I was speaking about languages the other day, and it was interesting to see how people approach language and the reason behind it. I said I speak four languages. Truth! But I can read and write only two of them – English and Italian. I can speak and understand Fanti and Twi, but there’s so much work to be done around them because I don’t understand all things – i.e. proverbs.
My knowledge of these languages has been subject to needs and circumstances beyond my control for the most part.
Take English for example, I learnt it because I needed it for university. When I got accepted to study in England, that was a necessary move. When it comes to Italian, I had to learn it because my parents moved me to Italy when I was 8 years old. I had to go to school and live there (against my will lol) so I had to learn it. Before the age of 9, Twi was the only language I spoke fluently. I started learning and understanding Fanti properly when I started living with my dad (he’s Fanti, he refuses to speak Twi lol). I’d speak to him in Twi and he’d respond in Fanti! Some people argue that Fanti and Twi are the same, but they are not, although they are both Akan languages. I often think about them as Spanish and Italian: they both come from Latin, but have evolved differently. If one speaks Italian, one can kinda figure out some Spanish and be alright.
I think from the age of 10 or 11, in my household we spoke all four languages interchangeably (I had a little English going because my parents spoke it to my sisters and I sometimes).
In all this learning, credit goes to my parents for making sure I did not lose our native language. I have friends whose parents chose to speak only Italian or English to them. Some parents were tapping into their children’s knowledge to learn the language themselves – i.e. Italian. I believe the intention was great, but the result not so much because some friends ended up losing the ability to speak and/or understand our native languages.
I definitely want to work more on my Akan – Twi in particular. There are concepts that can never be translated into a Western language, because Western philosophy and ontology are different from Akan ways of being; and I think, because language is the medium through which concepts and ideas are formed, one can never understand a culture fully, unless one knows the language. I think Twi sounds fun and hilarious, Fanti sounds sweet, maybe that’s why some Takoradi boys got girls for days but anyway I digress.
Interesting fact: I don’t know how to count numbers in Twi. I’m learning now.
By Benjamina E. Dadzie