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Observer says...

Colonial versus mother tongues

While the world celebrates the UNESCO Mother Tongue Day, proactive countries like Tanzania were scrapping the English language as a medium of instruction in their school system.

Mother Tongue Day is celebrated in many countries, but strangely, the programmes for activities during those celebrations are written in a foreign tongue, English for countries like Swaziland.

Both the country’s newspapers have been running adverts espousing the ‘sweet fruits’ of mother tongue use, but the text in those adverts is in English. Whether this is an intended irony, one cannot be sure, but one thing is certain, that a few people could have understood what was being said, had it been written in our mother tongue.

This then shows how deeply entrenched the English language has been set in our mentalities, and it will take a gargantuan effort to undo this.

But this does not mean it cannot be done. Serious steps, like the one taken by Tanzania, are one step towards the de-anglification of our state of being, and to start with the schools are the way to go, as children would be unshackled of the colonialists tongue while charting a new future entrenched in their indigenous language.

Some may argue if it is possible to run the world without the English language which has firmly established itself as the lingua franca of the entire universe.

When this subject is being broached, the example of China comes to the fore, where many argue that the Chinese who have become a superpower economically and otherwise, managed to carve a niche for themselves developing industries and scientific pursuits of unprecedented proportion using their own tongue.

This clearly shows that countries can develop without using such languages like English French, Portuguese and others which were drilled into the minds of the colonies they once lorded over.

The Chinese were never fully colonialised by any nation in their long history, but one would have thought that to develop, they would adopt the languages of global commerce, but they never did. 

Today, they are making inroads into many countries, especially in Africa, using pidgin English to communicate, and do not care a damn about the many nuances of the Queens language, just as long as they get the message across.

Coming closer to home, we have glorified English such that we made it a passing subject in our schools. Many Swazi children have had their future quashed just because they failed the English subject in school, and you then wonder if we will ever de-anglicise our education system and to what consequences.

It then becomes clear that if we want to promote our mother tongue so that it is preserved for posterity, we have to start now, and act like the other countries which have ditched English as a medium of instruction.

Just like Jomo Kenyatta observed when Kenya got independence that the basis of any independent nation is its national language, and we can no longer continue aping our former colonisers... those who feel they cannot do without English can as well pack up and go.

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