By Musa Bah
In my native Pulaar Language, we have a saying ‘riiwi heɓaani arti tawtaani (the chased after escapes; the left behind not found). This is what seems to be happening to us. We have naively pursued the English Language inadvertently leaving our languages behind.
Now, we have reached a stage whereat when some people speak or write English, it seems they have never sat in a classroom to study it.
But no need to cry over spilt milk; for, English is just a language like any other. One does not have to speak perfect English to be intelligent and/or competent. The ability to be competent and capable is innate in us all; one simply needs to harness it and be successful in one’s career.
What is worth crying over is the rapid loss of our languages which is so ubiquitous in our society. This is not only in one of the indigenous languages but in all of them. Most of the young ones now cannot speak their languages well. For example one hears a Mandinka youth (born and bred) say ‘kata jana’ instead of ‘ñori’. Anyone who is conversant with that language knows that these two words mean different things and have different usages.
Just this morning, I heard a renowned person who happens to be a Mandinka say, while talking of a long video ‘mbuka feng juubee noo meng jaŋayaata’. I asked myself a question: am I missing something; or, is my Mandinka so sketchy? I asked around and was told that, like I thought, that usage was wrong. What is happening to us, I ruminated.
And no, it’s not Mandinka only. I have heard Wolof young men and women say ‘dama saf nelew’ Whaaaaat! Is the emotion I feel when that happens. Or, you hear someone refer to country as ‘deka bi’. This is common and many cannot articulate themselves in their indigenous dialects. This is a sad situation which needs to be arrested soonest.
In my native Pulaar, you hear someone say ‘ndungu o,’ saare o’ and so on. These are wrong usages; for, in the Pulaar language there are determiners for everything. These follow certain grammatical rules which have all but been lost to many a young person of this generation. Our languages have rich vocabularies and they have rules which make them beautiful Would that we appreciate these!
In Wolof for instance, there is a special word to describe the time someone travels. If for example someone travels by dawn, they say ‘dafa njelu’, by midday they say ‘dafa njollooru’, by morning ‘dafa xey’, by evening ‘dafa gontu’, by night ‘dafa rañaan’. So, if I say to someone that ‘Buba dafa njellu Brikama’ s/he won’t ask me what time did he go.
One wonders why we can’t value our own and study these languages and teach our children so that we maintain our identity and culture. These (identity and culture) are intrinsically connected to language. If (may it not be when) we lose our language, we also lose our culture and identity. So, when you are at home; please speak your language to your children lest they forget.
The other aspect of this, which is even more important, is for the school system to pick up the teaching and learning of the indigenous languages. Why can’t we teach math and science in our languages? Why can’t we teach history and geography in our languages? Is English better than our languages? One of the reasons some our young people fail to grasp most of the concepts taught in school is the language of instruction. A lot of the ideas and concepts are lost in translation. Let us do away with the need for that translation.
For instance, I cannot see the reason why our National Assembly Members don’t speak in our indigenous languages when they debate and/or deliberate on issues in the House knowing that the majority of the people who elected them do not understand English.
The speeches delivered by President Adama Barrow in the local dialects were far more appreciated than the ones he delivered in English. After all, who are we kidding ‘lu banta yagga-yagga ci ndox duko taxa doon jen’ (no matter how long a log is in water, it won’t become a fish). Let us value our own and use our languages lest we lose them because if we do, we also lose our culture and identity!