Africa’s colonisation of the English language
Posted: 10 February 2020 07:51 AM   [ Ignore ]
Total Posts:  1484
Joined  2007-04-28

There is one expression I have grown up hearing from relatives of a certain age, but never been able to accept. It’s the description of Twi – the Akan language spoken by my family – as “the vernacular”, a term which implicitly compares it with the colonial language, English, and somehow finds it wanting. The word itself is a revealing symptom of the colonial project. Just as nations like the Yoruba, with a population of more than 40 million, were patronisingly described as “tribes”, when in fact they were substantial nations, African languages were downgraded to “the vernacular”. It’s a term more befitting of a regional dialect than a nation’s language, with its own history, politics and literature.

The attempt to discourage Africans from speaking our own languages not only failed, but has had the glorious result of backfiring, to the extent that now Britain’s own inhabitants are officially adopting African vocab. This month the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) added Nigeria’s first entries to already recognised gems like “howzit” from South Africa. Other Africans will recognise lots of the latest lingo to get the OED stamp – “chop”, to eat or to misappropriate funds; “next tomorrow”, the day after tomorrow; “sef”, a great Pidgin flourish for emphasis.


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