By: Yaya A Bojang (Bojis)
Many a time, people appear critical about the English language and the people who study it at school, largely with the notion that it’s a foreign language or just a language like any other. Yes, it’s true that it’s a language, and a foreign language for that matter. However, the English language has gone beyond ordinary, considering its status and functions in the academic setup, in which Gambia is part and parcel. Therefore, English cannot be snubbed neither be left out in our academic engagement and development as a nation. In addition, English is our official language and a medium for the facilitation of teaching and learning in schools thus, one needs to understand the nitty gritty and even have a sound knowledge of it.
This reflects on the opinion of Sulayman Gaye, Zala Wala on his Facebook page about his justification for one to comprehend English:
“What I always say is that whatever you are engaged in life, it has to be governed by the rules of game. If for example, you are playing smart, then you have to be clever. If you are immersed in religion, you should be guided by religious precepts. IF YOU ADOPT FOR EXAMPLE ENGLISH AS YOUR OFFICIAL LANGUAGE, THEN OFFICIALS WHO EXECUTE OFFICIAL FUNCTIONS MUST BE ABLE TO SPEAK GOOD ENGLISH. You cannot be playing one thing and wanting another thing to govern that game.
If the office of Cadi is a religious office, then that office must be guided by religious precepts. However, we expect those who interpret these dogmas or procedures to do so within the remit of what is sanctioned by whatever instrument they are playing with”. This exactly explains the analogy I’m trying to put across in this paragraph.
It’s not our fault to be entangled or engulfed in the language and it’s correctness, and at the same time, we cannot change anything from it, as it stands. This point is debatable, but may be in another article. However, the language has been systematically designed to entail and accommodate so many features that present it as the most dynamic and enticing language one can ever find. This is unmatched with our languages, and makes it so much incomparable to those.
Looking at the context of this discourse, our languages need to be further equipped to serve as mediums for our official correspondence, as we anticipate it daily, and that cannot happened if one does not clearly understand the English Language to be able to relate, compare and contrast the composition of the elements between our Native Languages. That being said, English can serve or be used as the medium to understanding our native languages because one needs to understand the pattern of its Phonetics and Phonology, morphological composition and the structural make up of the language in order to match and differentiate it with our Native Languages. Thus, English can be the steering wheel for the drive towards the study and customisation of our languages to ultimately become official and academic mediums of communication.
Even though there exist alphabetical and phonemic systems in our Native Languages, it’s difficult for us, the current generation, to identify the sounds attached to it for clear pronunciation. For that reason, our phonetic system is relatively in Arabic, French and mostly in English. For our part, the bases for studies in Native Language is the English Language, and this makes it so unavoidable in this process. The phonetics and phonology of the English Language and our Native Language does not match in some aspects; however you cannot study the phonology of the Native Language in isolation because it does not have its own phonological system to be able to make a clear representation of a symbol or a sound.
Moreover, all languages have their ways of composing words to represent a thing or another in speech which they derived meaning from it, but their formulation differ from one another depending on the type of language. For our Native Languages, for instance Jolas uses Total Redupliccation, Mandinka use Conversion, Wolof uses Reduplication. Notwithstanding, this may not be the most productive Word Formation Processes in the Native Languages mentioned above, but it’s part of their word formation process. You may ask where I got the terms because you cannot get this in our local language for the simple reason that it’s not documented and not institutionalised thus not customised in our Education System until now with this pilot project in the lower academic level.
Simply, I’m saying the bases of learning our Native Language language and to brigthen it, is by understanding the English Language.
We hardly define the structural arrangement of our sentences in our various languages despite the competence we have, but the performance is really not reflecting in our speech. English has that structure which might be different in some instances with the sentence structures of our Native Languages, but can be use to define and apparently relate them for our understanding.
I am not saying our Native Languages are not rich enough to be official functions, I am saying as an educated generation, we need to understand ENGLISH LANGUAGE clearly to be able to enriched our Native Languages in order to serve the purposes of what we want them to be. Language specialists are one of the resourceful persons to be able to make research about our Native Languages and help people understand the genesis and transformation of the various languages; their similarities and differences among them and in respect to English; and their Structural, Phonological and Morphological processes and composition so that our Native Languages can be resourceful in our daily official functions.
The state needs to invest in Language Specialists to see our Native Languages well preserved and useful.
For the Current Generation, English is the Background to Understand our Native Languages. Therefore it’s a sine qua non for the decodification of our Native Languages.