Stuck in No Man’s Land



    This write-up is sure to leave a bad taste in some people’s mouth; not one of those archetypal Famara Fofana essays imbued with humour and all those light-hearted lines.

    This time around, I intend to share with our esteemed readership a concern that seems to be taking an upward trajectory for all the wrong reasons. I found it both bizarre and absolutely funny in every sense of the word. It appears nowadays as if every young man and woman in this country has spent the past decade living in Uncle Sam, rubbing shoulders with anybody that is some body.

    Of course, thanks to globalization and unfettered exposure to every facet of life beyond our immediate environment, our lifestyles have naturally become so much interwoven with those in other parts of the world, Europe especially.

    It’s always a nice feeling and encouraging stuff to hear young Gambians speak English Language with a great degree of confidence and near flawlessness. After all, the subject alongside mathematics remains the Achilles heel of many students. For some of my friends who are keen to see our young ones speak the Queen’s language if not correctly but satisfactorily, the response that always comes your way at times is “hey we are no Tubab and this language does not belong to us in the first place”. Fair deal, so to speak, because the very essence of communication is ensuring understanding between source/sender and recipient.

    So, if that is the case and if we believe we should speak English without necessarily having to be perfectionists, why then do we have to make it a habit here in The Gambia to want to speak like someone who was born and bred in some Tubab country to a point a village boy like me had to appeal to someone the other day to raise his voice a bit so I could hear what he was mumbling.

    Sometimes, it’s even easier for a football fanatic like me to hear and decipher what BT Sports’ Andy Gray, with that heavy Scottish accent of his, is saying on the telly than a  twelfth grader in my Jeshwang neighbourhood. It even tends to be worst on unfamiliar telephone conversations with some person, but not only that even meeting someone in their office in the flesh.

    The other day a certain woman called our newsroom line to enquire about a particular coverage, instead of passing her message with simplicity and clarity, boy her accent was such that the other young lady who received it thought it was some white person who was just new in town. In the face of the confusion that gripped my colleague, I told her at the end that the woman on the other end of the phone must have just jetted in home recently on a sabbatical after long academic sojourn afar.

    I may be wrong but I do think it’s that self-driven urge by most people, young ones in particular to impress others. Unfortunately, this seems to be more prevalent in tertiary institutions where the need for originality and the safeguarding of our identity as a people should and must be encouraged. If a south Londoner, a Scourser from Liverpool, a Geordie from Newcastle can be too proud and easily be identified with their way of speaking, why can’t we too be content with speaking like Gambians and not some desperate wannabes. After all, the English we speak here compared to other countries in the sub-region is decent by all accounts in terms of accent and clarity. Grammar, on the other hand, is a different ball game altogether.

    For artistes and other players in the showbiz, I could understand. They have that stylish way of speaking, leaning on slang as and when they deem fit. But even for some of them especially when listening to them on radio, unlike TV, you might be tempted to be thinking that you are listening to Sean Combs aka P Diddy on a one-on-one with Oprah Winfrey. Ok fine, that’s an area for entertainment and entertainment we sometimes find when we get to hear them talking on shows but I believe their fans too deserve to fully grasp what they utter in the media.

    Gambians are seen struggling all the time trying to speak like an American or a British and in doing so, drop their originality into the bin. What would anyone get from people believing you’re American or British when you speak? For goodness sake, can we try to be ourselves even as we strive to follow in the footsteps of people we aspire to be? I won’t be fair too if I fail to accept the fact that those who have spent the better part of their time in the West are bound to have their way of speaking affected not by design but by default.

    PLO Lumumba said the dominant default instinct of Africans is to behave as people who colonised us. It is not your accent that matters to listeners but your ability to construct your ideas succinctly and clearly. If we continue to muddle in the copycat game, I am afraid we will neither sound Gambian nor the American diva rocking downtown Manhattan. Ridiculously, this is more of an issue for someone like me who has never gone beyond ‘ganaw marche’ in Kaur.

    by Famara Fofana