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Opinions of Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Columnist: Nyamekye, Kwabena

The beast that stalks the Ghana mother tongue issue!

Kwabena Nyamekye

Akan; it is like a hydra-headed monster sweeping all before it in Ghana as it commits linguicide. Along comes a government committed to a policy that will surely reverse this trend and it is attacked by those whom the beast threatens.

There is no planned agenda in the spread of Akan. The hegemony of the Akan language is the consequence of size of the Akan group, where they are located (middle of Ghana) and their economic prosperity. In the past the Akans were largely shut out of the bureaucracy as their daughters finished school at the old Standard 7 level and their sons were rarely seen in Legon. Times have changed. Their daughters and sons have degrees from Legon and Edinburgh. Thus apart from being commercially prosperous, still cutting timber and now with their banks and radio stations, they are educated and they are transporting their language in the wake of their advancement. Right now they are in Accra and here, sadly, the Ga language is overwhelmed.

Other parts of Ghana are feeling the Akan pressure a little – the border of BA and the Northern region is a case in point as Akan speakers straddle this part of our country. Soon they will move further northwards. This will be in little bits but give it 30 years and the plight of the Ga will confront Dagbon and other parts of that region as the Akans put down deeper roots in Tamale and other places. The Volta region is not exempt from this potential threat. Their language is not a commercially viable one when compared to Akan and is thus not in widespread use across Ghana. However, right now, there are not that many Akan settlers in the Ewe part of Volta and thus there is no pressure on the local language. No condition is permanent however and with the expansion of the road network Volta should be alerted to the potential danger. Go to Akosombo today and they are gradually becoming Akan speakers at the expense of local languages. Volta is not far off.

When Prof Opoku-Agyeman thus speaks of us using language in early education it should be seen as a boon for the purpose of diversity in our unified entity and preserving cultural distinctiveness. What is sad is that some educated people in Accra are dismissive of this using the tired, not funny question of how do you say solid state physics in Nzema? This is to suggest that no Ghanaian language has the ability to cope with modern day technological jargon. If anyone has bothered to follow closely the planned policy, it is supposed to target our children between classes 1-3. At this stage no one studies or organic chemistry or principles of geodetic engineering. What they do study is basic alphabet, Ananse stories, basic arithmetic etc. Education at this level can be done easily in local language and thus it is sad to see the debate being skewed away from what is really at stake.

No one will stop the Akan beast. What can be done is the creation of a state-sponsored countervailing force in the form of support for local languages by insisting they are used in the early stages of education in all schools, not just state schools. This will play a role in educational development and will prevent the rising resentment against Akan which is now the number one language in Ghana.

Finally there is nothing more uncomfortable than working in an environment where others speak languages you do not understand. English is the official language on paper yet of the 25 million Ghanaians an infinitesimally small part of those in the middle class parts Accra have children whom at this stage speak only English. Now if your child was born abroad they can easily return “home” after secondary school and thus learning Ga or Fanti is not an issue for them. I doubt if 10,000 children in Accra out of the million o so residing there fall into this category. In all other cities, our children are bilingual, whether middle class or not.

If however you hold local language in contempt then I weep for your son or daughter who joins Agric Development Bank or some other organization where virtually all persons have 2 languages – English and another; the staff will strategize in the local language, crack jokes in the local language, flirt, think aloud, issue instructions etc and your son or daughter will frown, thinking they are talking about them, shut out of the social interaction that reinforces the workplace and developing a deep complex in the office. Advancement will be slow compared to those who speak 2 languages the work place will be a place of tension and uncertainty for him.

Forty years ago all students and staff on Legon campus spoke Ga and English. Go back there today and you will appreciate the Minister’s point. Tech campus and other universities further inland you hear English only in the lecture halls.

Support the idea of basic instruction in Fanti, Aoowin, Nzema, Dagarti, Twi, Ewe, Ga etc. Our children are stronger and better people for this; or sit back and be hammered by that beast – Akan.