[lg policy] Pay attention to Ghanaian languages

Harold Schiffman haroldfs at gmail.com
Mon Feb 19 09:58:01 EST 2018

 Pay attention to Ghanaian languages

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[image: Teacher Classroom Students]
teacher with her pupils

Article 39, Clause 3 of the 1992 Constitution of the Republic of Ghana
enjoins the state to “foster the development of Ghanaian languages and
pride in Ghanaian culture”.

By this constitutional provision, the state is obliged to formulate and
implement policies and programmes towards the development of Ghanaian
languages and cultures.

It is also incumbent on the state to ensure that its citizens feel proud of
their languages and cultural heritage. However, one wonders if the state is
really performing her responsibility as far as this constitutional
requirement is concerned.

On November 17, 1999, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and
Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) proclaimed February 21 as International
Mother Language Day, and it was first observed throughout the world on
February 21, 2000.

This day was instituted to promote linguistic and cultural diversity,
multilingualism and to highlight greater awareness of the importance of
mother language education. The institution of the day was also to bring to
the fore strategies nations could adopt to save their various indigenous
languages and tap their immense benefits to the full.

*Mother language day*

In Ghana, the celebration of the International Mother Language Day has not
been given the due attention it deserves, apparently due to the lack of
government commitment, coupled with poor attitude of Ghanaians towards
their own mother languages. Even though the celebration of the
International Mother Language Day has been brought to the attention of
Ghanaians since 2008, many people are still ignorant of it.

Some people even look down on students studying Ghanaian languages in our
universities. This situation does not augur well for the development of our
local languages. It is worthy to note that available statistics points to
the extinction of some Ghanaian languages in the near future.

One sure way of promoting a language is to speak it and reduce it to
writing. However, in Ghana, many people appear to feel shy to speak their
own mother language. The Bureau of Ghana Languages, the only government
department mandated to write and publish books exclusively in Ghanaian
languages as a way of promoting our local languages, is unable to deliver
effectively because of understaffing, insufficient funds and logistics.

Since its establishment in 1951, the bureau has been operating in the 11
Ghanaian languages so far studied in our educational institutions, namely
Akuapem Twi, Asante Twi, Dagaare, Dagbani, Dangme, Ewe, Ga, Gonja, Kasem,
Mfantse and Nzema. However, the once buoyant department engaged in the
development and promotion of Ghanaian languages is now a pale shadow of its
former self.

The theme for this year’s International Mother Language Day, ”Linguistic
Diversity and Multilingualism Count for Sustainable Development”, could not
have come at a better time. To foster sustainable development, learners
must have access to education in their mother tongue and in other
languages. It is through the mastery of the first language or mother tongue
that the basic skills of reading, writing and numeracy are acquired. Local
languages, especially minority and indigenous, transmit cultures, values
and traditional knowledge, thus playing an important role in promoting
unity in diversity and sustainable development.

*Language policies*

A closer look at Ghana’s language policies from the colonial era to date
clearly shows frequent policy shifts as the nation has oscillated between
pro-English policies and those that mandate the use of Ghanaian languages
in education to a limited extent. Currently, the Ghanaian Language Policy
states that Ghanaian languages should be used as a medium of instruction
from kindergarten to primary three.

The junior high school (JHS) students are learning one Ghanaian language
and the teacher trainees are also made to study one Ghanaian language under
the policy. This has created a vacuum in the senior high schools (SHSs) and
it is making the study of Ghanaian languages difficult for most of the
teacher trainees who do not study Ghanaian languages in the SHSs. To add
insult to injury, most of these teachers end up teaching the subject in our
basic schools. How can these teachers be adequately equipped to ensure the
success of the policy?

To reverse the trend, there is a need for a stable policy on Ghanaian
language education. Ghanaian languages should be made compulsory subjects
in the SHS through to the tertiary level. This will undoubtedly promote our
indigenous languages for sustainable development.

As we celebrate this year’s International Mother Language Day, let us take
the necessary steps to promote Ghanaian languages for national development.
Let us give prominence to our mother languages as we have given to some
foreign languages such as English, French, etc. The government should
adequately resource the Bureau of Ghana Languages to deliver on its
mandate. The call goes to the Ministry of Education, Ghana Education
Service, policy makers, traditional rulers and other stakeholders to rise
up to the challenge and save our mother languages from extinction.

The writer is with the Bureau of Ghana Languages


 Harold F. Schiffman

Professor Emeritus of
 Dravidian Linguistics and Culture
Dept. of South Asia Studies
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305

Phone:  (215) 898-7475
Fax:  (215) 573-2138

Email:  haroldfs at gmail.com

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