Liberian Colloquial—–A Need to Legalize It

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Since the inception of mankind, the need to communicate has become increasingly important. Especially, with what the world has become, a global village, the urge to communicate has extremely increased. The emergence of the social media is a backup to the quest for communication.  A journalist will inform you about the joy he or she accrues when feedbacks are received from a publication or broadcast. Animals and insects far below the intelligence of man device means to also communicate. You become amazed watching videos or documentaries on how animals communicate especially when pursuing preys, looking out for others in danger zones, caring for a new born and many other instances. Have you been eager to transmit information but could not due to language barrier? I know how disgusting it becomes.

The Liberian Language Case

The official language of Liberia is English. English is the lingua franca for speakers of different indigenous languages. Liberia has over fifteen (15) spoken traditional dialects. There are variances in dialects or languages and communication.  In their Culture Profile No. 19, 2005 Liberians- An Introduction to their History and Culture, Robin Dunn-Marcos, Konia T. Kollehlon, Bernard Ngovo, and Emily Russ informed that Spoken Liberian English has three major varieties. One is spoken by well-educated people and is used in political and social speeches, conversations, and education. This conforms to the English Grammar. The second Liberian English is the nonstandard English (colloquial). This does not follow the rules of English Grammar and usage. Liberians who speak this variety are, by and large, less educated and do not strictly observe conventional rules of grammar and usage. Many of them dropped out of elementary or secondary school. The third variety of Liberian English is spoken primarily by Liberians with little or no formal education, including market vendors, Soldiers (this has immensely changed with the level of education of the new army), unskilled laborers, and those who reside in rural areas.

For many years, discussions have continued to reverberate on the need to introduce a local language that will uniquely be widely spoken across Liberia by different tribes like the case of the Twi language in Ghana. Some advances were made to introduce Kpelle (one of Liberia’s popular dialects) as a formally accepted local language. As the move intensified, Kpelle soon found itself being taught as a course at the Liberia College of the University of Liberia and other universities. Presently, the Kpelle language remains an optional course for studies at the University of Liberia. This initiative stemmed from two major factors among others. The first factor was meant to introduce a language that almost every Liberian would speak. The reason was to ease the challenge of language barrier among the populace including the literate, semi-literate and illiterate. Additionally, the second rationale was intended to institute a local language that is unique to Liberia and has a common belonging. It was proffered with the opinion that Kpelle has the largest number of native speakers and was (still is) the largest ethnic group. Consequently, it would had been easily spoken by almost all Liberians. Unfortunately, this goal was not actualized.

Reasons for the Failure of Kpelle as a National Language

Overlooked of Educational Levels

The educational level of every citizen should be highly considered in a plan that directly affects them and especially when that program is deeply connected to comprehension. The makeup of a country makes an introduction of a language unique to that country. Liberia has the educated, semi-educated and uneducated. The introduction of Kpelle to the population was understood from the classroom perspective. The dialect was introduced in some schools especially the University of Liberia. It is very unlikely for a person that has no knowledge of classroom type of learning since his or her childhood and up to adulthood to begin learning a language via classroom. Additionally, there are little possibilities for a semi-educated to return to class and begins learning a new language after missing out on school for a prolong period of time. Furthermore, the language was not widely introduced to primary and secondary schools so that pupils grew up learning it. Generally, one will conclude that the language was positioned for the educated people because they had the intelligence and will-power to learning it. This simply represents a foundational failure as the base of easily and massively introducing the Kpelle language across Liberia became exceedingly limited to the educated few attending University.

Lack of Tangible Programs

Instituting a general language for a country is very different from an individual or a hand-full of people learning a language. The establishment of a vibrant institute that supervises programs is very significant in ensuing that citizens learn a language. In his book “ Some Terms From Liberian Speech,” Warren L. d'Azevedo gave acknowledgements to Bai T. Moore and Jangaba M. Johnson, two Liberians who were then jobbing with Liberia’s Ministry of Information and Cultural Affairs and Tourism for their support in advancing the promotion of the Liberian dialects especially Kpelle. This is mentioned to stress the role the Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism had to perform in the introduction of Kpelle.

Commercial Activities

In his paper on Seminar Topic published in the Perspective, Sonkarley T. Beaie asserted that the Kpelle dialect failed to become a national language because it was not used in many commercial activities. To some extent, I do concord with his assertion. If the marketers that were conversant with Kpelle would have spoken the dialect often during transactions, some good results would have emerged.

