• Basidia M Drammeh

Opinion: Mandikanization of terms and concepts

Disclaimer: The use of the term "mandinkanization" does not mean that I am referring to the Mandinka language, per se. The term that I've coined myself, is generic and can refer to any indigenous Gambian language.


The colonization that Africa has been subjected to is one of the cruelest and harshest, in the sense that the Continent's native languages were marginalized and its indigenous cultures trivialized. Those of us who have mastered the colonial language are on a high pedestal looking down on those who have not. The funny thing, though, is the bulk majority continues to struggle with the English language. This has promoted the famous Kenyan writer Thiongo to call for the decolonization of the African mind. He is of the opinion that all languages are equal in status.


Unfortunately, the local African collaborators, or the so-called elite, have immensely contributed to the perpetuation of the colonial language and heritage until today. We tend to flex our English language muscles at the expense of our own languages. We tend to take pride in the other's culture, rather than our own, hence the cultural identity crisis. Don't get me wrong; I am a product of the prevailing system, let's set the records straight from the onset.


As a concerned Gambian and African, I can't stop reflecting on the extensive ramifications of colonialism on our local languages and culture. I've been fruitlessly and desperately endeavoring to lay my hand on literature dealing with this issue because I am of the conviction that as long as this matter remains unresolved, we will continue to lag behind for decades and centuries to come. I continue to wonder how we can achieve scientific development if we continue to struggle to understand scientific terms in our own languages! Science is all about terms and concepts that could be better understood in one's native language or mother tongue.


Notwithstanding, starting this conversation might get us to think about the matter with an open mind. The Asian countries have prospered because, in my humble opinion, they have maintained and developed their languages and ensured that their indigenous are the media of instruction. They have consequently maintained and nurtured their indigenous cultures, bearing in mind that language and culture are intrinsically inseparable. Africans are in deep crisis, as they are torn between their clinging on to their own marginalized culture and embracing the "OTHER" that may not accept them, because we mostly don't fit the bill. The "other" respects you when you respect yourself for who you are.


Back to the title of the article, we must start thinking seriously about developing our vernacular languages, because language, as we know, is constantly evolving. That's to say new vocabulary is introduced, new terms are coined and so and so forth. When you analyze our native languages, you soon realize that they are mostly stagnant. Listen to any translation into our native languages, you will hear a lot of borrowed words that we could have coined ourselves. Yes, borrowing is an undeniable sociolinguistic phenomenon but conversely coining is another option. Rather than indigenizing our native languages, we tend to be reliant on foreign terms and concepts. We must unite in this endeavor and set aside our linguistic variations. Any time, this issue is raised, the first question people ask is: Which language should we adopt? To answer this question, I guess the Swahili experience can be a stepping stone for us.

Author: Basidia M Drammeh

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