have never sold my identity. We are not all the same and many Ghanaians are not like you.

Returning the writer’s analysis about language extinction, it is important to note that in most cases of language extinction, it is the pressure of the more dominant language that ultimately leads to minority groups abandoning the use of their languages.

The pressures are usually of POWER which the writer mentioned (perhaps by chance) in recalling the great empires of Europe, Asia, and Arabia, but quickly subordinated to the economics thesis. In fact the key factor determining the capacity of another language to dominate others is POWER in its different manifestations. My argument against the solely economic thesis that the writer harps on is that economic power is only derived from political and cultural power; and this was clear in the case of those great empires of old. Those empires were able to expand the dominance of their languages by use of political power to create other forms of power such as coercion, and social sanctioning to compel others.

This is not the case in Ghana because the situation of the Ga language or any other smaller language is not the result of power of coercion or social sanctioning. And there is no manifest systematic attempt made by Government (past or present) or the Akans to force Gas or others to speak Akan. NOTE: I am aware of this and did not in any way suggest that Akans are culpable (by volition) in the diminishing presence of Ga in the daily discourse of free interacting Ghanaians in Accra and its surburbs.

What I was saying was that the overwhelming presence of a majority language group will inevitably exert power by persuasion, habituation or inducement on smaller groups. In the exercise of these types of power by a dominant language, minority groups will use the dominant language because it is more convenient to use it (persuasive power of the dominant language); they get so used to using the dominant language to the extent that automatically use it without giving it a second thought (power of habituation); and finally they get rewarded and applauded for their use of the dominant language by members of the majority group (inducement). I can link this power analysis to economics which was the only factor the writer could identify.

Only those who belong to the minority groups and who have lived as minorities in a majority culture can recognize this type of power and the pressure it exerts on the language one speaks. For example a reasonable percentage of Ghanaians living in Europe and America today find it hard to get their children to speak their mother tongues properly because the children find it convincement to speak English (persuasion); the children become used to using English in & out of school (habituation) and they are able to achieve academically and socially at the same level as all other children (inducement). This is the same experience for many people who have lived in any part of Ghana, where their languages are in the minority.

By extension, the projected diminishing use of Ga will not necessarily spring from the reluctance or negligence of Ga parents to teach and use it (that will never happen) but it will be precipitated by the power of the dominant language as analysed above. And if today efforts are made (worldwide) to save endangered animal species and small languages, what is so different about raising concerns about other small languages in Ghana?

It is my opinion that our role as responsible citizens is to help any language- the main artery of the culture of a people- to remain functional. That was all I tried to do. No attempt was made to blame any group(s) of their CALCULATED attempt to marginalize another group and there was no envy held against Akans. Envy does not solve anything and my mere envy alone- even it existed- cannot change the fact that Akan was there before I was and will continue to be long after I am gone.

Once again, it is important for me to restate for readers on the Ghanaweb that I do not write articles for reasons of narrow self interests – as someone is prone to doing- but rather for the sake of addressing what I perceive as important to all Ghanaians. Citizenship is more than being an advocate of an ethnic cause. God Bless Ghana. Dr. Ahmed Bawa Kuyini (For CEVS-Ghana, Tamale)