In one week, while attending a class, I heard (and perhaps, spoke) one year’s worth of Twi (the most widely-spoken Ghanaian Language). I actually had a random thought in Twi as a result of being around it for a whole week. This goes to prove that language acquisition is directly influenced by the environment. It reminded me of when I was speaking French a little too fluently for me to believe. I always stopped just to hear my amazing self. But where is that French now? All lying dormant somewhere deep in my head. But my adventure that week was a good Twi baptism and I soaked it all up. As a result, I’ve added a few interesting words to my Twi vocabulary. Before then, my vocabulary was generally stuck at the “tro-tro” and “market” level Twi which I don’t joke with. I call it my survival Twi. But even the way I say “Twi” has been reported to be questionable. However, I am making an effort.
And just last Sunday, ten minutes after we had gotten to church and sat down, I realized that something was wrong. No, we didn’t wander into any random church but since we could not see anyone we could recognize, we knew that we were at the right place but at the wrong time. A severe miscommunication, it was a mistake that turned out very well. It was interesting trying to see if I could interpret the message from English to Ewe (my language) as well as the interpreter. Of course I couldn’t. That would be the day! But it was fun laughing at myself as I went along with the game in my head. I came home feeling as if I should wander into an Evangelical Presbyterian church more often than once in two years. It would do wonders to my vocabulary. Imagine me asking the Mentos vendor to “mame deka”. If you haven’t been able to decode that, it literally means, “Give me one [Mentos]” in two languages: Twi and Ewe respectively.
When it comes to local languages, I don’t take myself too seriously. Neither am I too hard on myself. If only you knew my convoluted family history. Which region in Ghana do I come from? Do you know? I was in Junior Secondary School before I knew where I came from and in the university before I understood the details. Maybe because there was no pressure to know. It only mattered that I was a girl from a country called Ghana since I was living in Nigeria. The only reason I asked my father where we came from was when my brother told me that the town name I had written down for school records was not where we came from.
Say the Name
For six years I carried a driver’s license that spelled my name wrongly. Why? It simply boils down to what the mind thinks is right because it has been programmed by its environment to see things a certain way.
For instance, I usually cannot get my surname to be spelled correctly in Ghana. Strangers are keen to get it right, but not where I come from. I am careful to always spell it out. Even then, I get people trying to make up their own “correct” versions. This goes to show that people don’t pay attention to what they think they already know.
The environment you call home can easily dictate how you see things and say them. Give me a Ghanaian name like Gyan and I’d say it like “Giyan” and not “Jan” which is how it is actually said. I was taking down a contact when the person literally grabbed the pen from my fingers because I had severely misspelled her name. When Adwowa (sometimes spelled Adjoa) became Ajua because I spelled it like it’s said, well, everyone had a good laugh at my expense. But I can say Adaeze like a true Igbo and Folorunsho and without missing a beat. Not a particularly difficult feat considering I called Nigeria home for a bit.
Plus, the mind is an interesting place. It can believe half truths and distort reality for a very long time. Just ask my friend who got mistaken for David Oyelowo’s (award-winning actor) “girlfriend” when she was staying in an American hotel because her last name is Oyelola. They just couldn’t wrap their minds around the teensy difference. She stopped protesting and accepted all their complimentary gifts.