Reflections on Ghana Study: Language Diversity

Riley's picture

Although my group's Ghana Study presentation on language diversity was quite a few weeks ago, I still think often of the role language plays in Ghanaian society and education systems. Connecting to readings we've done in Pim's class on the subject of language in a postcolonial society, I find there are two (broadly speaking) schools of thought: the more idealistic (think Decolonizing the Mind of Ngugi wa Thiong'o) and the more pragmatic (think The Education of a British Protected Child of Chinua Achebe). Ideally, native language should play a huge role in national identity and pride. Speakers could be making concrete efforts to write in the language and to speak it. However, thinking more pragmatically, a unifying language (like English) could serve a purpose of being a place of neutrality and unification. Achebe writes, "The great thing about being human is our ability to face adversity down by refusing to be defined by it, refusing to be no more than its agent or its victim." He writes of a "middle ground...where the human spirit resists an abridgement of its humanity." And I think using English (in the context of Ghanaian education) could be the kind of middle ground about which Achebe writes.

I decided to write about idealism versus pragmatism in the context of language usage because one thing I've been struck by after having traveled to Ghana is the difference between theory and reality. Of course people use Dagbani and Twi and Ewe in certain contexts, and they should continue to do so. English is a tool of power that can and is often used to stratify different groups of people based on ethnicity and socioeconomics. But it can also be a way to dialogue with the world in a way that will ellicit a response.

In the context of a more pragmatic stanse on language, I find it helpful to think of one of Alice's favorite quotes by Adrienne Rich, "We must use what we have have to invent what we desire." English was imposed on colonized countries like Ghana--that is a reality that had and continues to have real consequences. What can be done in the reality of what exists in this moment? There's a place between blind idealism and pragmatism and I'm still exploring the tenuousness of where exactly it is.


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