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Tuesday, January 1, 2013

èèmò lukutupébè

Something happened to me recently that gave me the idea for this article. It also made me thankful to my parents for raising my brothers and I up with the Yòrùbá language. My ability to speak and write in Yòrùbá reasonably well is also because I attended a public primary school where I had a good Yòrùbá language teacher who laid a good foundation and is owed almost equally to the fact that I lived for quite a while with my paternal grandmother. I also read quite a lot of Yoruba literature in Elementary school. As anyone who was brought up with a local language will testify, there are certain expressions and situations that just cannot be adequately captured with the English language.

Now, don’t get me wrong, speaking the English language and speaking it well, is good. But I bet most of the people who actually have and speak an indigenous or local dialect will agree that however fluent you are in the English language, certain things are best said in the local language. Take the Yòrùbá language for instance, there are certain things that will happen and the first thing that pops into mind will be the following song or some other very similar song or expression:

Mo r í èèmò ni Agége
Ajá wọ èwù, ó ró şo
Ộbọ ń gun kèké…

The song goes on but I can’t swear to the exact lyrics of the remaining lines. The three lines above when translated into English go roughly go as follows:

I saw wonders in Agege
A dog dressed up and tied wrapper
A monkey is riding a bicycle…

The remaining lines go on to describe the surprising mannerisms of a house rat, an animal smoking a cigarette and a cow drinking alcohol. Of course by now, if you did not know, you would have guessed that this song can only come to mind when a person has witnessed or experienced something very surprising or very much unexpected.

In the midst of my ruminations about the richness of our local languages and their adequacies in describing certain situations, I wondered idly about how the song above and indeed most of our local proverbs came about. I remember having a book of Yòrùbá proverbs and the story behind most of the proverbs when I was in Elementary school. I remember the book made some very interesting reading even if I can no longer lay claim to remembering most of the stories I read.

The richness of our local languages makes me sympathise with today’s children who are mostly raised with the English language. What I find most ironic and amusing about today’s children being raised with the English language is those whose parents can barely string two correct sentences together forcibly speaking bad English to their children and thus possibly corrupting these children’s spoken English. In my opinion, these children suffer from double jeopardy; they do not speak their local languages well if at all, and they speak bad English and are probably worse at writing the English language. I once heard a story about a mother threatening to beat her child for some wrong done who said: You will eat cane o. If you think that is funny, wait for this; one of my brothers once told me about overhearing a girl pointing her father who was smoking a cigarette to a friend thus: “look at my father, he is drinking cigar”. Haba!

I know we Yòrùbás are probably the most guilty of speaking what is called “Yòrùbá English” a sort of literal translation of Yòrùbá words into the English language, but I think saying someone is “drinking cigar” rather than smoking a cigarette is carrying literal translation too far.

I am not a big fan of Nollywood movies especially those not produced by Tunde Kelani, Kunle Afolayan and very few other really great producers. In spite of this fact however, and also in spite of the fact that I hate how Yòrùbá script writers muddle up their stories towards the end and all the flashbacks they never seem to be able to do without, yet, I am greatly tolerant of, and even sometimes enjoy watching Yòrùbá films because of the richness of the language and the way the words are used.

I believe children will be better raised with both the local languages and the English language being spoken in the homes. Just imagine trying to say èèmò lukutupébè in the English language! Anyone willing to try?