Which Way is West African English developing?

I have been wondering how long it will be before it’s possible to select “West African Enlgish” as the language option on a computer. After all there’s already a choice of English English, American English, South African English and Caribbean English on offer.

I’m now old enough to look quite some way back and see how many things have changed, developed and evolved. My father, who was Ghanaian , wrote and spoke Enlgish as any highly educated English person would. How one spoke English at that time reflected a person’s class and education.

English was not my father’s mother tongue. He had first learnt English at school. This was still the case when I attended secondary school in Ghana. One classmate spoke eight Ghanaian languages as well as extremely good English. His father had been a government official who had been transferred all over the country so his son had been forced to learn new languages if he wanted to fit into his new surroundings.

The syllabus in my exam years was set in England where the papers were also marked. English grammar and English Literature were two distinct subjects. Grammar and spelling had to be correct. At “A” level Chaucer’s “Pardonner’s Tale” from the “Canterbury Tales” was one of our set texts. We studied the work and quoted from it in the Middle English of Chaucer’s original work. Bearing in mind that Chaucer’s dates are c1343-1400 this was asking rather a lot from West African students who had probably never travelled very fr within their own coutries to say nothing of “overseas”.the setting up of West African Examination Boards led to a welcome and very necessary africanization of various syllabuses.

These days educated parents speak English as well as an African language to their children from their babyhood.The daughter of a friend of mine grew up speaking English, Yoruba and Ibo (both Nigerian languages) as well as Ga (a Ghanaian language) spoken by the neighbours. She was completely aware that they were separate languages and did not mix them up.

There was a peirod when it was fashionable to be introducing English words unnecessarily into conversations in the local languages. “Pidgeon” English has existed in West Africa for hundreds of years. It was a lingua france for trade for people who otherwise didn’t have a common language. It is now accepted that “pidgeon” is a language in its own right and not just a bastardized form of English. It has not been a written literary language.

West African English now has many grammatical constructions which are accepted as correct but which strictly speaking are ungrammatical. Words are also given very different meaning. I’m very interested in how this is going to impact on contemporary writing. Are some West African authors going to be forced to have their work rewritten into standard English before it is pulished for a wider audience or are we going to have books with copious explanatory footnotes.

I would be interested in wht young African authors have to say on the subject.



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