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Opinions of Saturday, 15 September 2018

Columnist: Kwaku Badu

Who says English Language is a Ghanaian tongue?

A few days ago, I read an opinion piece on ghanaweb.com, captioned: ‘Our English language: A national embarrassment’.

The crux of the author’s periodical is that Ghanaians handling of the Queen’s Language has been on a downward slide, and therefore there is an urgent need to restore our proficiency on English language to yesteryears.

Ironically, we (Ghanaians) tend to ascribe transcendent intelligence to persons who have excellent grasp of Englishman’s Language.

“To interact with a language means to do so with the culture which is its reference point.

“We could not understand a culture without having direct access to its language due to their interrelations.

“A particular language points to the culture of a particular social group.”

Thus, language is an expression of who we are as people, nations or communities. Language, therefore, conveys meanings and references beyond itself. That is, the meanings of a particular language denote the culture of a particular social group.

Some schools of thought maintain that learning a language, is not only learning the alphabet, the meaning, the grammar rules and the arrangement of words, but it is also learning the behaviour of the society and its culture and customs.

However, I beg to differ. In as much as I have a great deal of respect for people who have command of a foreign language, I do not think they are obliged to practice the culture, because culture is sacred to a particular group of people.

The historian Herodotus argued more than 2,000 years ago that culture and customs are sacrosanct and there are no universal ethics when it comes to culture and customs.

To buttress his point, Herodotus told the story about the Persian king Darius. The king, said Herodotus, summoned several Greeks and asked them how much money they would take in exchange for consuming the dead bodies of their fathers.

But extremely outraged, the Greeks proclaimed their refusal to perform such a gruesome act at any price, adding that cremation of the dead was a sacred obligation.

According to Herodotus, King Darius then called upon some Indians, who by custom, ate their deceased parents, and asked them if they would consider burning the bodies of their fathers.

The Indians felt insulted. And to ventilate their arousing disgust, the Indians retorted that such an act would be a heinous crime.

The moral lesson concluded by Herodotus, was simply that different group of people do regard their own culture and customs as sacrosanct and superior (Herodotus 1974; Ishay 2004).

Let us however be honest, the notion that having a command of the Queen’s Language is a cynosure of intelligence is sophistic. Having an excellent grasp of Englishman’s Language cannot be a benchmark of transcendent powers of the mind.

Obviously, having a command of English Language is an advantage to individuals, given its ecumenical recognition. Nevertheless, I take an exception to a school of thought who holds a view that having a mastery of the English Language is a sign of superior intelligence.

I am afraid, that is specious. For I have had the opportunity to give remedial instructions to a group of English indigenes who had learning disabilities (mentally incapacitated), and yet had unbelievable linguistic precision.

Paradoxically, however, in Ghana, individuals are held in high esteem for having superlative grasp of Englishman’s Language. How bizarre, how romantic, and how ironic to attribute superior powers of the mind to individuals with a mastery of Englishman’s Language?

So with such an innate predilection, we tend to believe that a trained communicator for instance, can solve all our problems by virtue of his/her communication skills.

No, having the precision of English Language is neither a leadership quality nor a sign of intelligence. In truth, it does not necessarily make one a great leader and thinker, but sad to admit, we, Ghanaians, are routinely lured by rhetoric devoid of substance.

We definitely need attitudinal and behavioural change. Of course, individuals have their absolute right to speak the language (s) of their choice. However, I find it extremely abhorrent when bona fide Africans slavishly decide to scoff at the natives who speak their mother’s tongue superlatively.