Mother Languages Are Just as Good

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Language is an important instrument of communication but more so, it is the thread that binds us together – in other words a unifier. It thus speaks for itself that the choice of language use is as important as it is necessary. However, whilst our country’s official language is English, there are many other languages spoken by the various communities. Some of these languages are generally developed and are widely used by the local people. Many local communities and individuals are proud of their languages. They use them for commerce, religion, politics, etc. Various other Namibian languages are taught at schools across the country, including the two institutions of higher learning. The use of some indigenous languages is however taking the back burner as many young people prefer to use English, the official language. This phenomenon is necessitated by the fact that many young people can hardly communicate in their mother tongues as English gradually takes over as a home language among many black families. Many young black pupils are not able to converse in their mother tongue. It is all English. What is cause for concern however is the fact that some of our public figures prefer to use English even when communicating with people from specific language groups in the villages who do not understand the official language. One has understanding for a public figure whose knowledge of a particular local language is not up to scratch and thus switches to the official language to communicate. However, it makes little sense for officials whose mother tongue is not English to use that language when communicating with people from their own communities. Worse still, there are officials or public figures whose grasp of English is not that good but who prefer to use that language to make themselves look “important” or just because it is the official language. This defeats the whole purpose of communication. On a need to know basis, these officials ought and must be able to speak in the local languages when and if they can to enhance communication. Put differently, it is unhelpful for some of our public figures to “grapple” with English if they can fluently express themselves in one of the local languages with translations in English. For example, some of our members of parliament would be better advised to speak in their mother tongues so that they can enrich debate in that house and contribute meaningfully to law making. Parliament has provision for this sort of thing. Effective communication requires that both the speaker and audience be able to engage in meaningful dialogue and the choice of language in this case is important. The use of English as the official language is undeniably a necessary prerequisite. However, there should be flexibility where members of a particular community have no grasp of the official language. A preferred scenario would be for an official who addresses a meeting in a particular setting to use the local language if they can and then have the speech translated into English if necessary. That would enhance better communication and help draw the audience closer to the person who addresses them as well as the subject. In that way, the people will feel they are talking to one of their own and not a stranger masked in their skin colour. They will also feel proud of their languages because their own sons and daughters, highly educated as they are, have a strong love for that which belongs to them. We can develop and take all modern or English technology to our villages but we will never anglicise our villages. At least not the generation that lives there now. They will remain Namibians with distinct languages of their own apart of course from English, the official language. So why go and preach to them in a language they do not understand? Our diverse languages enrich our cultural heritage and political pluralism. Their parallel use does not undermine the use of the official language. They are as interesting, rich and romantic as any other languages in the world. We should never be ashamed of using them. We should use them more for our children’s sake.

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