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01.02.2016 Opinion

English: Note To Africanus

By I. K. Gyasi
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“I have resolved that this 2016, my articles to the newspapers will lay stress on my pet subject, English. And I will quote Shakespeare profusely.” – Africanus Owusu Ansah (See his article, NEW YEAR (2016) RESOLUTION: STRESS ENGLISH in “Daily Guide” issue of Thursday January 7, 2016).

My Dear Vandal Mate and brother, Africanus Owusu Ansah, I greet you in the name of God Almighty. May He continue to protect you, give you good health, and increase you in wisdom and intelligence so that you will not get tired informing, educating and entertaining your readers.

In your article under reference, you stated that it is not just William Shakespeare you will be quoting. You state: “I will also quote other writers: Alexander Pope, John Keats, William Wordsworth, Lord Tennyson, John Milton, et al.”

My brother, so you will be quoting all those 'archaic' writers of English Literature? Ah, if you had lived in the days of Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, you would have been described as someone with “a colonial mentality”. Do you not know that knowledge of the writings of these people does not put food on the table?

Again, at a time when ordinary citizens like you and me are grappling with very serious social, political and economic problems, should we be wasting our time with such a useless exercise, as engaging in the literary appreciation of a group of dead writers belonging to a different race?

You yourself quote from the book, CORRECT ENGLISH, by J. E. Metcalfe and C. Astley, thus: “Many university graduates with excellent degrees tend to believe that grammar, punctuation, spelling and syntax do not matter.

“Indeed, empires have been built by those who do not know their adverbs from their adjectives, or their 'principles' from their 'principals'. My brother, indeed, unlike me, my general auto mechanic (fitter), my auto electrician, my vehicle tyre repairer or 'vulcaniser'(bognansa), my mason, my electrician, my plumber, and my grounds man never saw the inside of a university lecture room, and certainly, do not have degrees in English.

Yet, all these years, their expertise in their various trades or professions has been of great benefit to me. What about the farmers whose insufficiently rewarded efforts have continued to put food on my table?

And, the other day, was our Minister of Education, Professor of English Jane Naana Opoku Agyeman, not laying stress on the point that all those products from South Korea – vehicles and mobile phones – are produced by people who do not use English but Korean?

My V-Mate, do you feel betrayed by me? Do not be. You also quoted Metcalfe and Astley as stating: “But 'good English' distinguishes the professional from the amateur, and most of us cannot afford to write 'its' for 'it's' or use a colon where a comma is needed.”.

“Messages may be too easily misunderstood if we get the fundamentals wrong.” My brother, far from betraying you, I am rather with you all the way, when you declare your New Year (2016) Resolution as laying stress on using English correctly.

Of course, I taught English Language and English Literature for a living, but that is not the reason for agreeing with you. In fact, contrary to what others may think, I am all for choosing and using one indigenous language, and selecting English as a second language, because of its current international importance.

However, for the time being, at least, we are stuck with English. The professionals or tradesmen mentioned above may not need English, but you, as a lawyer, and others, as teachers (from basic to post-tertiary level), students, journalists, parliamentarians, medical doctors, the President and his staff, etc,. need to use English and use it well.

Just before I sat down to compose this article, my attention was drawn to a statement reportedly made by the Ashanti Regional Director of Education, Mrs. Mary Owusu- Achiaw, that bemoaned the inability of basic school children to use both the English and local language proficiently.

That statement reminded me of an article I wrote, headed, LET'S KEEP ENGLISH, and published in the Saturday, August 6, 1994 of THE MIRROR.

On the problem of English usage, I wrote in part: “Back in July 1, 1991, Dr. Ekow Gardiner of the University of Ghana, Legon, published an article in the then “PEOPLE'S DAILY GRAPHIC” entitled, “The State of Science Education in Ghana.”

I wrote, “Dr. Gardiner observed, 'I am sure a few people would be shocked to learn that we have now reached a stage where reading and understanding English texts has become a problem for some of our university students'.” A full 25 years later, the situation has undoubtedly got worse, not better.

Today, it is not basic school, second cycle or tertiary students grappling unsuccessfully with English. People who should know better keep saying “price increment” when they should be saying “price increase”, “much more stronger” instead of “much stronger”, “for you and I” instead of “for you and me”, etc.

My Vandal Mate, yes, stress English (NOT stress or emphasise on English) because of its international spread, and, for us, its emotional neutrality (it does not belong to any tribe in Ghana). Yes, we should be able to speak it, read it, write it and understand it well.

Let me remind my fellow Ghanaians that at this very moment, English is the official language of Ghana.

By I. K. Gyasi

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