Prof. Felix Kofi Ameka of the Leiden University Centre for Linguistics, the Netherlands has called for a concerted effort to make all languages spoken in Ghana matter in our social lives.
“Let us all pledge individually and collectively to contributing to making all languages used in Ghana matter in our social lives”.
Talking on Linguistic Diversity in Ghana Prof. Ameka said ‘Ghanaian English’ is Ghanaian due to the fact that native English speakers have difficulty in understanding us if we speak English to them. Citing an example, he said if a Ghanaian told an Englishman or woman “this afternoon my eyes are red for the languages, if I say this to a British, he or she is not going to understand me”. “So ‘Ghanaian English’ has become so Ghanaian, so let us not throw the baby with the bathwater”. He asked that we found out what we could do with English considering the linguistic ecology of this country.
The Eminent Professor of Descriptive and Documentary Linguistics was delivering a public lecture to mark this year’s International Mother Language Day organised by the Department of Ghanaian Languages. and Linguistics. The theme for the day was “Languages without borders”.
Prof. Felix Ameka is a socio-cultural cognitive linguistics scholar primarily interested in language use in social interaction. He is also concerned with questions on how cultural factors and cognitive processes as well as contact shape meanings and structures in languages and how these meanings are negotiated in everyday communication. His research interests are the quest for the meanings of linguistic signs and exploring their use in social interaction and how and why languages vary and change over time.
Neglect of Some Languages
Prof. Ameka who has a specialisation in West African languages, mainly Kwa languages said some languages from the West African sub-region had become part of the Ghanaian linguistic ecology, however, they were ignored in most of the policies. A good example according to him was Hausa, one of the most spoken West African language, "that is used on GTV, but it is not one of the languages that are approved for education, describing it as an “anomaly”. This is because Hausa is a big language spoken by at least 25 million people in the sub-region. He said, “it is a cross-border language and if we are to promote understanding of each other if we are to push for everybody to speak Hausa in Ghana it would be very good”.
“At least we are happy to say let us take Chinese because they could pay for their Chinese or to say let us bring in French in primary schools because we are happy to say we have the resources from France, still we claim Ghana beyond aid”.“We cannot run away from means of communication that develop as we interact, it’s about language use”.
Promoting Ghanaian Languages in Schools
Prof. Ameka said it was imperative to introduce Ghanaian languages in schools, irrespective of the argument or excuse about lack of resources, however, people talk about French. He added that “language policy is not about government but the family”. The linguistics expert lamented that since the 1950s, there has been a fluctuating language policy in the country saying we have made language a “scapegoat” and called for the promotion of local languages especially cross border ones to help integrate us as a people.
He said some languages in Ghana faced imminent extinction if efforts were not made to maintain them. He said the problems with our language policies is that as a people we think monolingually and not multilingually. “If we do not speak our languages, what it means is that, when the old people go, the languages disappear, they fade away”.
Prof. Ameka cited the case of 2003 research findings of the Mpra language where only two elderly persons could speak it, again, six persons of over 80 years at Dompofie fie could speak the original language there out of a total of 650. Another example he mentioned was that of Animere language in the Oti Region where only 18 persons also of 80 years or more could speak the language. He explained that the people here have contact with Ewe or Twi speaking people and for that matter, the language has been lost. He said, “if children are not speaking it now it a sure way for the graveyard”.
Maintaining Local Languages
To maintain our local languages, Prof. Ameka advised that children should be socialised at home, school and in all aspects of our social lives including governance. Prof. Ameka proposed that people seeking jobs, for example, should be asked whether they spoke one or two Ghanaian languages apart from English before they were given employment. “Would it not be a good idea to ask people seeking jobs about their ability to speak not only English but more one or two, and tell them that before you get the job, you must speak another Ghanaian language”, he said.
Continuing, he said, there was the need to also create value for our languages by making them important and recognized. This, he said could not be done if it did not allow or want people to speak Ghanaian languages in their home but English. He conceded that it was fine to speak English but stressed that people should also speak Ghanaian languages in their daily activities and schools.
Explaining further, Prof. Ameka said the reason why people want to learn and communicate in English was that it gave them access to socio-economic life.
The Chairman for the function, Prof. Domwini Dabire Kuupole, called for the promotion of local languages in communities since some universities in Europe have introduced African languages and had recruited people from the continent to teach those courses. “When the languages become extinct, it connotes the death of the people and their culture,” he stated.
Celebration of International Mother Language Day
In his welcome address, the Head of Department of Ghanaian Languages and Linguistics, Dr. Emmanuel Amo Ofori, explained that the International Mother Language Day was a worldwide annual celebration, which was observed on 21st February, with the aim of promoting awareness of linguistics and cultural diversity and promoting multilingualism. He said the day was first announced by the United Nations Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) on November 17, 1999, and was formally recognised by the United Nations General Assembly in a resolution establishing 2008 as the International Mother Language Day.
Dr. Ofori recounted that the Department started observing International Mother Language Day four years ago and a number of speakers both within and outside UCC had been invited to speak on these occasions. Dr. Ofori noted that while the University community joined the international community to commemorate the auspicious day, as a department, they were particularly passionate about this year’s theme because “it reflects one of our core values as a department, that is Diversity”. He added that “When we remove “all borders”, we can celebrate/ appreciate our unity in diversity”.