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Opinion: How to Fight Covid -19 with Indigenous Language [Pt 1]

“And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language?” Acts. 2:8
Permit me to share with you a parable. A certain man entered into a certain country as a stranger. He did not know the language of the people. There was so much for him to learn about people. One day, he went out on a familiarization tour. He first met a group of women selling farm produce. He asked them in English, “who is the national leader of this place?” They responded “Agaza”. Next, he met a group dancing at a Wedding Ceremony and asked, “who is celebrating the wedding.” They responded “Agaza”. What a happy King he thought.

Moving ahead further, he met some men working in a plantation and some boys driving a big herd of cattle and asked them who owns this wealth, they responded as usual “Agaza”. He most envied the “Agaza”.

Finally, the next day he saw a group of people weeping and wailing uncontrollably at a funeral. After enquiring about who was dead, and got the reply “Agaza”, he could not control himself, he also wept. This man came to learn that “Agaza” was the peoples’ way of saying “I don’t understand you.”

The Pentecost event reminds us that we need to understand one another. In fact, there was a message understood by all in different languages on Pentecost Day. In effect, there was a common purpose; common purpose in diverse tongues or indigenous languages. This is how we should live in marriages, families, villages, towns, regions, and nations- a language we all understand.

One cannot pretend to be living alone on the surface of the earth. Human beings depend on one another. No man, they say, is an island. Everybody who has flesh and blood is gregarious and interrelates with others. From married couples to the family, to the clan, to the tribe, to the village, to the town, to the region, to the nation, and the world, one thing that brings all of us together is a language.

Couples understand each other through a language. Parents and children share meaning through a language. Members of a clan share their common heritage through the use of a language. Town members send information across to one another through a language. The nation is united through a language. Obviously, the world becomes one through the use of one language or the other.

The language of my parents is Dagaare and because I grew up among the Ga people at Teshie, I was nurtured with two languages i.e. Dagaare and Ga. These become my first languages and or indigenous languages acquired. In fact, the languages we spoke in my family were Dagaare and Ga. Our parents spoke both Dagaare and Ga to us the children though the Dagaare was more.

Yet among us the siblings, we spoke Ga more. Supposing, I grew up in Lyssah, my home village in the Upper West Region, I will probably be using only the Dagaare language. Later on, we acquired the Akan language. I personally acquired the Akan language in a different community by the name ‘Nnipa hia mmoa’ a suburb of Accra, far away from Teshie. Apart from Akan, I also acquired a few words and phrases from other languages, like Ewe.

Truth be told, to express yourself in one or the other language is something every human being should seek to do to foster social cohesion.

Now, from home one goes to school and begins to learn a second language. It is essential to note that the first language one speaks from home, in my case the Dagaare and Ga, are acquired languages. When one starts formal education then he/she begins to learn a second language or a foreign language. In Ghana, English is our Lingua Franca and everybody is supposed to communicate formally in it.

Therefore, everyone in Ghana is to learn English. In fact, the English language is the language of our colonial masters and it is an international language that binds us globally.

Today, there are other foreign languages that bind us Ghanaians to the rest of the world- French, Spanish, Deutsch, Chinese, and so on. Learning these languages too are very important so that we can communicate with the rest of the world. It is good for us to use both indigenous languages and the second language or global languages so that we are not left out in anything.

The COVID-19 pandemic though a plague has some good sides to it. The pandemic indeed has deepened the awareness for peoples to think locally and use indigenous language. It has caused towns to use their native languages to communicate.

Truly, nations are thinking locally- making facemask locally, making hand sanitizers locally, and consuming local stuff because borders have been closed. Though we cannot do without the rest of the world, it is important to practice self-reliance. It is in light of this that peoples and nations including Ghana should develop their indigenous languages.

In the midst of all this COVID-19 pandemic and its consequences, my interest with this write-up is to look at how we are using and developing our first languages or indigenous languages here in Africa and in Ghana Our Motherland, in particular. It has become clear that to overcome this invisible enemy, the COVID-19 pandemic, the indigenous languages should be used more at the family and village level or better still for the masses.

In Ghana, the President of the republic after his national address recently in English about COVID-19 spoke few words in Akan and Ga. This is commendable. The President would have wished to speak all the indigenous languages we have in the country yet this is not possible.

I know the Information and Communication Ministries are trying their possible best to disseminate information to the masses in the indigenous languages. It is also worth noting that the Ghana Health Service is also doing well by using about 13 of our indigenous languages to educate the masses. Some Religious groups are also doing well in making information available to the indigenes through their native languages.

However, there is more to be done in the use of the indigenous language here in Ghana. The Linguists in Ghanaian languages have a role to play too. I am of the view that African heads or Ghana promote regional languages so that in every region there is an indigenous language spoken.

This may come with its own challenges especially with the politics and prestige involved coupled with the fact that some people see their languages more important than others. I am not interested in superior languages but I am looking at a situation wherein Ghana or African countries with many more languages are formalized. Well, it looks easy but not. …to be continued


Source: Fr. Alphonse Bulloro

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