I once encountered a scenario where some fellow Nigerians where joining a Ghanaian to run down Nigerian’s way of speaking. They were busy praising the “Ghanaian English” pronunciation with its nauseating emphasis on words where the English native speakers themselves had never placed emphasis. They were praising Ghanaian pronunciation as superior to the Nigerian English pronunciation and happily noting that the Ghanaians speak the proper Queen’s English while Nigerians do not.
My reaction was instant and uncalculated. It was some worth violent -for which I apologized later. My reaction was like that of a person whose culture had been insulted and abused- more so by his own “tribesmen”. I tried to recollect why I was so violent with my reaction knowing fully well that for the past 35 years I have heard the same praises of the Ghanaian English over and above the Nigerian English and even the English English! Then I tried to justify myself by putting down the reason for my anger.
I grew up in the ‘70s; a time when Nigeria, as the big brother of Africa, allowed its Ghanaian neighbors to come into the country taking over commerce, industry and even academics. The Ghanaians filled up our (Nigerian) schools without any known quota systems for employment. They dominated the industry of electronic sales and commanded factories where casual labors were required. As a result my nursery, primary, secondary and part university education were tutored by Ghanaian teachers. Except at the university level, every subject or 90% of the subjects I ever took were done by Ghanaians. In my days, Ghanaians will tell pupils (us) that; “your pronunciation is horrible”. My teachers never acknowledge anything right with or inside Nigeria yet they lived here at the expense of Nigeria. Our Ghanaian teachers kept running us down as though we were fools speaking in our own style and culturally influenced phonology! The psychological trauma of that is; if someone tells you repeatedly- for so many years- that you are no good, you start to think and believe that indeed you are no good! At a point in my life, I found myself believing it, repeating it, running it and projecting that value; that Ghanaians were phonologically better than Nigerians. (this is my attempt not to delve into their political and social comments about Nigerians- their hosts. That is not the intention of this piece now). I believed them and even tried to speak like them! (My feelings of disgust with myself now, as I write this part, is what late Fela Anikulapo Kuti would have felt when he recollected that at some point in his life he would have gone to church and believed in the priests and their doctrine!)
However, I started my rebellion with “Ghanaianized” phonetics after I made my distinction in English and was one of the three students out of 275 students who passed WAEC’s “oral English” in my class for that year in the school. Then I started telling myself, in retrospect, Mr. Appiajey was wrong; My Koffi was never right; Mr Archipong must have been wrong; Mr. Osei Tutu will ever die in ignorance because my English was not as bad as they said to me and indeed everyone else in our school!
With that, I learnt an important lesson; it is not right to laugh at the other person and as such hardly will one ever be caught saying that someone eles’s culture, religion or style of projecting an idiosyncrasy is superior or inferior! Everyone is unique in his or her own peculiarity.
My fellow Nigerians, the psychological trauma of repeatedly telling you your culture is not good enough by your own half brother is really a torture. It is amazing how much these teaching by Ghanaians are still lingering in Nigeria. Only this October 2007, I encountered friends who still repeat the same complex-filled statement about Ghanaian English phonetics being better and superior to Nigerian phonetics. What this means is that ever since the Ghanaians stopped teaching us, every Nigeria generation still believes that every Ghanaian who speaks in English language is automatically and prejudicial accorded the respect of “better native English speaker” it is the same thing as saying every Briton in Nigeria, or every American you find writes or reads or has higher competence in intellectualism than you! But that is not true…. that is not true. Prejudicing on another person’s oral phonology is as if one thinks that the American pronunciation of English is better than the Briton or to fail to realize that the New Zealanders speak different sociologically influenced English than the Australians. Who is judging which is better? The Americans use fowl languages and spell English differently but because they have more money than most people…who cares…? Meanwhile American English and pronunciation have become subjects of PhD thesis and linguistic studies.
All in all, the little emotion in this piece is not targeted at anyone or least of all, to commence racial prejudice against the other race. My target is the unconscious structure which places someone else’s manner of diction and phonetics over and above mine! I am a Nigerian, a Yoruba man, and an Ijebu breed. I will surely pronounce English as though I taste “Ebiripo or Ikokore” and I will not offer any apologies to anyone least of all the queen!
So dear readers, I hope you can understand if one day someone from your race in the face of other nationals agrees that you are, because of your skin/culture/intelligence or personal styles, inferior! I can see you shouting that… “I beg your pardon- take that back or I smash your face!”