32.2 C
City of Banjul
Saturday, May 25, 2024

National languages; symbol of liberty and acceptance. Could officialising it bridge social dilemmas in Gambia?

- Advertisement -
image 26
By Fatou Saho

The Gambia, the smallest country in mainland Africa with a population of over two million people, each belonging to different ethnicities of Fula, Manjago, Wolof, Serer, Sarahulleh, Jola, Karoninka, Aku, Mandinka, still has its people shamed on the use of their national dialects as a symbol of liberty and acceptance in most settings.

Only few of this population are fluent and understand the colonial and official language- English, thereby leaving most of the people’s needs undiluted and digs social gaps fuelled by ignorance.

Over the past years, most of the schools in the Gambia, at the lower basic cycles, the pupil are often requested to shame their fellows for speaking in their mother tongue by putting on a string of empty tins and worn-out materials to symbolise the students’ unacceptance within the school environment. Where as, the upper and senior secondary schools are compelled to pay an amount for trying to express themselves in the language that they understand better even though historians believe national languages are badges of identity to every citizen and a key to our diverse cultures.

- Advertisement -
WhatsApp Image 2024 04 23 at 14.30.03

Recently, the National Centre for Arts and Culture with support from the Academy of African Languages (ACALAN), staged a seminar to elaborate on the national language policy for Gambia, together with politicians, teachers and students in recognition of the day Gambia gained its republic.

Omar Drammeh, a teacher and historian, stated that denying people their indigenous languages is a right violation.

“95% of Gambians’ basic human right to use their mother tongue unrestricted has been denied in schools. Students are not allowed in most cases to speak ‘vernacular’, and in history is wrong to call our national languages ‘vernacular’. We the teachers most of the times compel the students to speak in English,” Mr. Drammeh said, adding that it is a denial to students with limited understanding of English, from class participation.

- Advertisement -

He also mentioned that, if a common national language is not adopted to serve as official language and lingua franca, the transfer of skills, new knowledge and other vital information to effect change cannot be delivered at both regional and national levels for development endeavour.

“Our slow socio-economic development is a consequent of not adopting national language as official,” Mr Drammeh noted.

Most Gambians are sidelined from national participation or meaningful interactions as the fear of speaking English the wrong way, with mockery and fun trends on social media, linger in their minds and gradually depreciate their self-esteem.

 The director of NCAC Hassoum Ceesay, said that Gambia owes a big debt to the use of her national languages to gain independence and can still bear its strong identity with full liberty by the use of a national language policy.

He stated: “Competence in national language policy would be a catalyst for better results in English Language”. He emphasised that, real linguistic and decolonisation could only begin in The Gambia if Gambians write in their mother tongues.

 As discussions on the national language policy for The Gambia are still in progress, the issue of this bringing tribalism and disunity has gripped some with fear but Mr. Hassoum cited: “The problem is not about the language but rather the opportunities”.

WhatsApp Image 2024 04 29 at 08.27.47

The lack of policy for national languages in The Gambia has left many social, economic and cultural issues unaddressed with many of the politicians and individuals not being able to vividly express themselves in the official language which also gave birth to underrepresentation and misunderstanding.

However, among the things that the NCAC proposed for consideration on the national language policy includes dividing the three main national languages (Wolof, Fula and Mandinka) as: language of route, language of the media, language of the market and language of office alongside English.

Almost all the politicians in the Gambia campaign in languages that the people understand but due to the restrictions and shaming of not speaking the official languages, most of the issues are not communicated to the people.

Kemo Bojang, a youth councillor at KMC, said neglecting national languages in youth political participation can lead to exclusion and disenfranchisement of rights not only in society but also in the political arena.

WhatsApp Image 2024 04 29 at 08.27.46

“We are bound to speak English, this is what our colonials used to curtail our leaders, and some of the ways they used to control our people. Unfortunately, we have not done a good job in building a state post independence which is one of our greatest mistakes since independence. There are lot of issues people within our villages, towns and cities want to communicate but cannot because they feel they will be left out,” Kemo explained as he highlighted East Africa’s success of making Swahili one of their official languages which makes communication easier in the East Africa region.

Part of the recommendations which were also discussed during Gambia’s 54th republic day, was for the government to complement efforts of agencies involved in the promotion and development of national languages, by declaring some of the languages as official and to institute prize language competitions to promote the use of our own dialect.

Join The Conversation
- Advertisment -spot_img
- Advertisment -spot_img