The Nigerian Phonetic and The Ghanaian’s Prejudice

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!”

Written by
Dele A. Sonubi
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19 comments
  • You guys fighting for superiority over Ghana must lack intelligence. It just shows how inferior you truly are. Stick to your corruption, scams and drug dealings. Those are the only things you do do better than Ghanaians.

  • Actually i've got a nigerian teacher, she teaches phonetics. Until now it's difficult to me to understand her, i don't know why. May be is because the other english teachers use british english… In general the accents could be so different between them so i think that i just would try to hear more people speaking. But i think that it's great to take lessons with a person who has traveled around the world.

  • i don’t why there are always argument between these two great african countries. Ghana and Nigeria are so much alike in culture and do a lot of things together. i know that nigeria is ghana’s rival and vice versa but these two countries cannot exist without so stop this useless argument and come together as africans. no wonder why africa is always dead last in everything, because we are alsways fighting ourself. tribalism and national pride is killing africans. look america and canada are united, europe is uniting. the only way for africa to become force in the world is if these two great west african countries unite. nigeria is ghana’s big brother we look up to you guys and you guys look up to us is about time we collaborate like the movie industry there shouldn’t nollywood and ghana movies. Every movie produce in ghana and west africa should be known as nollywood.

  • I agree with you and your assessments Mr. Fred. Much work has to be done but not in this direction. There are greater work to be done though… much greater work. Nevertheless you are right, who speaks the best English?

  • Dele, no doubt you have told us your own experience. I am sure people who are highly informed in matters of phonetics and phonology will spend less time on arguments like this. A simple understanding of ideolectology, dialectology, sociolectology will convince us that people of course speak differently as influenced by many factors right from their impressionable years. People from different backgrounds speak differently . You can do a reliable comparative study of speakers' pronunciation styles from both countries by using the international pronunciation guide designed by the IPA; better still, you may use the guide developed by AC Gimson or Daniel Jones, all with their corresponding tapes in a language laboratory. But a more crucial question, have we really decided which English is the world's target? (BE, AE, AusE, CanE, GhnE, NigE…?) Now coming to Nigeria, which tribe is the model for NE? At least we have over 400 languages influencing the use or pronunciation of English in Nigeria. So , placing one country over another is not an issue. It depends on which samples were taken and how many subjects were studied in the samples across both countries.

    This debate has merely shown further that there is a lot of ignorance yet in Africa .Let's keep moving …. so long its forward !

  • Rubbish!! How is it possible that Americans use "fowl" language, and Nigerians "where" joining Ghanaians…

    My brother, no one can make you feel inferior without your consent.

  • dele i had the opportunity of being taught by Ghanaian teachers and i did not during all that period of tutelage hear them refer to their manner of speech as superior to ours. i also do not think you should blame them for trying to ensure that you speak like they do and the reason is simple, the vocal polarity between our pronunciation methods probably made them insist on us speaking like them because that was the only way they were able to ascertain that we got whatever it was they were trying to impart into us. I reckon you will disagree with my third point but i will make it anyway. Every child worships and wants to be like his teacher at some point in his life because as far as the child in question is concerned his teacher is all knowing…. I will not deny the fact that there is that debate you referred to but i do not think any self respecting Ghanaian will refer to himself and his intonation as superior to ours, and anyway why are having this obviously unhealthy debate. i really dont care how we speak and as a commentor has rightly opined, maybe we should devote our energy to making sure that our culture and by extension language does not become extinct.

  • In 2007, nigerians are competing with ghanians over who speaks better english?

    hahahahahaha

    We don missroad ooooo.

    In the great words of Sir Shina peters, soonest recover to all of una ooo.

  • As a Ghanaian, this article really makes me sad. So what if the Australians and English people prefer "Nigerian English" or "Ghanaian English?" We are better off spending time perfecting our own native African languages than bikkering among ourselves over who can speak the White man's language better!! What slaves we are. I just read an article on NVS that the IGBO language is getting close to extinction. So are some Ghanaian languages. Maybe if Igbo's spoke Igbo, and I spoke and WROTE in my natve language and you did the same, English will become extinct on the African continent. Let us learn about OURSELVES and our culture and stop trying to perfect someone else's language. The Englishman is not trying to perfect Twi or Yoruba.

  • You really amazed me with your

    write- up and at the same time you chicken yourself out by admitting the Ghanaians pronunciation at first, though I was taught by them, but I always disagreed with their pronunciations, it was my Nigerian English teacher who taught me the best oral English language that got me through and moreover, where I am teaching English now(Turkey) they prefer Nigerians to Ghanaians. Matter of fact, Ghaianians accent is too thick for liking.

    • Am ghanaian and i knew the writer was leing when he talked about ghanaian teachers thinking their english is superior. No ghanaian teacher care about that. I will certainly do not think my ghanaian english is “superior” over nigerian english. All i know is both is unique in thier own way.

  • Hi Dele,

    Good write -up.

    I never had the awful experience of been taught by Ghanaians. Yet since I have grew up and travelled and had contact with them I have always seen them as inferior to us Nigerians in English speaking. I pity them when they speak and wryly smile at them with contempt.

    Anyone who thinks Ghanaians have better diction than us must be living in fool's paradise.

    Here in Australia I have some Ghanaian pals with me, and I think they are respectful for my diction is better. Even Australians and English people do not speak better than us. Believe me.

    I grew up with strict Queens English teachers. We Nigerians are just wonderful in English regardless of the fact that it is not our mother tongue.

    So I understand what you are trying to pass across.

    Bye mate!

  • You are still sounding inferior to Ghanians in terms of English speaking.

    Honestly, the your opinion seem to be different from most Nigerians i have met; as they have never thought of comparing your so-called Ghanian English to Nigerian English accent.

    No cause for alarm.