Stories of Africa — Language — Part 1
When I was completing studies at a university in Kenya, I took a class I personally wanted to be part of, because I enjoyed literature discussions. We had a discussion on the differences between culture and tradition. The conclusion was that culture is what enables us to live in the present, while tradition is what helped our forefathers to live in the past.
And then there’s the topic of the superior culture of the times, and the inferior cultures that coexist along side it. I grew up in a family with television, access to the newspapers, and a father and mother who were fairly well traveled.
My parents are from different tribes, my dad is Luo and my mother is Bantu. That created an issue where English was the only language we spoke at home. So what has happened is I and my siblings don’t speak my dad’s language.
English, a language that’s key to life in my country, and in many of the wealthiest parts of the world, has superseded the use cases of my dad’s language.
I interact with a lot of children today, and a lot of them are not interested in the language of their parents, because they don’t see its utility. Language is a tool, and its use is dependent on how relevant it is to meeting the needs of the time, whether we like that reality or not.
While it’s not a disappointment per say that I don’t speak my dad’s language, he probably would have preferred that I was able to speak it. It creates issues, even worse a barrier, when I travel with him to northern Uganda, because I’m not able to speak with a lot of my uncles and aunt’s directly. I use a translator of sorts to make communication happen.
I sense the goodwill all around from my relatives up north, except for the barrier of language. In my country, that’s the effect of having grown up in Kampala City the capital, while at the same time having to relate with people from the rural areas especially the people my age.
I find a lot of times that it’s not easy to make conversation because for a lot of the people in the village, life revolves around subsistence farming while here in the city, life is more abstract, intellectual, idea based and faster.
A lot of times, conversations revolve around trying to bridge the gap between the city, and rural experience, and somehow in the end, one leaves with the feeling of as much as we are blood, and are one in that sense, we are again not one in the sense that the languages we use, are worlds apart.
Today in Africa, a lot of us young people are getting Americanized, many use the cute word globalized, but the truth is we are getting Americanized because it’s the adoption of American culture not a balanced sharing and adoption of perspectives, that are founded on the African experience balanced with the west.
The slow death of African language usage, especially in the children being born into Kampala city these days, is evidence of that.