Our English language: A national embarrassment

Thu, 13 Sep 2018 Source: Doreen Hammond

Ghanaians have always been praised in West Africa and beyond for our command of the English Language.

This has been helped by the fact that we are surrounded by francophone neighbours who have limitations in their handling of the English language, so we are like the one-eyed giant in the midst of the blind.

Our colonial history left us with English as our sole official language. There have been talks about getting a second one such as French or a local one, but these have remained at the talk level.

Back in the day, our handling of the queen’s language, especially the spoken version, was a delight to listen to. Our newspapers became reference material for students of the language and listening to the news on television/radio was one sure way of improving one’s pronunciation. We took pride in English as one of our colonial heritage.

In recent times, however, listening to some journalists, lawyers, pastors, politicians, businessmen, and so on only buttresses the fact that our handling of the language is on a downward slide.

Language adds to the personality of a person. Growing up, I met a generation that did not have too much education. Most of them did not go beyond the middle school and yet their command of both the spoken and written English was near impeccable.

Listen to the likes of Nana Kwame Ampadu and Amakye Dede granting an interview and you will appreciate where I am coming from.

The worrying part is that we have people of all manner of professions being guilty of this shortcoming. I mean if a ‘trotro’ driver or a pepper seller at Agbogbloshie is not able to string their tenses together, we may forgive them but not a lawyer, journalist, doctor or a reverend minister. But what do we see these days? What is even most disheartening is that some of our teachers who are supposed to impart knowledge to children seem to be the worst offenders.

It is difficult to tell what went wrong, but things are not the same. This sad state of affairs has been attributed to the lack of a reading culture and the use of pidgin English. But I do know of people who speak and write good English and do same with pidgin. Should the fact that one speaks good English, for example, necessarily result in speaking bad French? Whatever the case may be, there is an outbreak characterised by a total disregard for tenses, grammar and syntax. It is even worse listening to bad English laced with some kind of accent whose origins are difficult to fathom!

Characteristic of us as Ghanaians, we have been making jokes of some of these on social media; perhaps in keeping with our saying that we must laugh to stop us from crying. Otherwise, this is clearly a crying matter. After the laughter, I think we need to revisit the situation and find answers to it. It obviously deserves some radical action by our leaders. Whichever way one looks at it, this situation must not be allowed to continue.

There is the need for some well-thought-through measures to restore our English language to the days of our fathers; not to change the words that have become acceptable as English through dynamism, but to make sure that we speak and write good English.

We may poke fun at it but the situation now has the tendency to affect our corporate image as Ghanaians, if it has not already. More emphasis should be placed on the spoken English for while one may escape with bad written English, the same cannot be said with the spoken word. Indeed, the moment you open your mouth, people form their very first impression of you. How we want people to see us as individuals and collective Ghana depends on us.

Columnist: Doreen Hammond