TALKING ABOUT the Tower of Babel, when it came to language, especially in Kigali, it was “the mother!”
Just after 1994, with longstanding citizens mixed up with returnees from all corners, you could not tell the language that was spoken.
It was such a confused cocktail of languages that you wondered how this new hybrid of Rwandans was ever going to communicate!
But before I fall victim to that history, “the mother,” what am I on about?
Senior citizens will recall the Gulf War, where mainly USA was involved in a war with Iraq. The debris of that war still dogs both countries but mine is not to do its historical study. Mine is to recall the man pitted against the USA who, while at it, enriched our vocabulary.
In the early 1990s, late Saddam Hussein – ring a bell, young Turks?– threatened to show USA the “mother of all wars” if it dared attack Iraq. It’d be the biggest war the world had ever seen but, well, it never came to be. In fact, Americans saw to it that Saddam was hanged in 2006, but that’s neither here nor there.
Leaders of countries from God-knows-where causing your death as president and that of your citizens? Talk about the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) double standards. The validity of such an action has never been questioned.
But, as I was saying, the mother of all Towers of Babel in Rwanda after 1994. Somehow villagers who didn’t have any pretence to education managed to communicate through a fusion of literally all African languages and dialects but it was a different kettle of fish for the educated, mainly Francophone and Anglophone.
Since not all had a good command of Kinyarwanda, both groups mixed it with a scattering of the foreign language their interlocutor understood. The result was a comedy of errors that amuses even today.
An easy word to pronounce like “genocide” that has lent itself to Kinyarwanda as “jenoside” from the French “génocide”, educated Rwandans do not pronounce it the same way, even today.
Whether it’s an effort to please their listener, don’t ask me. They all just try to outdo themselves, each to mix Kinyarwanda with their acquired foreign language. Hence, Anglophones call it ‘gyenosid’ and Francophones, ‘jenosayid’.
Exposing the comic effect of this effort is much easier in Kinyarwanda, of course, but since I can hardly express myself in that, I’ll try in it in my pidgin – as a Francophone friend calls my English!
The truth hurts, let’s admit it, but I don’t take offence at the friend’s mockery of my English because he has had his fair share of insults from my fellow Anglophones. He is called François (‘franswa’) but the poor fellow, when Anglophones don’t pronounce it as ‘frankoyis’, they pronounce it as ‘franswaze’, the latter as if he were a woman, Françoise!
Not that the geezer hasn’t murdered a few innocent English expressions of his own. For instance, when once I asked him if he had followed up on something, he assured me: “By ‘doh’ way, don’t worry, I am follow-upping it!”
How he’d come up with that, don’t ask me. What I know is that I can’t deny that he is creative! To him, for example, a radio is a transmission set. So I was caught unawares when he announced to me: “My transmission set is not ‘transmishing’!”
How he came to think of “transmish” as a verb, search me! Or think of when he asked me the original verb from the ‘English’ present participle, “kwisihinga” (act provocatively/dare?).
The logic? When Anglophones ‘Rwandanise’ their English words they say, for example, “ku-walkinga”, “kw’enjoyinga” and so on. All of which goes to show you that Francophones have reason when they assert that Anglophones speak English in Kinyarwanda or, worse, Runyankole.
But at least they are easily understood. It’s not as when an Anglophone says that, before tackling problems, he/she will examine them “cas by cas”. Now, “cas par cas” is French for “case by case”. The problem comes with Rwandans’ mother-tongue influence in their English and mixing languages.
This means that “cas” in French sounds exactly like “car” in English. When you say “cas by cas”, it can as well be “car by car”. Which only some of today’s kids can avoid, as you cannot tell an English/French native from them.
Rwandans should stick to the languages they know, the more to celebrate their polyglottism (mastery of many languages).