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.
“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.”
Corollary, 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.
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 regard their own culture and customs as sacrosanct and superior (Herodotus 1974; Ishay 2004).
Ironically, however, we (Ghanaians) tend to ascribe transcendent intelligence to persons who have the grasp of Englishman’s language.
I am afraid, such a notion is sophistic. Having a command of English language cannot be a cynosure of transcendent powers of the mind.
Of course, 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 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.
With all due respect, and, no offence intended on this occasion, although someone like Madam Akua Donkor of Ghana Freedom Party does not have a classroom education, she harbours no vestiges of slavery as evidenced in her previous pronouncements.
I must confess I could not believe my ears when I once heard Madam Akua Donkor on the radio disclosing her inborn proclivity for ‘Pan Africanism’.
Unlike the unliberated intellectuals who more often than not, take solace in the foreign culture, Madam Akua Donkor is rather antipathetic to the Western way of life, judging from her solemn narratives.
According to Madam Akua Donkor, she was christened as ‘Victoria Donkor by her biological parents, but after growing up and developing superior powers of the mind, she did not find the wisdom or the need in keeping ‘Whiteman’s’ name, hence changing her birth name to Akua Donkor.
Madam Akua Donkor boldly and passionately asseverated: “tell me why I should take a ‘Whiteman’s’ name?” “Don’t I have my own culture?” “Would a ‘Whiteman’ ever name his child after me (Akua Donkor)?”
I was indeed dumbfounded to hear someone who had had no classroom education, yet so much liberated in the mind. Indeed, Madam Akua Donkor holds no slavish mentality.
Well, juxtaposing Madam Akua Donkor’s emancipated mind or her refined disposition with a self-acclaimed intellectual’s thought process brings nothing but melancholy, so to speak
Yes, we have self-acclaimed intellectuals who find it inappropriate to be called by their aboriginal names, but would rather take comfort in adopted ‘Western’ names. How bizarre?
It reminds me of a friend of mine who once questioned me about my reasons for refusing to give ‘English’ names to my boys.
According to my friend, the ‘English’ people will find it difficult to pronounce the names of my children, and therefore it was needless for me to give British born children the native Ghanaian names.
I was deeply baffled upon listening to my friend’s thought process. However, I contained my emotional intelligence, and showed deference to my classroom educated friend, who is yet to liberate his mind to reach Madam Akua Donkor’s level.
All the same, my innocuous question to my friend was: “did our colonial Masters name their children after our great forefathers?
I proceeded: “Have you ever seen any Englishman who has named his child after our rich African names such as ‘Badu, Sarfo, Sakyi, Danso, Owusu, Mensah, Tetteh, Nkrumah, Busia, Danquah, Acheampong, Afrifa, Amu, Ayikwei, Quartey, Azumah, Gbedema, Atinga, Atuguba, Dramani, Kufuor, Addo, Akoto etc.???????????????????” I enquired.
Unsurprisingly, however, my friend answered no and then added that he has realised why I have given African names to my three boys.
Let us be serious for once; culture is unique and sacrosanct to a particular group of people, and hence cannot and must not be trampled upon anyhow.