What’s Wrong with my English, as an African Inventor?
As the founder of Kumatoo, I receive emails or documentation from Africans with talent. All of them, however, do not necessarily have a good command of the “official language” spoken in their country and that was inherited through colonization. What matters to them is how they can convey a technical message even if the words are misspelled or used incorrectly, or even if the structure of their sentence would shock the purists.
A language is a means of communication. In other words, it is simply a set of rules that enables people who understand these rules to easily share ideas, ideals, values, knowledge, etc. English, French and Portuguese are languages with specific rules, sounds, intonations, etc. that do not belong to the African culture. They are European languages that fit perfectly within their own culture. Now, as a result of colonization, these languages were imposed to African people who had no choice but to learn the language, and study in the language of the colonizer. Consequently, in most African countries that were impacted by colonization, the language of the former colonizer is the “official language”, despite the fact that there have always been African languages spoken in these countries.
Not all African innovators, inventors or scientists – especially school dropouts – have a good command of their country’s “official language”. This is because it is not their mother tongue. Nonetheless, these inventors, innovators and scientists are capable of conceiving more or less complex devices by thinking directly in their mother tongue, more than in English, French or Portuguese. In short, any African language is not a barrier to innovation, invention, inspiration or knowledge acquisition in science related fields of study.
Now, an American does not learn at school in French, and a French does not learn in Spanish, or a Spanish in German. But in Africa, a Francophone (colonized by the French) will learn in French and an Anglophone (colonized by the British) in English. In other words, Africans are consciously or unconsciously alienated due to the fact that the colonists did a fantastic job by destroying the mental cultural map of African people. As a result, people with talent who do not speak their “official language” fluently are often minimized. They are even considered less intelligent than those who are fluent in their “official language”.
A banker, for instance, might be reluctant to lend money to an individual who cannot explain in plain English, French or Portuguese what he has invented. But what the banker tends to forget is that the inventor couldn’t have conceived a device if he did not think, say, in his mother tongue. In other words, African ingenuity is not contingent to the mastery of the colonizer’s language. A bit of history, for instance, reminds us that our ancestors, the true Egyptians, and the ancestors of the Egyptians, the Ancient Ethiopians, did not speak Greek. They spoke their African language and it is the Greeks who had to learn our language in order to understand our arts, sciences, religion, philosophy, etc.
In conclusion, Africans must be proud of their languages and use them to develop the sciences and technologies that will make Africa a mighty continent. It is going to be a long term process that we will have to achieve anyhow, at some point in time. Otherwise, the former colonists will keep on affecting our mental, cultural and scientific map. Are we going to let that happen?
By Rudy L. Massamba
Photo Credit: Pixabay