Sunday, March 19, 2017

USA Africa Dialogue Series - A little rumble in the Standard English jungle

If too hard to understand or the twists are too painful or time-wasting to follow, you don't have to. I have not read this over either.

Sorry to report the passing away of Torgny Lindgren , Swedish writer and occupant of stool number 9 in the Swedish Academy. His only novel that I have read to date is Bat Seba (translated into English as Bathsheba ) an immensely good read, an unputdownable albeit fictional eye-opener about a very human King David and his wife Bathsheba. One of these days I would like to see what it's like in translation, with David constantly talking to the Almighty ( in English) at the start and doing more listening - to others - towards the end of his life.

I started reading Torgny Lindgren's Light but abandoned it half way through, although I didn't have to, as in " Anything is one of a million paths. Therefore you must always keep in mind that a path is only a path; if you feel you should not follow it, you must not stay with it under any conditions."

I might as well note in passing, that one of the essential differences between Judaism and Islam is that whereas Judaism understands that David the human being made mistakes, such as that which the Prophet Nathan reprimanded him for and bearing in mind, that "to err is human" his son King Solomon (the wisest one and verily the builder of the first temple in Jerusalem) did indeed make mistakes - Islam insists that David and his son Solomon were prophets and as such are masoom/ infallible and did not , could not make or have made mistakes, since they were prophets of the One & Only Almighty. There's this other difference as per this commentary

When it comes to our relationship to language, I would propose that an understanding of the role played by Caliban is essential. For a good example of this you may consult what Dr. Dre says HERE

With regard to the various arguments tendered on behalf of teaching truths in our own mother tongues/ indigenous languages, the Bible is a good example - it is now available in many of the world's languages. At the same time we should not forget that for many good reasons, many among the Judaic authorities were not happy about the Bible being translated from Lashon Hakodesh/ the Holy Hebrew Tongue into other, languages.

I should like to mention from the start, what we all know, that as part of the missionary activities, along with trade (including the Atlantic Slave Trade) which brought the English Language to Africa, the Authorised King James Version of the Bible in the not so holy English tongue played a significant role in promoting colonialism and Biblical morality. So, up to my generation of Krio/ Creole speakers (for me Krio/ Creole is a second language which I learnt/ re-learnt / acquired later, and now know perfectly, albeit not with a proper Krio/ Creole accent - but my ears are good) and all those inducted into the Bible through the King James version at church and school , you will find them still speaking (and sometimes still writing) a quaint Victorian form of the spoken Creole or English, liberally peppered with quotations, mostly proverbs from the King James Version. Like Haitian French which according to some of the brethren who are native speakers, goes way back to the kind of French spoken before the French Revolution (smile) and the times of Africa's greatest anti-colonial hero : Toussaint Louverture

A very, very important book : C.L.R James : The Black Jacobins

O like speaking Krio on the cell phone in the Tube - it makes me feel important people catching little bits and pieces of English sounding words and wondering what the hell? Which language is that? Jahmaican ? I tell them, "sort of" That's the language that I speak to all the Sierra Leone people in Sweden, except a Fulani guy who curiously enough insists on speaking English with me. I was once given an official document - to scrutinize and the same Fulani guy was furious. I have never seen him so furious. he was actually banging doors. "NO !" he shouted, "Give it to a real English man !" And thus are our secrets given to "Real Englishmen" ( Anyway I know/ used to know the Englishman who translates EU documents for the Swedish Government (another Cambridge guy)...

Simultaneous with Christian colonial missionaries doing their works, Islam and the Holy Quran which has the Divine command iqra/ read as its first word of revelation, was busy spreading literacy and Islamic morality wherever Islam spread. To this day, I doubt that Nigeria has produced a better Islamic scholar than Shehu Uthman Dan Fodio. Unfortunately, today, many people wrongly equate literacy with literacy in a Western Language, particularly in English only.

Many years ago - surprisingly, Wole Soyinka suggested that if it ever came to that he would solidly propose Swahili as Africa's continental lingua franca. I would solidly propose Arabic.

