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23.01.2020 Feature Article

The Queen And Her English

The Queen And Her English
LISTEN JAN 23, 2020

“The English language is nobody's special property. It is the property of the imagination: it is the property of the language itself.”

Derek Walcott

St Lucia (West Indies)

Poet and Playwright

In 1961, the Queen of England arrived on the shores of Ghana. A minister of state, that is, Minister Plenipotentiary, call him Krobb Aduss, remarked in Twi: “The white people have come; what is left is the English to meet them.” One cannot deny the fact that the said minister was sufficiently articulate and powerfully communicative in his intimacy with his constituents. But, the potentate herself was coming, so the people meeting her ought to be as glib in speech as they were to be slick in appearance.

After the Queen had left, the same minister was to be probed for alleged improprieties which included purchasing a golden bed for his wife. That was the story then; but would the bed have been golden or gilded (covered thinly with gold leaf or gold paint). Making a straight line linkage between probe and improbable, the minister said he was improbe-able, meaning (for him) he could not be probed.

Dear reader may remember the Akyem Oda District Commissioner. You may call him Kwakwatts. He had a very lively way of reaching out to his constituents. In his praise of the President, Kwame Nkrumah, he would say: “If not for Kwame Nkrumah, I am the who?” This is where those who like to show off, the fussy people (in the Ghanaian context: too known people) displaying their Englishry (abrofosem) might say: “But for the gargantuan generosity of the potentate whither would my ego go?”

This time round, it is the Ghanaian President who has travelled to the Queen's country: to get the Ghana-UK ties strengthened. The people over there need not learn Ghanaianisms because our president is as glib-tongued as his counterpart(s).

At tea-break, he will ask for savouries, not small chops, and he will not write integrated as intergrated.

When the British Prime Minister touted his country as the “ultimate one-stop shop” for trade, education and tech” he might not have appeared to be boasting because if one looked around the world today, one would “swiftly see that the UK is not only the obvious partner of choice; we're also very much the partner of today, of tomorrow and decades to come.”

Our president reiterated what he had said time and time again: “Nobody is looking for gifts or charity…” but did not fail to acknowledge the role of the London Stock Exchange which he thought could “…play a really significant and important role in this new thinking (which included securing a loan for an international airport in Kumasi.”

Should the Queen decide to abdicate the throne now, or should any mishap befall her and she is no more the Queen, one of the children of Charles: Prince Harry or Prince William might be the successor, and so we would have the King's English. But one would ask, with Harry shirking his royal duties and engaging in all kinds of anti-royal activities, would that situation ever arise in our life-time? Perhaps, after some of us have gone – to heaven or to hell. And this takes us to the passing of a colleague lawyer in Kumasi, an affable man called Frank Otoo. The story has it that he had dispatched his wife to her mother's residence at Danyame and was living alone at their new residence a plush (NOT: portable) house at Agric Nzema. The wife was weaning a two-month old baby and she needed her mother's assistance. When the wife called Lawyer Otoo several times on the phone and he did not respond, she decided to go to the matrimonial home to find out what was happening. She found her husband lying on the floor of his room; so with the help of the driver with whom she went, she bundled him into the car for the hospital. He was declared dead on arrival. A younger sister (NOT: junior sister) and an elder brother (NOT: senior brother) of his (NOT him) corroborated (NOT: collaborated) the story.

'Brofo ye duru' shortened as: Brofoyedu (English is heavy, literally speaking), the holy village of I.K. Gyasi our elders have repeated same and we have inherited it, though declaring English as our official language. So, if one passes all the SHS subjects and fails in English, one cannot proceed to the university. There have been suggestions about adopting one of our indigenous languages as official language but discreet persons have avoided the discussion, because of so many interpretations given for the one who suggests: Dagaare or Nzema or what…? Who would want to be tagged a tribalist or an ethnocentrist?

So, English remains our language; English is also an indigenous language, for after all, we have contributed the words “kwashiorkor” and “dumsor” in respectable English dictionaries. You see, being an “afraid-man”, sorry, being discreet, I have avoided mentioning some of the highly competitive local languages. You may have read similar articles authored by our good selves in another paper 15 years ago (NOT: the last 15 years).

In 'Politics and the English Language', George Orwell declared: “A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English Language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts.”

But, writers of English, may note the injunctions proposed by George Orwell's “Remedy of Six Rules”: Never use a metaphor, smile or other figure of speech you are used to seeing in print; never use a long word where a short one will do; if it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out; never use a scientific phrase, a scientific word or a jargon if you can think of an everyday equivalent; BUT break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

Derek Walcott won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1992, two years after publishing his epic poem 'Omeros'. He was fond of writing about “the harsh legacy of colonialism and the complexities of living and writing in two cultural worlds, white and black.”

For those people who regard critics of bad English as being finicky, let them check these from Master's level theses some of us have read. He will definately report to work (definitely), Hanne did so with the intension of running from home (intention). With regards to the letter, the message was not properly crafted (regard). This was done in-order to enforce discipline (in order). They disposed off ceased vehicles (disposed of seized vehicles). Should we say with Sir Winston Churchill: “This is the sort of English up with which I will not put…?”

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By Africanus Owusu – Ansah

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