1-2 August 2010
Today I'll write something about Ghanaian English which I have heard till date. In India, English is not a natural language for us as we grow up speaking our mother tongues and the English language which we learn is the one taught in schools. When I first started speaking and writing the language, it was an exercise of memorising grammar and words,. There was no influence of English films or music on me as well so most of the cultural background while speaking the language has always been a major part of learning for me. English is a major language of trade and governance in India but a person can still live in India without having to use it at all.
After coming to Ghana, I was surprised to see the spread of the language and the way many illiterate people could use the language very well. After analysis of the situation it seems that there are two major factors which have helped the spread of the language. One, there are many languages spoken in the country so there has always been a need of common language and two, none of the local language is developed enough so that it can be used as a medium for learning and governance. In India, the local languages are strong enough to handle both and also have developed literature since ancient times.
So this means there is local version of English in Ghana which is spoken all across the country in addition to the local languages. The local version of English is only spoken one. One advantage of English being so common is that it is spoken naturally by the people and they speak it very fast that too with a local Ghanaian accent and number of expressions which have been developed due to the influence of local languages.
Now coming to the practical, here are some samples of Ghanaian English which I have experienced.
When one is travelling by a shared taxi or tro tro (small minibuses or jeeps), one has to pay the fare in advance. The collector comes and asks, "Gimmi larufe". When I heard it first time I thought he was speaking in the local language. I told him that I didn't understand him. He was looking at me as if I was a weird white person who can't speak English well. I asked the neighbour what does he mean. He told me to give the person my money. I gave the fare. Here they meant to say "give me lorry fare".
When some body says, "I'll flash you", it means "I'll give you a missed call on mobile phone".
"Indian women are so bee" is an adoption from Nigerian English and it means "Indian women are so beautiful". This is because of popularity of Bollywood movies full of songs and dance. By the way I have been asked by a number of Ghanaian men to find Indian wives for them. They see in those films how the actresses are obedient towards their husbands and can dance with sexy movements as well, a big plus :)!
"I am tired small" means "I am a bit tired". So one can use the word 'small' for anything which is less. So when somebody starts talking with me in Gurune with the intention of teaching me the language and uses complicated long sentences, I tell them, "teach me small."
One day a man with whom I am working asked me, "Did you foot here?". I looked at him expressing that I could not understand him. He asked the question repeatedly for three times. He wanted to ask me whether I walked to his place.
If somebody is eating and you go there they will say "you're invited." This is the direct translation of the phrase 'tidi' from the Gurune language. Most of the time it is said as a customary greeting and you should not expect sharing of the food. Once a lady in the office was eating something and after seeing me she said, "You’re invited". I had not seen what she was eating, and as in India, the way we easily share our peanuts, I thought it must be something like that and asked her loudly, "what is that?” The lady was taken aback as if I was going to go there and start eating from her plate. She was eating her rice and fish. Then she told me explaining Ghanaian manners that I was supposed to reply, "Thank you.". Yes but what I have observed is that they do share their peanuts easily and like in India, if your relations are really friendly you can just go and start eating them from other's plate without asking any permission.
One expression which most of the westerners here find strange but I don't is, "I'll go and come." When anybody goes away and wants to say bye, they'll say this phrase "Kengewana" which translates into English as "I'll go and come" and sometimes the English translation is used as it is while speaking with the people who can't speak Gurune. (One can believe that they are going but one can't trust that they will be returning again to meet you.) It is logical to feel that it is strange because one is going but still saying that I'll come as well. I think that it is a feeling of not separating permanently but meeting again sometime in the future which is expressed through this phrase. In Marathi in fact we are more advanced sometimes in the usage of such expression and one says directly ''I'll come (मी येतो)" when actually one wants to say is "I am going". In fact, due to influence of English, when somebody says these days "I am going", the elders in the house will always remind, "don't say I am going, say I'll come." On the day when I was going to depart for Ghana, my two year old son (of course with the help of prompting from his mother) started to tell me, "Daddy, don't go", I had replied, "I'll go and come."