In Sweden it's called Rikssvenska/ standard Swedish (also my second language)

Varieties of English

Standard English ( so that we are intelligible to each other)

Nigerian English (the future vehicle for great Nigerian poetry, rap, the short and the long story. drama, Nollywood film glory and the Nigerian English Academy of which post-colonialism will eventually be happy to be teaching native speakers in the United States, Merry England, Scotland , Ireland and Wales. In the meantime some of our uncle toms may want to make a living correcting the English of Malcolm X and Donald Trump. I know that Malcolm would have loved to speak Nigerian English when addressing Nigerians. For Trump that would be secondary, because for him it's still a matter of America First. Maybe Israel & America First.

After all Israel is older than the United States. Israel gave the world the Tanakh and even Jesus...

# Hands off our Bard ( an interesting essay by an English friend of mine, and a family member) Equally interesting : American Pussy

In 1980 - the peak of the oil boom years and at a time when the Nigerian economy had never been more buoyant, with one to one, a Nigerian Naira the official exchange rate for a British £1 Sterling, the Nigerian government sent several delegations around the world to interview and to employ teachers. They also came to Sweden.

I saw this coming from as early as 1979, when Mr. Soyinka delivered his address to the Pen Club in Stockholm : It was the following year that Wole Soyinka declared war against Apartheid - the hateful Apartheid. Not that he saw himself as Field Marshal Akinwande Oluwole Babatunde Soyinka the Supreme Military Commander-in-Chief of Liberation Armies that by Sea, Land and Air were to descend on P. W. Botha's Pretoria. And if the Pan-Africanist Omowale Malcolm X well noted for the ballot or the ballot had been alive then, maybe he would have been responsible for the military wing of the North American branch whilst Fidel Castro was taking care of business in Angola ; but Brother Soyinka being of a non -violent nature it was to be a theatre war against Apartheid on which what he consistently labelled the obscenity of apartheid which would and was morally assaulted relentlessly - just as Harry Belafonte confidently predicted in "We are the wave" and in that regard South Africa's greatest dramatist Athol Fugard has always been a faithful comrade -in-arms even as Patrick Wilmot was advocating in that 1981 Nigerian Guardian article that Nigeria should stop being the lamb, Nigeria must start dancing what he called " mathematical rhythms", Nigeria must go nuclear and take on Apartheid South Africa - for which article a warrant was issued for his arrest (issued by the Nigerian authorities)

When I said "I am a native speaker of Standard English" or if I said that I was a native speaker of Standard Fulani maybe I was joking, since it is not yet the case that in the global village Fulani rules the waves? When I was employed by the Rivers State Government to teach English, I assume that they meant correct, standard English and not as a peddler of any other form or as extension of the earlier colonial endeavours to indoctrinate the students with the truism that Britannia Rules the Waves, by ensuring that Nigeria remains within that sphere of English Language influence. ( You know that when the Oyibo gets lost in the jungle and sights someone who looks like a native, the first question he asks is " My good man, do you speak English?" - and if the answer is "Yes!" then he knows that he is " saved"

I encouraged my students to have confidence in themselves , that there was no English name for mango, ogogoro, oyibo, palm oil or palm wine. Or ashawo (we argued about this). Or for proper names like Obi. Above all I encouraged them to write stories, their own stories in their own words and not in what they dreamed was or is Shakespearean English, not way off the mark, some of them thought that the King James version had been written in Shakespearean English - cf The Bible and Shakespearean English

My own formal study of the English language started with Randolph Quirk - before plunging into Chaucer and later on into Shakespeare and his contemporaries of the Elizabethan English period, and the gradual evolution of the Language and language styles through the seventeenth, eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth centuries by familiarity with the classic literature gems of those periods (starting with Defoe's Moll Flanders said to be the first English Novel just as some people argue that Cyprian Ekwensi's Jagua Nana is the grandmother of the Nigerian English novel.

