Once again, February 21 is here with us. On this day, the world celebrates International Mother Language Day which was instituted by the General Conference of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) in November, 1999.
Since 2000, the day has been celebrated worldwide annually in memory of four students who were shot and killed by armed policemen in Pakistan in a demonstration against the government of Pakistan to protest against the discrimination of some of the languages in the country.
The day is also celebrated to remind all and sundry about the importance of the mother language and the need to use it, and also to protect every language in the world from going extinct.
According to Fromkin and Rodman (1983:iii) “from earliest times language has been considered a mirror of the mind”. This is because it is through language that we express our views to others. It is therefore important for one to use one’s mother language – the language in which one can express himself/herself best – so that s/he can ‘mirror’ the exact images on their mind to the outside world.
As we join the world to celebrate this important day, I wish to commend all institutions which are contributing in diverse ways to the development and promotion of Ghanaian languages.
I commend radio stations which broadcast in Ghanaian languages. Credit goes to Opanin Kofi Agyekum of the University of Ghana who started a phone-in programme in Akan with the popular programme AFISεM ‘home news’ on Radio Universe at the University of Ghana, Legon.
Soon after the introduction of AFISεM, Peace FM, a private radio station in Accra, started total broadcasting in Twi. Now we can count numerous radio stations which broadcast solely in Ghanaian languages across the country.
These radio stations are not only helping in the development and promotion of Ghanaian languages, but they also inform, educate and entertain majority of their listeners better because we understand and can express ourselves better in our mother languages.
Notwithstanding the positives, there is a not-so-positive growing trend in the use of certain Akan words and expressions by some radio stations which broadcast in Akan: certain Akan words are mispronounced and some expressions in Akan are wrongly used. This trend is worrying and therefore needs to be addressed.
First is the pronunciation of words such as biribiara ‘everything’, obiara ‘everybody’, dabiara ‘everyday’, nyina ara ‘all’, just to mention a few. In speech, the ‘r’ in such words is silent. Hence the above words are pronounced [bibiaa] ‘everything’, [obiaa] ‘everybody’, [dabiaa] ‘everyday’, [nyinaa] ‘all’ respectively.
Unfortunately, many broadcasters replace the [r] (which is silent in speech, anyway) with [d]. These words are therefore pronounced [bibiada] ‘everything’, [obiada] ‘everybody’, [dabiada] ‘everyday’, [nyinada] ‘all’.
What is more worrying is that special emphasis or stress is put on the [d] in such words as if without it the pronunciation of the word is not correct. None of the Akan dialects (Asante Twi, Akuapem Twi and Mfantse) has [d] in such words.
The question is, what is the origin of the [d] in such words?
Another worrying development is the use (or misuse) of the word tumi ‘can/to be able to’. This modal in Twi usually precedes verbs to denote activities or actions that need special effort or skill to perform. Examples are:
(1) Kofi atumi asi εdan ‘Kofi has been able to build a house’.
(2) Cote d’Ivoire tumii gyee kᴐpo no ‘Cote d’Ivoire was able to win the cup’.
(3) Aberewa Mansa tumi foro kube no ‘Old lady Mansa can climb the coconut tree’.
It seems most broadcasters now precede every verb in Twi with the modal tumi ‘can’. We often hear expressions such as:
(4) Papa no atumi awu ‘the man has been able to die’.
(5) εdan no atumi ahye ‘the house has been able to burn’.
(6) Adwoa nan mu atumi abu ‘Adwoa’s leg has been able to break’.
(7) Lᴐre no atumi ahwe ase ‘The vehicle has been able to be involved in an accident’.
The above sentences indicate that those activities were performed with much effort. For instance in (1), it means Cote d’Ivoire did not win the cup on a silver platter; they did that with much effort. Similarly, sentence (4) means that the man endeavoured to die.
Under normal circumstance, nobody will try very hard to die, save in a suicide case. In (5), it means the house ‘tried’ very hard to get burnt and (6) means Adwoa’s leg got broken with much effort. Semantically, sentences (4 – 6) are not acceptable in Akan.
The next thing I want to deal with is radio news broadcast in Twi. News is a serious business and must be presented as such. News should not be presented in a flamboyant or colourful language. I stand for correction, but I think news should be devoid of literary devices such as proverbs, similes, idioms, humour, and what have you.
Comparatively, television news broadcast in Akan is better than radio news broadcast in Akan. It is true that on radio we do not see the broadcasters as we do on television, but we hear and feel what they say, so the radio presenters must be mindful of that.
Sometimes I listen to radio news in Akan on some radio stations and I cannot tell whether it is news or comedy. Just compare the radio news in English on Radio Ghana, Joy FM, CNN, BBC or any other network with radio news in Akan on some radio stations and you will see a very big difference.
On Friday, September 12, 2014, the Media Foundation for West Africa organized a workshop for media practitioners under the theme: “Ethics and Local Language Broadcasting in Ghana.” At that workshop, a veteran journalist, Mr. Bosie Amponsah was invited from Kumasi to dilate on such issues.
Surprisingly, all that was discussed at the workshop did not yield any fruit as media practitioners keep on making the same mistakes day in and day out.
Just as we are careful to avoid making mistakes when we speak or write English or any foreign language, we should be careful to avoid mistakes when broadcasting in Ghanaian languages.
In Ghana, when we make mistakes in spoken or written English or any foreign language, it is a big problem, but when we do so in any Ghanaian language, it is not a big deal. All languages are equal. No language is more important than the other, so all languages must be handled equally.
Much as we need to use, develop and promote Ghanaian languages, the wrong use of Ghanaian languages in any forum is not encouraging.
By Peter Essien – Bureau of Ghana Languages, Accra