Monday, March 20, 2017

Re: USA Africa Dialogue Series - “An advice, ” “a good news”: Errors of Pluralization in Nigerian English

lgnorance breeds arrogance. A tale told by any idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. Komolafe is right, "May God save us from ourselves". We should give the last word to Oga Farooq, and done. That way there shall be linguistic peace in the land, and Boko Haram will vanish. Shikena. Ire o.

On Monday, 20 March 2017, 1:03, Samuel Zalanga <> wrote:

In one guest lecture I gave for a cross-cultural psychology class, I came across a research where Japanese women who were fluent in both English and Japanese and married to U.S. servicemen in Japan. The women were interviewed the same set of questions in English and Japanese. The amazing result was that when they responded in Japanese their responses were more "traditional" and collectivistic. But when they answered the questions in English they were very individualistic in their reasoning. My problem with language is how it significantly shapes a person's person of reality and imagination, a point that proponents of linguistic relativity hypothesis asserted long ago.

Long ago also while I was teaching in the School of Agriculture of Bauchi State Polytechnic in Nigeria, I encountered a situation that I continued to reflect on. It was only later that I would make sense of it. I was proctoring an exam and one student I noticed translated the exam questions into Hausa, in order to understand the questions very well and think deeply and freely. He answered the questions in Hausa before writing it in English. I thought that was quite a lot of work. People think more deeply and freely in a language that they are comfortable with,which can influence one's perception even if subconsciously.

I remember also as an undergraduate reading a debate that emerged during the Algerian Revolution where Fanon played a very important role. During the revolution, there was a debate on whether they should use the French language for propaganda in defense of the revolution.  French as the colonizer's language. Some disagreed, but Fanon argument was that the problem was not the language per se but who is using it and the purpose of using it. In Habermas' language: what is the human interest behind using the language? Is it to maintain an elitist standard, which can facilitate control or is it aimed at creating greater cross-cultural hermeneutical understanding?

In one of the documentaries I cited earlier, there was a funny story about John Locke, being the rationalist he was, wanting to initiate a project where all words and rules of usage in the English language would be strictly defined so that in the future there would be no debate owing to confusion in the use of language. Of course from a sociological point of view that sounds very naive. The use of language is highly mediated by other factors apart the mere question of technicalities. 

But a key issue that came out in the "Do You Speak American" documentary is how one group of scholars who are elitist, believe that the use of English in the United States needs to be policed otherwise it will just lead to a decline of civilization.  This is the school that believe dictionaries should prescribe language as decided by the elites.  Another group thinks this is a misguided project because the people own the language (the shareholders). How the language is meaningful to the majority of people who are ordinary, to them is what the language is, and not what some elites with a monopoly of the language decide is correct. It is clear also that other regions of the United States, resent the East Coast elitism in this respect with regard to the use of English, and insist they will use their language the way they feel is desirable to them and anyone who wants to interact with them must take them seriously. 

One African American in the documentary said that he cannot just speak the way some White people speak, but he warned other Black people by making a point that David Laitin long ago made in his book "Language Repertoires" (

where he argues that language has market value. The main reason why many are learning English and Mandarin is because of the market value of those languages which give the speakers some special status compared to others. People would not spend such time learning a language that is not known by many, such as many of the small languages in Africa and varieties of Mayan language in places like Guatemala.

In Malaysia, the government realized long ago that not everyone can be an English speaker among the Malays. But simply because someone is not a good English speaker, that does not mean he or she cannot be a good and productive citizen that can be active and engaged with the challenges of the modern world. So they created a national translation agency, which translates important books published in any part of the world that are generating important conversation in the global community. When I was there, it was Huntington's book "The Clash of Civilization" that was translated. The book was translated and amazingly many Malay speakers can engage you in conversation on the issues raised in the book though they cannot speak English. I remember also Mallam Aminu Kano's PRP translating a book on the Russian Revolution into Hausa, which I came across in Kano. I bought a copy and gave it to my mother since she could read Hausa.

The debate about language is a very difficult conversation because it is a terrain of class and power contestation. It is not neutral or level-playing field. But as Fanon said, may be the key issue is not just using another language but the serious question is the human interest behind using the language. In this respect, I love it when I hear news read in Pidgin English in some states in Nigeria. I do not know how to speak it very well but I truly admire people who can communicate very complex ideas in that language. 

