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22.02.2006 General News

Let intellectualise Ghanaian languages -Prof. Yankah


Accra, Feb. 22, GNA - Professor Kwesi Yankah, Acting Pro-Vice Chancellor of the University of Ghana, Legon, Wednesday said owing to the high illiteracy rate in the country, there was the need to intellectualise Ghanaian local languages and experiment them in high profile discourse.

"The learning of official language, English, should be fostered to facilitate access to the global village, but so should we vigorously make attempts to intellectualise Ghanaian languages, to valorise and begin experimenting them in high profile discourse," he said. Prof. Yankah made the call in his last lecture on the topic "The Tongue, The Thumb and the Ballot Box, at the 38th J. B. Danquah Memorial Lectures series, organized by the Ghana Academy of Arts and Science (GAAS), of which he is also the Honorary Secretary.

The broad theme for the three-day lectures was Education, Literacy and Governance; a linguistic inquiry into Ghana's burgeoning democracy. He noted that Ghana's political history borne witness to the fact that proficiency in the Ghanaian languages yielded higher political capital and better political fortunes than the proficiency in English language.

"The impact of illiteracy and its necessitated use of Ghanaian language for political communication was manifested in the choice of political slogans, songs, symbols and even choice of language on political platforms," he said.

Prof. Yankah specifically cited Mr Kofi Wayo, a former NPP Parliamentary candidate for Ayawaso constituency, as an example of a Ghanaian politician, whose lack of proficiency in Ghanaian languages adversely affected his political fortunes in the 2000 elections. He mentioned the use of slogans like Asea ho (Down there) and a choice of song like Ewurade Kasa (Speak Lord), all by the ruling NPP in the 2000 and other slogans like Kufuor Nie, Osono Nie (Here is Kufuor, Here is the Elephant) in 2004 elections as determinants of the party's political fortunes.

Indeed, slogans like Ehe edzor bodor (It's cool), by the NDC, Eeshi rado, rado (It is thundering), by the NPP and others in Ghanaian local languages were the most popular among the illiterate masses. Prof. Yankah said some of Ghana's past and present leading politicians, whose proficiency in more than one Ghanaian language had continued to endear them to the electorate and help their political fortunes.

"Dr. Kwame Nkrumah spoke fluent Nzema and Fante, J. J. Rawlings could speak Ga, Twi and Ewe, President Kufuor speaks Twi and some Hausa, Prime Minister Busia also spoke Twi and Hausa, while Dr. Limann also spoke Sisala and Dagare.

"Mr J. H. Mensah speaks Ga, Twi, Fante, Hausa and French, Dr. Kwesi Botchwey spoke Ga, Twi and Hause in forums, when necessary," he said. He observed that statistics available on all the Fourth Republic elections - 1992, 1996, 2000 and 2004, indicated that, there were more rejected ballots in areas of high illiteracy rates than there were in areas of low illiteracy rate.

"The three northern regions, each of which had illiteracy rates of over 70 per cent had more ballot papers rejected than in Accra, where illiteracy is only 18.4 per cent," he said. "This shows a direct link between illiteracy and understanding of political communication." Prof. Yankah said the state needed to make more effort to ensure that electoral messages were packaged in a way that would not disenfranchise illiterates, because they did not understand the language of communication.

He said political parties' functionaries and machineries, who made use of Ghanaian languages in their slogans, songs, symbols and in their platform campaigns obviously had better political fortunes, because they identified themselves with the illiterate masses.

Prof. Yankah said, while the more learned politicians continued to make fun of their relatively least learned, but efficient politicians, the masses focused on performance of the individual rather than ones academic qualification in voting people into political office. He observed that in nominating people for political candidacy, political party executives tend to focus on ones with academic qualifications and proficiency in the English language.

"It is sad that in a high illiterate society like Ghana, we continue to place a higher premium on academic qualification than political performance in appointing people to political office. This is sharp contrast with the thinking of the masses," he said. He called for efforts to reduce the illiteracy rate to ensure increased stakeholder participation in political decision making, adding that, there was also the need to simultaneously establish a state apparatus for translation purpose during national forums.

Prof. Yankah said there was the need to encourage bilingualism among legislators to allow them greater options in the interest of stakeholders' participation in the democratic process.

He lauded the current on-going French learning exercise in Ghana's Parliament, but was quick to say that it was important that the MPs could effectively communication at home before they crossed national borders.

"Let me also add the need for parliament to hold in-service classes for MPs anxious to improve on their English to facilitate communication in parliament," he said.

The lecture was attended by members of the Council of State, ministers, MPs, members of the diplomatic corps, corporate executives and people from all walks of life.