Africa’s lost languages: How English can fuel an identity crisis



Woman surrounded by speech bubbles

Girl surrounded by speech bubbles

Some kids who’ve grown up in Africa being compelled to talk English are dealing with an id disaster.

Khahliso Amahle Myataza’s household is from the South African township of Soweto in Johannesburg the place they spoke Sotho, Xhosa and Zulu.

She would change languages relying on who she was speaking to.

However when Khahliso began major college her household moved to a predominantly white neighbourhood of the town.

“I used to be severely bullied for not figuring out how you can communicate English correctly, for not figuring out how you can pronounce sure phrases,” she advised the BBC.

"To learn English I immersed myself with white kids. I didn't want to associate myself with the black kids any more. It was really difficult"", Source: Khahliso Amahle Myataza, Source description: South African student, Image: Khahliso Amahle Myataza

“To be taught English I immersed myself with white youngsters. I did not wish to affiliate myself with the black youngsters any extra. It was actually troublesome””, Supply: Khahliso Amahle Myataza, Supply description: South African scholar, Picture: Khahliso Amahle Myataza

There have been different black kids in the same predicament however they did not make pals with one another – not desirous to be related to others who didn’t communicate English.

“To be taught English I immersed myself with white youngsters. I did not wish to affiliate myself with the black youngsters any extra. It was actually troublesome.”

The 17-year-old’s fluency has include the realisation of how, not solely with the ability to communicate English, however to talk it in a sure method – can open and shut doorways in South Africa.

“Once I go to a restaurant with my mum, they usually hear her talking Xhosa or Sotho, they’ll routinely assume we’re not likely right here to purchase costly meals.

“Then once they hear me or my brothers communicate English, particularly my brother, then we see individuals leaping.”

‘Pidgin banned’

For the mother and father of 22-year-old Nigerian Amaka, who requested us to not use her actual identify, this too should have been obvious.

When she was rising up in Lagos, English was the one language she was allowed to talk.

Her Igbo mother and father took her English language expertise significantly and as a younger lady she attended an etiquette class the place diction was a key element of the lesson.

schoolchildren in Nigeria

Some Nigerian colleges are primarily based on the British mannequin

In addition they frowned on her utilizing Pidgin, which is broadly spoken in Nigeria as a lingua franca.

“I used to be watching a film on TV they usually mentioned one thing in Pidgin English. And I type of responded… and I acquired in hassle,” she advised the BBC.

Their angle was: “English is the one correct language”.

This was so engrained that Amaka says the truth that she couldn’t communicate Igbo didn’t hassle her initially.

“I used to be very type of happy with myself in with the ability to communicate English language the best way I can.”

However when she was about 15, she met her paternal grandmother for the primary time – they usually couldn’t talk or join in any respect.

“That was the primary time I realised that: ‘OK – that is an precise downside. It is a barrier.'”

‘Am I actually black?’

And Khahliso says her relationship along with her mom tongues has modified as she is now much less proficient in languages like Sotho and Xhosa.

She’s unable to carry a dialog with out turning to English phrases – an expertise she describes as being “colonised by English”.

Khahliso believes her scenario – and that of Amaka – aren’t uncommon.

“Quite a lot of black kids within the middle-income class are dealing with that id disaster of: ‘I can not communicate my native language.’


“I compelled myself to unlearn it. Am I actually black if I have no idea how you can communicate my vernacular? Am I actually black if I do not know how you can say: ‘I really like you’ to my mum, in Sotho or in Xhosa, or in Zulu, or in Tonga?”

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Amaka is working to beat her id disaster by taking Igbo classes and immersing herself in Igbo tradition via movies and music.

“Language provides you a way of neighborhood,” she says.

“It makes you see the world in a special gentle, it makes you are feeling like you might be part of one thing, one thing better than your self, one thing that has been there for generations, and can proceed to be there for generations”.

Kenyan author Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o has spoken a couple of linguistic famine in African societies – which he says is the results of prizing overseas languages over native languages.

Regardless of an estimated 2,000 languages being spoken throughout the continent there may be nonetheless a bent to see English and French – the languages of the international locations which colonised most of Africa – as these wanted to succeed and because of this some select to desert their mom tongue.

‘Solely good youngsters communicate English’

In Ghana, which like South Africa and Nigeria was colonised by the British, this angle is prevalent, says Ronald – a secondary college instructor in a rural space who additionally requested us to not use his actual identify.

“There may be this stereotype that the smarter youngsters are those that talk English. Even mother and father that by no means went to highschool attempt to pressure it on their kids to even be fluent in English.

“I do know fairly plenty of people who have by no means travelled past the borders of Ghana, however they cannot communicate any language in addition to English.”

However he feels some college students would carry out higher if a number of the textbooks and the language of instruction was of their mom tongue – and that this could cease kids dropping out of college.

Children in a class in Ghana - archive shot

English is on the core of the Ghanaian college curriculum

“If I ask them a query, a few of them would inform me: ‘Sir, I do know the reply, however I do not know how you can say it in English.’

“Everyone seems to be simply making an attempt to pressure them to talk this white man’s language and… a number of the college students then say: ‘It is simply not for me. It is for the “good” ones.'”

Khahliso says if she may return in time, she would method language studying in another way.

“I might permit these languages to co-exist and to exist in a single house – as a result of they’ll co-exist. My sister and my good friend are proof of that.

“To assimilate I do not suppose that I wanted to throw away my languages and to utterly cease talking Xhosa and Sotho.”

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