My fear in Nigeria is that just as public money was used to subsidize the education of many Nigerians in the past on the understanding that their education will be used to serve the common good, but often it turned out otherwise, so is with the acquisition of English in some cases. The money that was used to subsidize the acquisition of western education could have been used to provide rural clinics, or healthy drinking water etc, to ruralites, but it was appropriately thought that investing in higher education would help in nation building. Unfortunately, in many cases, the money was used to subsidize the education of people who now acquired an elite status in the country based on their western education and acquisition of the language. And they used their knowledge and position to marginalize the ordinary people who never received the opportunity to be educated. It is not therefore surprising that "Boko Haram" chose that name. That region of Nigeria has one of very lowest human development indicators in the country. The ordinary people were in some cases treated as inferior beings because of the lack of acquiring this education that was in the past highly subsidized with public money. As Ronald Dore argues in the "Diploma Disease," such western educational institutions became functionally equivalent to immigration checkpoints for movement from the traditional rural sector to the modern western-oriented sector with all its privileges and perquisites. The two sectors are unequal and often those in the modern sector treat their knowledge and position as private human capital ignoring the social mortgage on it. 

This coming summer, I have arranged to have someone translate Paulo Freire's "Pedagogy of the Oppressed" into Hausa language in Nigeria. Hopefully people can read it in Hausa and expand their thinking. There is a limit to how far English can be used to engage millions of the ordinary people of Nigeria and indeed many African countries in a serious national conversation. At the end, for me, the key question is what is the human interest behind how we use any language. Each of us would have to answer this for himself or herself as a moral and ethical question. 

I feel embarrassed that I find it difficult now to think and express my thoughts quickly and easily in Hausa, the other language I speak, but I can do so in English. To reach many of the "campesino" type people that I come from, and if my education will be useful to them at all, I have to learn how to communicate with them in a language and manner that we can understand each other. And frankly while attending a conference in Sokoto some years back, I found out that no matter how you are dressed (I wore blue jean and western attire), if you can communicate with the people in a language they understand, it brings you closer. I believe this is so in many places across Africa as well, notwithstanding the fact that language could be use for social control and domination in many contexts.  I truly enjoyed talking to people selling things in the motor park and those who drop you at a location using motor cycle. If Nigeria and many African countries are going to develop, we have to always remember those at the bottom of the pyramid and not just communicate with the "talented tenth," important as they are to society, assuming they channel their talent for enriching the common good and the "wretched of the earth." 


Samuel Zalanga, Ph.D.
Bethel University
Department of Anthropology, Sociology and Reconciliation Studies,
Bethel University, 3900 Bethel Drive, #24, Saint Paul, MN 55112.
Office Phone: 651-638-6023

On Sun, Mar 19, 2017 at 4:51 PM, Toyin Falola <> wrote:
Ken and others:
For my own education:
1. Can you supply a list of countries that have developed by primarily using the language of others?
2. The Hausa speaking people are more than Swedes, Afrikaners in South Africa, the population of Israel and several countries less than 10 million. Why do these other groups use their languages successfully ?

The source of the debate is that it is being framed as the use of Yoruba as a replacement to English. No. 
I need to be convinced that Farooq should not be allowed to submit a dissertation in a Nigerian language. What is wrong to write a PhD thesis in Hausa?

Sent from my iPhone

On Mar 19, 2017, at 2:40 PM, Kenneth Harrow <> wrote:

Toyin said:
In terms of development generally, the reality is that English is the language of modernity. Take it or leave it, it makes no difference. The Asians etc are scrambling to learn English. Why? The 20th century onward is dominated by Anglo-American civilization, as demonstrated by the cultural sweep of this civilization, as suggested even by the origins of this medium in which we are communicating.

I think he sums up an indisputable argument, in the claims that English is the language of modernity.
But that language that toyin identifies is really what Farooq has been calling standard English.
That means, as I understand it, not the language of a specific culture, but rather, as toyin said, perfectly, the language of modernity.
The language that airplane pilots all around the world have to master adequately to land a plane in an airport. Or for technicians to learn, or those whose livelihood depends on global traffic.
Like kids learning what to say to tourists. Not the language of anglo-american civilization, toyin, as far as I can see. There is nothing whatever that is specific to a given culture. That's why the words that are culturally specific, like slip or underpants or shorts or vest—all those words that are different in given cultures—are not the words that really matter in standard English, unless you are selling them as commodities. But when it comes to something like barrels of oil, or dollars, or Chinese words for currency, etc., become universal.
Words you need to know if you go to a hotel, or, more importantly, if you run the hotel; not words that are used in people's homes.
Foreign words, flat words, professional words, words for those who are trained, not those who just grow up hearing the words.
Words like thanks and goodbye; not like how much? Where?
See ya'
Or words that change, quickly, like slang, in contrast with words used by tv announcers whose broadcasts are seen around the word.
By the way, what language is now being taught across the united states, not just increasingly in universities, but in high schools, middle schools—schools that advertise themselves as up to date, globally relevant? Chinese. mandarin Chinese. Meanwhile all those prestigious European tongues have practically disappeared: French, Italian, even german; while Spanish is managing to hang on, but, I recently learned, also struggling….
Kenneth Harrow
Dept of English and Film Studies
Michigan State University
619 Red Cedar Rd
East Lansing, MI 48824
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