Between nations, language and progress
Look around the world and scan for the more successful nations. You’ll find one thing common to all of them; they have tenaciously and proudly held on to their respective local God given languages to conduct their lives, resorting to use of any foreign language only as optional extra for global conveniences.
Flip and you find the very opposite with the slower ones: they use other people’s languages to conduct existence: it’s more cogent aspects: their own God given languages locked down inside their lips used only for mundaneities or trivia.
More troubling they use any language but theirs as their exclusive and selective filter to winnow the field. Acceptability, credibility, employability, mobility visibility likeability, sophistication, and all such positional and accelerational indices on the totem pole are measured not only by proficiency in a language that was never theirs or even meant to be theirs, but also by the degree of acculturation into the very linguistic subculture that has all but murdered the inceptional tongue.
From the West, across Asia to China, Japan, Persia, Korea, Russia, Middle East and even parts of North Africa, it is hard to find a people who have replaced their local language with foreign; harder still one that uses the foreign as a filter to higher grounds. Yet the African and in many instances too, his West Indian fellow traveler remain trapped inside languages so foreign to their cradles it is tempting to imagine how such historical and contemporary mishaps have sharply retarded their respective mental capabilities and accomplishments when weighted on global scales. Can we even begin to imagine how many potential geniuses in these parts have been sacrificed at the altar of languages: unable to ascend higher grounds merely because they were unable to score high enough in English language or any other exotic ones that have come to be placed in their paths as non negotiable criteria for upward mobility or choice of careers.
Even if their intrinsic genius in things artistic or scientific might not have been any less ornate had mere flair for language not been used to prune the field.
The Chinese or Japanese or Russian or Iranian can each go ahead to become
Engineers, or doctors or scientists globally competitive within own corners without a word of exotic language needed in the process. Not so a Nigerian or Ghanaian or West Indian, each of whom must pass some foreign language exams at some point and at high enough levels to meet inclusion criteria for forward motion. Most times, the self imposed or self sustained filter is the language of former colonial masters
Even a former colony like the United states managed to jettison the language of her British masters, reinventing her own English language (accent, spellings, emphasis etc) to competitively reposition herself within the globe. When a man has to think in one language, but must then have to deliver/express those same thoughts in another, foreign to his cradle or organic realities, the mental processing and transactional agility needed for the transductive process is but a subtraction from the proficiency, efficiency accuracy and the overall kinetic advantage of communicative interactions, no matter how otherwise talented he may be. His equivalent on the other side of the equation who would not have to do such real time ‘thought to tongue’ transductions would cumulatively cover bigger grounds for every amount of transaction and at faster pace for every given amount of time.
Any surprise therefore that people who have remained yoked beneath the burden of
Imposed rather than own natural languages have covered less distance in actuarial terms: for the most part, unwittingly content competing with each other that the better copy cat is not the more ingenious crafter.
In many African countries, local languages along with their respective intrinsic timeless treasures have been lost or all but lost or left on the shelves uncourted. Even more troubling the foreign languages are often made compulsory in the academic curriculum whilst the local ones languish and atrophy inside high grass. How much more mindless or cruel can a people be to self and posterity.
How many times have I met brilliant African doctors in say the UK or elsewhere whose careers slowed not by any objective measure of professional adequacies, but merely linguistic grounds, or made to feel Inferior to less endowed colleagues because of linguistic differentials. Recently the UK Royal College of General Practice was dragged to court for what was perceived as intrusive biases in examination assessments of candidates less related to technical substance, more to acculturative aspects particularly use of English in post graduate fellowship examinations of overseas graduates in manners not stated within the requirement protocols .
It is high time African and Caribbean countries revisited the issue of language evaluating whether better or and faster progress will come through re inventing their linguistic selves or persisting along current path; that is whether it is too late or too cumbersome to reverse, reinvent and repackage one\’s linguistic heritage into today\’s speed simply remaining resigned into what historical fate dealt the different linguistic blocs. Or find the strength to reinvent the wheel no matter the rigors. My personal view is that African countries as things stand may find it too late in the day to jettison the language of former colonial masters, nor should they even attempt it but should not find it too late or beyond own resources to restore dignity and relevance to their own local languages, including making them compulsory up to certain levels in the academic curriculum. Where there are too many linguistic pluralities as with a few African countries because of ethnic or tribal multiplicities, the more representative should be selected for popularization even as nothing is done to choke the use of several others.
The more I get to know about some of these various indigenous languages, the more I discover the immense treasures with which some are imbued; treasures so golden, so utilitarian they can if properly groomed only come to add value to what exists. More recently, I have come to be aware for instance thanks to a cherished colleague, of the incandescent philosophical, scientific, spiritual and literary prowess of the Yoruba language, one of many such to be found in Nigeria.
I grew up a Yoruba man, conducted my thought processes in Yoruba, but a nation decided that though I could continue to think in Yoruba, I must express the thoughts where they matter in English : what a cruelty or travesty. All such thoughts as could not be vehiculed in English ( no matter their intrinsic worth) are likely to perish in such construct .And perishing within such constructs has been the precise fate both of ‘language’ and of ‘thought’ where nations have myopically or lazily settled for the tyranny of the foreign .
* Fadipe is of the Justin Fadipe Centre, West indies.
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