Reasons and Steps to Establishing the Liberian English as a National Language

Foreigners wıth little or no idea about Liberia, usually question me about the general local language Liberians speak. Obviously, I am pushed to mention Liberian English or Colloquial. Definitely, one can safely asserts that there is no other formally accepted language that almost every Liberian speaks besides the English language. In an article produced by the Cornell University ILR School named, Some Terms from Liberian Speech, Michael Evan Gold catalogued a work by Warren L. d'Azevedo which gave a general overview of the Liberian English and some terms. This is how the author described the language: “I enjoy speaking and listening to Liberian English. Words that are passive in American English are active in Liberian English. Words that are only specific and concrete in American English are metaphorical in Liberian English. I suppose that part of the reason is that Liberian English makes use of fewer words than American English, so that each Word must do as much work as possible, stretch to as many cases as conceivable”.

Sometimes I quiz myself whether we (Liberians) are aware of the widely spoken nature of the Liberian English by diverse groups? Have we thought to standardize or formalize the language? The Liberian English usually called Liberian Colloquial gets its root from the English Language. Even though it is just an oral language, it diversified over the period. There were inclusion of other words, the disregard of English Grammar, the light and mispronunciation of words from English and many other changes. It has made the Liberian ascent very unique in Africa. If you are not a Liberian or have not learnt the language, it is very difficult to understand even though its origin is English. From personal experiences and experiences of others, people tend to love it due to its unique quality. There are close comparable of ascents among Sierra Leoneans, Ghanaians, and Nigerians. This is the same for francophone countries. Distinctly, the ascent of Liberians is very unique and incomparable.

Legislative Approval

The Liberian Constitution is not bluntly clear as to how a language should be instituted as a national language. Article 41 of the Liberian Constitution states “The business of the Legislature shall be concluded in the English Language or when adequate preparations shall have been made, in one more of the languages of the Republic as the Legislature may by resolution approve.”  The English language is known as the language of Instruction in every sector. Article 41 also apprises that when preparations are made in one of the languages, the legislature may approve it in order to use the approved language as a means of instruction. In as much all branches of government are equal, the Legislature stands as the first branch of government and has the authority by the power of the constitution to enact legislations. Furthermore, it stands as the direct representative of the citizens. If a language should be approved by the legislature as its language of instruction, it automatically becomes a national or sub-national language. The legislative approval will also give the language a legal backing. This does not in any way infer that the Liberian English should be used as a language of instruction in the legislature or other branches of government and places of high intelligence. This is just to indicate that for the language to be formally considered a local language spoken by almost everyone, it needs legislative approval.

Changing the name (Liberian English or Colloquial)

Many will argue that the name (Liberian English or Colloquial) is not ingrained into the Liberian society and culture. It is not deeply attached to Liberia.  A name that symbolizes, resonates or is highly connected to the Liberia culture or people should be carved. This is something that also requires the public participation.

Create the Script

The Liberian Colloquial is not a written language because there is no standard or formally accepted script. The language is only spoken. The creation of a script that makes the language different from the English language (even though it already sounds different) is welcomed. Additionally, the creation of a script should involve detailed research, taking into consideration people from every sector of the Liberian Society who speaks it.

Institution of Programs

The creation of programs is an important factor to ensuring that the language is learnt to a greater extent. Programs established should consider that the country has students, educated, semi-educated, and uneducated people. To have a widely spoken local language, these four groups of people should be considered in creating the programs. The students will most likely improve their knowledge in the language when it is introduced in schools. Additionally, national competitions and other programs will aid in the process. The semi-educated and the uneducated individuals’ places of work, social activities and other major activities should be identified. Programs should be directed to those places. Programs that are simple and practical as much as possible should be created to enhancing their knowledge of the language. The fact remains that Liberian English is spoken by a greater number of the population. The matter of transition that was a weakness for Kpelle should not be a difficulty for the Liberian English.

Commercial Activities

If you have visited market centers in Liberia, you do not need to be informed that Liberian English is the major language of communication among marketers to marketers and marketers to buyers. Liberian English is the language of exchange. This is very important to the institution of a language.

Conclusion

This article does not in any way disregard the teaching of the various local dialects especially to the younger generation. Furthermore, it does not push for the Liberian English to become the main mode of communication in places of intelligence (schools, offices, government, intellectual gathering and others) but seeks to recommend that the Liberian English becomes a local language that is formally accepted and spoken by almost all Liberians in their daily lives. I could have wished the same for any of the local dialects if it had possessed the unquestionable characteristics and features of the Liberian English. I wish that parents can also teach their children the dialects of their tribes. This furthers the cause for community communication and solidarity, in addition cultural practices and sense of togetherness.

Encouragingly, the unique qualities and simplicity of the Liberian English among Liberians thus become a valid argument to have it as Liberia’s recognized local language. The Liberian English is spoken by many Liberians from diverse backgrounds. Moreover, it is informally considered the general local language. As policy makers think in the direction of a local language, let them be reminded that the Liberian English has many of the characteristics that suit a recognized local language.

About the author

Zubah Kollie Yennego, Jr. is a Student at Marmara University, İstanbul, Turkey

Authors

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