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Home > News > Oh Man, English Language!!!!!

Oh Man, English Language!!!!!

Posted on: 24 February 2014

Dear Uncle

Oh Man, English Language!!!!!

One of the ‘frustrations’ that one has to contend with whilst living in the United States is accent and difficulty getting your thoughts or sentiments across. A few days ago I was trying to explain to a friend that one of my hobbies is photography, to which she said what is that, topography? I said no, photography like taking pictures of a ghost, after which she said oh, oh fo-too-graphy!! It is even more frustrating when I used to make fun of other Ghanaian’s accents and pronunciation not knowing that I had my own predicaments to deal with. I used to make fun of Gas who will typically say “appy hanniversary”. You know that somebody who says “if you rive your rife rike this, rife wourd be varueress” has about an 80% chance of hailing from where my wife comes from. A person who says “is it toro” instead of “is it true” definitely comes from the Volta region of Ghana.

English as a language can be complicated and difficult to speak, more so for somebody like me, who by genetics and town of origin is not endeared to that language. In primary school, you have to learn how to conjugate your verbs using present, past and past participle. You need to know your prepositions as in “according to”, “aim at”, afflict with”. Why can’t we simply say, “Aim from”. Then on top of that you need to learn proverbs like “penny wise, pound foolish”, “a stitch in time saves nine”. Why ‘nine’ and not ‘ten’ or ‘eleven’ is beyond the scope of this letter.  A proverb like “as you make your bed, so shall you lie in it” caused so much havoc that a principal and his assistant nearly lost their jobs over whether you “lie in your bed” or “lie on your bed.” Similes such as “as agile as a monkey” and “as old as the mountains” also enrich your vocabulary. But don’t worry uncle, right here in the United Sates I have heard college educated graduates say things like “I would have came but” or “can I borrow you this book”? So even those whose mother tongue is English and have far advanced degrees struggle with the language, is all I am saying.

When I started my sojourn here in the United States I used to say things like “I am going to come” to signal I will be right back. This sometimes precipitated strange reactions and facial expressions, not knowing that “I am going to come” can be misconstrued as the “height of orgasm- and with the pleasurable expressions affiliated with it mostly in the form of “I am coming, I am coming ”.

At this opportune time, may I recall an event that I personally witnessed whilst working menial jobs in England as a student. On an early morning bus ride, I eavesdropped on a conversation between two East Africans which went like this “ Emma come first, then I come, then the two asses come together, then I come again, then the two asses come together, then I come and pee twice and come one last time.” An upright and tight-lipped elderly English lady then said “hey you foul mouthed Africans; you better keep quiet and keep your sex life private”. The two gentlemen then retorted, “Oh Madam no one is talking about sex lives here, we have an appointment at the US embassy and are just trying to spell ‘Mississippi’ in case we are asked”!!!

Now I have often had problems with when to use certain English words like ‘complete’ and ‘finish’. For instance I can say, “have you finished your assignment or have you completed your assignment”. But even though I can also say “we just finished watching the soccer game on TV” it might not be appropriate to say, “we just completed watching the soccer game on TV”. You can imagine my delight when recently at a World English Language Conference; a taxi driver from Guatemala put this complex matter to rest. In his own words he explained the difference between ‘complete’ and ‘finish’: he says “a man who finds the right woman is ‘complete’, the man who finds the wrong woman is ‘finished’ and when the right woman finds you with the wrong one, you are ‘completely’ finished’”

Your ever-challenged-English-language-averse nephew