By Musa Touray
Africans who dwell on the torturous past of slavery and colonialism find it hard to recognise the essence of a language that has long transcended its original shores. Deepening one’s intellectual quest through the continually universalised medium of communication is, to them, an acknowledgement of superiority some users have attached to the language.
This is a popular warped perception, which has dampened our commitment to the pursuit of the English language in a world where minimal mastery of it is a marketable accomplishment. Striving to learn and apply the basics of the language is not only weighed down by dissuasive forces of mediocrity but the process is often mischaracterised as a showy obsession with ‘big English.’ It’s time we broke free from this notion and joined the rest of the world to maximise our understanding of a globally sought-after commodity.
English is an epilanguage in most, if not all, spheres of life—scholarship, extraterrestrial research, scientific studies, diplomacy etc. An epilanguage is one that is used as a means of expression for some purpose, such as those highlighted above. Major scientific discoveries and breakthrough publications have been made in English, even by scholars who use it as a second language and have not the littlest anthropological affiliation with its native speakers.
“[Proficiency in] English is not a measure of intelligence,” has become a central assertion in the undervaluation campaign against the language by a section of non-native users. Unless there exist nuanced definitions of the word beyond me, expressing oneself in any language, not just in English, is itself intelligence.
A renowned public affairs analyst was challenged by a hostile follower on X, formerly Twitter, to use English and buy fuel, if his love affair with words was beneficial. “You may not want to hear this, sir,” replied the analyst, “but I make a living by writing proficient English.” This response clarified for a man who fell under the category of those in oblivion about the language’s incomparable marketability in the contemporary world. “I am paid for producing grammatically-decent content,” he added.
Using a language also means we should not hold the laws that govern it in contempt. Laws, as they obtain for man, are there to ensure correct usage and fight off linguistic anarchy. This is one aspect most of us have ignored in making a living through the English language. For example, newspapers, which are a traditional platform for the learning of English, have become guilty of unforgivable solecisms.
The convenience of social media has given birth to a handful of commentators and self-styled journalists who exhibit a flagrantly terrible command of a language in which they choose to communicate. The urgent need to learn the basics of their preferred language is overshadowed by a desire to generate reactions and clout. Some with over hundreds of thousands of followers, they pass off bruised grammar to an uncritical readership.
Schoolgoing enthusiasts of current affairs are bound to accept as grammatically flawless whatever they read in newspapers or of press releases. This is supposed to be the case if the articles are subject to rigorous editorial scrutiny, not only to establish facts but also to ensure that the rules of grammar are respected.
The growing popularity of English in non-anglophone domains is telling. While we continue to dismiss it as the colonisers’ tongue, others have recognised it as an indispensable language that serves transactional and communicative needs in ways and styles no other language does.