Language and Identity

I’ve been thinking of Languages recently. Of what language means to us, especially as a tool of identity.

I can speak a total of 4 languages fluently.
Ga, which is my mother tongue and first language. Twi, the most commonly used Ghanaian language. English, it is the official language of Ghana due to colonialism and the medium of teaching in our schools.
Chinese, not as fluent as the others but good enough to work with.
I’ve also ‘played’ with French, Spanish, Swahili, Yuroba and Tsalagi (Cherokee). Far from forming even a sentence in any of these though😂.

For some months now, the encouragement in the ability of children to learn and speak second languages (aka international languages in Ghana) so as to increase future job prospects has been worrying me.
As a Chinese tutor for basic level Chinese, I get called a number of times to come teach kids below 5yrs old Chinese. These calls are usually coming in from the administrators of Montessori preschools or private ‘rich’ parents. Some of these schools and parents will get a different tutor for at least 5 international languages for their wards, without any slot for learning a local language or their mother tongue.

Growing up, though we learn and are forced to use English in schools, we speak our mother tongue or common language of our community at home.
Now most parents speak English with their children at home, so many of these Montessori kids cannot speak any local language at all.

To me, any language is for the purpose of communication. But a native tongue has the extra role of giving us an identity. Someone hears you speaking a language and they can take a guess at where you are from. If you say you are of a particular origin but cannot speak the language, people question if you are really who you say you are, or worse think of you as not an original, belonging in name only.

I’m afraid second languages are killing our mother tongues. But this is not new. Languages have gone extinct or labelled dead before, and still happening now.
According to Wikipedia, Ghana has 5 languages at risk of extinction, with the Animere language having a merely 30 living speakers as of 2003. I’ve never heard of any of these languages nor the villages where it’s supposed to be spoken.

Even with a conscious concern for this, many times I hang with friends with whom I share understanding of a local language but still hold our entire conversation in English, why? Because I flow more easily with English. I can express myself better.
Romantic expressions and flirtations when done in any local language weirds me out a bit tbh. Like someone telling me they wanna kiss me in Ga or Twi, urrgh.

So this makes me question myself, is it really important? Language as a tool for identity, is that something we should hold on to? What is so wrong in embracing the language of the period?

Will it be so bad if my local tongue goes extinct and we all speak English? Yes, I think it will be.
If no one at a point was speaking a language you know and identity with, if no one was speaking Ga, Ewe, Dagare, Guan, Igbo, your native tongue, and you still lived in that time, you’d feel very sad for one. You may feel like you entire history and ancestry has been wiped out and lost to your living generation.

But what if before the languages we speak now, our ancestors used a different language? One that is extinct and we have no recollection of at all? Does that change our identity then? Are those ancestors no longer ours because we can’t communicate in a common language?
And if time gave way to our present languages, and we still developed love and attachment to it, can we prevent time from doing that again? Should we try to?

What is my point here? Nothing really. Just an acknowledgement of sort to myself. That as all things changes, so does language. And as I embrace change when suitable, there’s nothing really wrong with going with the times on what language should be used.
Yes I want my native tongue to stay alive. I will speak it with those that I can. I will teach it to my children. But I won’t be too hard on myself for using a foreign language. For embracing and expressing myself more freely in a foreign tongue.

Second languages are killing off our native tongues. We should try and save them, but if we fail, maybe it’s just what is supposed to happen. As all things have a beginning and an ending, so does language.

Have a lovely week ahead everyone 😘✌🏿❤️😃

3 Replies to “Language and Identity”

  1. I read almost half of the know languages will disappear in a few decades. That’s sad. I started to study Manderin after you posted about your involvment in languge. And although I am aware that it’s a long term process I have learned so much from just the basic structure it’s amazing. Languge dictates how I think and how I share. I love other languages because they propose a different way of percieving the world.
    I also found it necessary since most of what we know about Zen comes from China, and the interpretations were done by a lot of people who had a stake in the western religious way of seeing things. David Hinton’s writings have been very educational concerning alternate translations that indeed make more sense to me.
    Love this post. You are a most amazing person my friend.

    Liked by 1 person

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