The problem I have with articles that respond to previously published ones is, in Nigerian speaks, the oversabi attitude and undertone that are often associated with them. If anything, articles must be respected in their own right—whether the claims made therein are erroneous or factual. When it is factual, we internalise its facts and claims, and when erroneous it pushes our curiosity and research to desirable limits, limits where only the truth (or fact) is unfurled. However, learning involves unlearning and relearning.
We may have to consider this a rebuttal but the writer denies all accusation of attempt of oversabism. The need to respond to Ifyede’s article, “English or Inglis? The need for the Decolonisation of Language”, is to prove that most of her claims are misleading. She further also fails to see her own bias when she describes Igbo, Hausa and Yoruba as major languages, a term that’s rather political than linguistic.
Study of Language, as we know it, has become more scientific in modern times than a phenomenon to be merely explained without deep reasoning and research. The crux of Ifyede’s arguments is that language standardization (English) is dependent upon external factors (read colonialism) than internal: satisfying the needs of language itself. The following paragraphs will deal directly with this misconception, showing why language is, borrowing the masquerade metaphor of Charles Nnolim, a big masquerade itself not requiring the services of smaller ones to maximally actualise.
The ship of Ifyede’s article seemed destined for a wreck from outset when she ridiculously asserts that colonisation began in Nigeria with the “replacement” of indigenous tongues with English, thus “conferring the status of inferiority” on them. The problem with the word replace here is the sense of conscious, tactful elimination it creates. We do know, as a matter of science, that when languages come in protracted contact, one naturally ascends to the level of superior language. Also, the English language and other European languages were already in contact with indigenous languages long before the advent of colonialism. The outset of Nigerian pidgin, as we have it today, was not because of the contact with colonial Britain, but rooted in the trade contact with Portugal and other foreign languages, which explains why the lexis of pidgin (or pidgins depending on your point of view) spoken in Nigeria has some Portuguese in it.
Furthermore, she describes the evolution of the pidgin spoken in Nigeria as a form of decolonisation. The nature of pidgin is such that it borrows extensively from one dominant language, hence such terms as English Pidgin, French pidgin, etc. What this shows, therefore, is that English still remains in it! So when Ifyede says pidgin “is our own, and we should own it” it begs the question of how well we own this pidgin: Is its lexis made of even 50% indigenous words? Is it standardised (a term we shall return to shortly)? If it is, is the standardisation based on the grammar of any indigenous language(s)?
Certainly, Ifyede must have problems with Britain, but unfortunately such problem are not linguistic, hence, trying to rope linguistics into her personal problems is nothing short of injustice. What else explains the fact that she goes on to claim that standardization is a “colonial coinage” and introduced to prevent the dominance of the pidgin spoken in Nigeria? This is ludicrous! Standardization is as old as the earliest attempts of man to write what he says. Because of the need to communicate effectively, speech communities develop a standard which every participant ought to adhere to. It is this standardisation that ensures that the semantic aspect of language is fully accounted for. Without which, man will unconsciously continue to say one thing and mean another; or mean one thing and say another.
Moreso, the problem of pidgin(s) spoken in Nigeria today is its lack of standardization. It is obvious (except to Ifyede, of course) that even the so-called Nigerian pidgin differs across regions and states. This is why I have chosen to rather describe it as pidgin(s) spoken in Nigeria than Nigerian Pidgin, which ironically means it is standardised. Warri pidgin is markedly different from Lagos Pidgin, and Port Harcourt Pidgin from, say, Enugu Pidgin. So when Ifyede says we should allow lexis be an all-comers affair by allowing slay queens spell as they like, slay kings spell as they like and intellectuals spell as they like, it’s no longer language, because the ultimate goal of language is communication. Because no one will eventually understand the other, such arbitrary use of language is a bigger problem than whatever colonial repulsion that is driving Ifyede and her ilk.
But even if this is not enough, the fact that English has risen to the point of being the Language of Wider Communication (LWC) means we have the need to speak it and speak it well if we must be effectively heard. If this amounts to neo-colonialism to Ifyede, then almost all the world is under the spell of neo-colonialism and are happy about it. Wrong usage in the face of standardisation puts people off as they will spend more time correcting you in their minds than listening. Ultimately they get bored and walk, or if it’s a book, dump it somewhere never to be read again.
Finally, contemporary studies of English has shown that socio-cultural influences have ensured the English spoken in different geographical areas stray away significantly from Standard English. Hence, modern studies will rather opt for Englishes than English. What this means is that people have adopted the English language and bent it to accommodate their culture. This is why today we can speak of Ghanaian English, South African English, may be Nigerian English, etc. This is most significant in African literature. While scholars like Achebe, Soyinka, the troika—Chinweizu, Onwuchekwa Jemie and Ihechukwu Madubuike propose this approach of remoulding the English language, radicals like Obi Wali, Ngugi wa Thiong’o and, their most recent convert, dearest sister Ifyede, would rather jettison the English Language. It is of course, to their peril! How many have read books written by any of them in Swahili or Igbo?
In addition to the above, the English Language must be exonerated from such accusations of fostering neo-colonialism. For instance, many times in the past, the Nigerian parliament struggled with the question of which Nigerian language should be made the formal language. While some preferred one of the “major” languages be made the official language, others like late Saro Wiwa argued that it is only by making one of the minority languages the formal language that the minority tribes can have a sense of true acceptance in the Nigerian state. This is why Nigerian has stuck with English to date. Why blame the language?
A Multi-ethnic and multilingual society like Nigeria needs a language to unite it. We have this unity because of the English Language rather than in spite of it. If need be, we must disregard the history that brought it and focus on making the most out of it.
Dear Ifyede, a language without standardisation is bound to cause linguistic chaos.