Not a word yet about pronunciation! Perchance he may come to that too with himself as a role model specimen, as some kind of personification of the Insan-e-Kamil of the English that he would like his Nigerian countrymen to write and to speak for utilitarian purposes, from which point of view I have quoted , time without number from J.M. Coetzee's Nobel Lecture entitled He and His Man :

But to return to my new companion. I was greatly delighted with him, and made it my business to teach him everything that was proper to make him useful, handy, and helpful; but especially to make him speak, and understand me when I spoke; and he was the aptest scholar there ever was.
-- Daniel Defoe,
Robinson Crusoe

Whilst he (the Buckingham Palace Professor of Queen's English) may be busy, huffing and puffing and beating his chest or worrying about the "mistakes" that Nigerian English makes when Nigerian English speakers and writers deviate from standard English grammar and orthography not to mention their misuse of idiomatic expressions (originally both British and American) and their own originally created idioms as undersyood by them to serve their given purposes (and so the language grows) and leaves you wandering, maybe gasping, what about Australian, Indian, South African etc.?) It's a question I should like my classmates from form one, Nestor Cummings-John, Charles Macaulay, best freind James Braithwaite now late, Horatio Nelson-Williams, and the rest of us - all to a man , who never made such mistakes.

But when it comes to Literature, poetry we have to understand what we are reading, otherwise we easily misread and misunderstand. Sometimes, it turns out that some people, through no fault of their own, cannot, nor do not recognise a joke, a piece of irony, some condescending sarcasm, satire / satirical statements, not to mention Shakespeare, Marlowe, the witty Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw or equally our own Wole Soyinka. I thought about this last night as I read a rather bitter Walcott's The SPOILER'S RETURN in terms of Pope's Essay on criticism

The spellings here are standard American ("honor" etc.,) - which reminds me, when my Better Half translated Eleanor Coerr's Sadako (ironically we got married on Hiroshima Day) since she does not speak Japanese - she consulted relevant authorities about Sadako and in addition - of I remember correctly, she worked from both British and American translations between which there are (in much of children's and adult literature) both slight and considerable differences. You should be amazed at the different and differing translations of Swedish poetry, e.g. Tomas Tranströmer and Gunnar Ekelöf : I guess that we should soon be bracing ourselves for the translations of Nigerian English Literature into the British mother of all English and American (Maybe I have to put up this sign; Smile) and then there could be the very challenging feats of translating Bob Dylan's lyrics in Nigerian English, and last but by no means least, translating Fela into Kapparot Kperogi's gobbledygook and much touted rat race British and American standards of comprehension. Is who are the experts in Naija English ? Verily, I am not one.

Infinitely more important is something like this not so much for the language but for the contents and the sense transmitted through the English Language. (The spellings are standard American ("honor" etc.,): (Ethics of the Fathers: Chapter 6: 5-6)

5. Do not seek greatness for yourself, and do not lust for honor. More than you study, do. Desire not the table of kings, for your table is greater than theirs, and your crown is greater than theirs, and faithful is your Employer to pay you the rewards of your work.

6. Torah is greater than the priesthood or sovereignty, for sovereignty is acquired with thirty virtues, the priesthood with twenty-four, and Torah is acquired with forty-eight qualities. These are: study, listening, verbalizing, comprehension of the heart, awe, fear, humility, joy, purity, serving the sages, companionship with one's contemporaries, debating with one's students, tranquility, study of the scriptures, study of the Mishnah, minimizing engagement in business, minimizing socialization, minimizing pleasure, minimizing sleep, minimizing talk, minimizing gaiety, slowness to anger, good heartedness, faith in the sages, acceptance of suffering, knowing one's place, satisfaction with one's lot, qualifying one's words, not taking credit for oneself, likableness, love of G‑d, love of humanity, love of charity, love of justice, love of rebuke, fleeing from honor, lack of arrogance in learning, reluctance to hand down rulings, participating in the burden of one's fellow, judging him to the side of merit, correcting him, bringing him to a peaceful resolution [of his disputes], deliberation in study, asking and answering, listening and illuminating, learning in order to teach, learning in order to observe, wishing one's teacher, exactness in conveying a teaching, and saying something in the name of its speaker. Thus we have learned: One who says something in the name of its speaker brings redemption to the world, as is stated (Esther 2:22), "And Esther told the king in the name of Mordechai."

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