Thursday, November 27, 2008

Africans and their love of English

There is a hilarious article in the Mail and Guardian about Africans, Nigerians in particular, and their love for bombastic words- the longer, the more obscure, the better; maintaining the meaning of the sentence takes second seat to the beauty of the vocabulary. The article is entitled ‘Metal on concrete jars my drink lobes’ and is written by C Don Adinuba. He gives laugh-out-loud examples such as, “I never perused the inner anatomy of the female homo sapiens.” This was said by the historian Emmanuel Ayandele when pointing out to a group of students how he had remained celibate through his undergraduate years.

Botswana is not immune to this phenomenon. The good lecturers at the University of Botswana, according to my husband when he was there, are the ones that used “powerful jargon”, the ones that took ten words to say something that could be said with two. If you found that person, you knew you were in for some real learning.

I used to type letters for an elderly man who was the head of a tiny political party with a socialist inclination; so tiny in fact I often wondered if he might have been its only member. He was always busy dashing off letters to the president and to international bodies complaining about what he thought was going wrong in the country. He was a big fan of using two or three words where only one was needed. He did this most often with verbs and adjectives. A sentence such as, “I read your long letter” could not be left in such an anemic state. He’d beef it up to, “I perused and studied in an attempt to understand your lengthy, extensive correspondence.” I’d sometimes edit claiming I couldn’t read his handwriting and he’d always carefully instruct me about the words I had so carelessly left out. He had a reputation to uphold.

The title of the M & G article is actually the first line in Wole Soyinka’s novel, The Interpreters. Very funny indeed.

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