Feb 22, 2012 at 1:38pm
International Mother Language Day
COMMENTARY ON INTERNATIONAL MOTHER LANGUAGE DAY
The General Conference of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in November 1999, instituted the International Mother Language Day to be marked on 21st February. The Day, seeks to bring to the fore, strategies nations should adopt to preserve the various indigenous languages as well as enhance the promotion of linguistic and cultural diversity. It is also to encourage and even inspire individuals to take up the learning of a new language. In Ghana, the Day has not received the due attention, unlike the other International Days instituted by the United Nations. Since 2008 the celebration in Ghana has been on a very low key. The Ghanaian Languages Department of the University of Education, Winneba, the Bureau of Ghana Languages and the UNESCO office in Accra should be commended for organizing programmes in some of the electronic media in order to promote the Ghanaian languages. It is expected the Bureau of Ghana Languages with the support of the Ministry of Chieftaincy and Culture, will continue to spearhead subsequent celebrations of the Day to give it a national character.
Languages and their complex implications for identity, communication and social integration, education and development are of strategic importance for the speakers if well harnessed. But due to globalization, languages are completely under threat. It should be seriously noted that as languages phase out so will the world’s rich cultural diversity. We need to appreciate the fact that languages contain cultural values, norms, ethics and etiquettes. Unfortunately, some parents feel so ashamed to associate with their own culture and even refuse to communicate to their children in the mother tongue. Their actions are denying the children the linguistic human rights. One is not against the study and use of the English language, but the right thing must be done at the right time, if we want to save our languages for posterity. One interesting aspect of this practice is the wrong use of the English language which in the long run affects the child’s performance at school. The inability to effectively use both the mother tongue and the English make us like bats in the linguistic field. Research has proved that the mother tongue serves as a background knowledge, upon which inferences and predictions can be made to facilitate transfer to a second language. Stephen Krashen, an expert in the field of Linguistics, has noted that when schools provide children with quality education in their primary language, they give them knowledge and literacy, and the knowledge they have gained in L1 helps them make the English they hear and read more comprehensible. Based on this premise, the Ghana Education Service is enjoined to ensure that the policy whereby the L1 is to be used as the medium of instruction from the Kindergarten through the lower primary level of the child’s formative years is monitored carefully and strictly enforced. The poor performance of most of the BECE candidates who write the Ghanaian Language and Culture examination can be attributed to the foundation at the primary school level, which has a spill over to the Senior High School. As we observe the day, the FM stations which defied the odds and introduced the use of Ghanaian languages for their programmes deserve commendation.
However, newsreaders in the local languages are entreated to take note of the uniqueness of news reading and avoid loading their news with irrelevant expressions and jokes that eventually make their reportage subjective instead of the needed objectivity. In order to promote the development of the local languages, in view of globalization and the introduction of ICT, new terminologies and concepts, the Ministry of Chieftaincy and Culture should support the Bureau of Ghana Languages to reactivate the Language Committees of the 11 government- sponsored languages to research and incorporate technical and scientific terms into the local languages towards their development. It is recommended that the Ghana Institute of Journalism re-introduces Ghanaian language studies into its curricula so as to equip the graduating students adequately in the presentation of Ghanaian Language programmes. The Ministry of Education should collaborate with the Bureau of Ghana languages to publish textbooks in Ghanaian languages. The Bureau of Ghana Languages currently under the Ministry of Chieftaincy and Culture, reassigned to the Ministry of Education to save it from total collapse.
In order to demonstrate our participation in this year’s celebration as Ghanaians, it is recommended that we try to acquire a book written in our mother tongue and read a few pages today. Let’s also try to pick a few expressions of another Ghanaian language today, as our contribution to enhance social integration. Those who do not speak their mother tongue at home are encouraged to begin today if that is not the practice.
BY: FRANCIS EHOMA KWAW, FORMER DIRECTOR, BUREAU OF GHANA LANGUAGES (BGL).