English is clearly on the march

Any Rwandan who is grappling with the recent executive decision that obliges English to become the language of instruction in schools and communication in government offices should not despair.
Pupils attending English lessons. (File photo)
Pupils attending English lessons. (File photo)

Any Rwandan who is grappling with the recent executive decision that obliges English to become the language of instruction in schools and communication in government offices should not despair.

English is not just a language from England. It is a world full of new possibilities. For starters, today the only thing that English shares with its supposed motherland is its name.

Even the so-called Queen’s English is fast becoming a relic preserved for the Queen addresses to the British parliament, almost going the way of Latin.

English has grown into the bonafide lingua franca (all pun intended) of the world by far, because of the various branches of lingual evolution that have morphed the language into an irresistible international force.

The history of English is such a fascinating journey of wars and conquests in Western Europe that begins with a group of ancient Turkish farmers, if a group of Auckland University researchers are to be believed.

In 2003, the researchers traced the origin of the English language to a group of Turkish farmers 9,000 years ago.

Research however, has conclusively found that English was one of the Germanic languages, which include many other European languages: like German, Icelandic, Norwegian, Swedish, Gothic, Afrikaans and Frisian.

English’s closest relative is Frisian, spoken in Northern Holland and the Islands running along the coast from Holland up into Denmark.

In the ‘Evolution of English’, George Boeree writes that English has absorbed vocabulary from a huge number of sources. 

These include; French, the language of diplomacy for Europe for centuries, Latin, the language of the church, and Greek, the language of philosophy and science.

Other European languages have left culturally specific words. Boeree continues that the American Indian languages, Australian Aborigine languages, and the languages of Africa and India gave English many hundreds of words, especially for the innumerable species of plants and animals of the world. 

Therefore, English as a language had already claimed the world even before the world could claim to own it.

A Massachusetts Institute of Technology linguistics professor tracks the proper origin of English language to Africa (as is the origin of man).

Professor Wayne O’Neil says that as humans flowed out of Africa about 65,000 years ago, they carried their language.

From the initial outward trickle of perhaps a few hundred people, the population grew, groups separated, migrating here and there, and language divided — “a natural function of time and separation — into distinct language communities.”

Before we get carried away with O’Neil’s’ opinions, we should be glad that today, their exists American English, Indian English, Nigerian English, South African English, Kenyan English and sooner or later, we will have Rwandan English.

Traditional accents and lingual styles from all the places that English has habituated have morphed appropriately to breed many English dialects.

You only have to listen to any episode of BBC’s news hour to note how the world has received English gladly and forged its own English brands out of it.

Today, you can easily tell a Nigerian movie from a South African one straight from the English used.

Since English is not necessarily a straight jacket one fits all kind of thing, it will be interesting, a decade down the line to listen to the Rwanda version of English, especially coming from a bilingual environment.

Even in France, where English has been stubbornly resisted for a long time, the county is slowly giving way to franglais, a kind of French dialect polluted by English popularly used for commercial purposes. “

An article in The Economist titled franglais resurgent, put it that, “ in a post-modern twist, teenagers are importing American slang via the heavily north African banlieues, where hip-hop flourishes and street dress is styled on the Bronx (a New York neighbourhood).” 

In a world where news travels around the world within less than a second, the domination for English language perpetuates itself, through the internet, cable news networks, short message service on mobile phones etc, it is hard to keep away a language.

Even China, the same country that seeks to protect its citizens from the influence of western media, its morals and influence, found itself scrambling to teach its citizens the language of English in preparation to hold the Olympic games.

You might even be around to know that just as English is littered with many words from a variety of languages in the world, indigenous African languages also have a share of the pie.

Words like safari (Swahili), yam (fulani), ubuntu, chimapazee, tsetse (Bantu), coffee (Ethiopian) are directly borrowed from African languages.

Despite the fact that every language prides in preserving its culture and tradition in its written records, the most fascinating component in English lies in its age-old and ever growing arsenal of the written word, especially English fiction, in which many un-English cultures have trusted enough to store their most treasured memories.

While you might be agonising about how best to fast track your journey to proficiency in English, you might find solace in any enjoyable English literature that will make the burden of learning less troublesome.

And while you are at it, you will never know how quickly you become a citizen of the free English speaking world. 

Meanwhile, the British instead of fortifying the boundaries against pollution of their language spend their evening prime time enjoying comic barbs about the Queen’s English.

English is clearly on the march.


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