Should We Create a Ugandan English Language? [opinion]

Part of the experience of writing a column is the feedback. Responses come in many ways: SMS, calls, emails, online comments, etc.

Kahunga Matsiko, a blogger, and Kigo Thinkers’ Norah Owaraga are particularly interesting, because their responses come in the form of a blog or well-presented paper. When I wrote about the VVIPs who, with their high-shrill police escorts, own the Entebbe road by regularly jumping the queues, I had wondered about how many vehicles make up the super-fast presidential convoy.

One reader sent in an exact count, plus a YouTube link! Others confessed to how they quickly tag onto the VVIPs’ convoys, to beat the jam. However, there is one who informed me that he specialised in blocking off cars that might wish to jump onto the convoy, by positioning his car more to the middle of the road and he is not a policeman!

Some articles are also timely or topical for the readers. One comment came in all the way from ‘oil-land’ Hoima, where a reader had witnessed an accident caused by a pothole that very day! The article on Usafi taxi park was published just before the rain season started it is possible that the taxi passengers’ agony has increased even more since then.

Fortunately, Ugandan newspaper readers are generally not abusive. Sometimes I shudder when reading comments and responses to columns in the Western media. It seems that editors have to be alert to racism, sexism plus discourteous comments, in addition to personal attacks amongst the respondents. Very ugly!

In response to my column last week about a bystander who had been knocked into a roadside gulley by a matatu taxi, in a ‘hit and run’ incident, one reader wondered whether the taxi got the wrong person. This was because a witness had described the victim as an ‘innocent man’! Of course, a discussion on diction – choice of words – and use of language ensued.

When catastrophe befalls, it is not unusual to describe one as ‘poor man… ‘ perhaps suggesting that it would be fine for a ‘rich man’ to suffer the pain. Television news reporters at accident scenes sometimes say: “At least’ one person died when… !” Is this an expression of disappointment?

At some point, we may have to accept our limitations with the English language and create a Uganda English Language where we accept some words and phrases. I remember telling William Pike, in the old days when he was still chief editor at New Vision, that errors on the front page looked miserable. He passed it off, suggesting that as long as meaning was communicated, that was fine!

This school holiday, I came across application letters from prospective teachers who presented themselves as, “… am a Ugandan agirl… “, and concluded with, “… greatful if u consider mi… !” I am told (or should I say, ‘Am told… ‘ that such challenges are not unique to only these particular job-seeking teachers.

One could argue that clarity was not compromised in the examples above. A software engineer I know, who wished to ensure clarity, insisted, repeatedly, that I must use a ‘full colon’ when accessing a website! Full colon?

It is not just the English language that is suffering from such assaults. My old man in Kabowa is ailing and has been down lately. “Ojja bbera bulungi,” said one of his young sons in an attempt to comfort him. The English equivalent would be, “You’re going to be ok… !”, but without the preposition, ‘to’!

We are certainly in trouble! I realised this when a friend, a pernickety stickler for good English – spoken and written – said, “Huh,” instead of ‘pardon’ or ‘really’, both orally and in text messages!

On another note, Term Three is about to begin. At our ‘Teachers In Service Training (INSET)’ this holiday, we focused on the characteristics of a 21st century teacher. Is today’s ideal primary or secondary school child equipped with skills required for work in 20 years from now?

Questions asked included: do we, teachers, understand the point or purpose of school? What are we doing to turn students into independent learners? Are we able to teach for understanding rather than recall? Can we make skills explicit and transferable, if we do not have them anyway?

Who then is an ideal student? Here is a list: curious, resilient, observant, experimenting, sociable, imaginative, disciplined and reflective. Do such people really exist? By the way, many people do not understand the meaning of ‘disciplined’.

The author is one of the founding Kigo Thinkers.

Source : The Observer

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