06 January 2004

Speaking English in Lesotho (Ho bua Senyesemane Lesotho)

As far as I can remember I’ve always spoken English. It is my second language that has now become my first. Sesotho has been dethroned and it doesn’t look like there’s anything it can do about it. I think that that is fundamentally wrong.

It is well and good to speak English, the business lingua franca of our times, or French, or Spanish, but up to a point. And as far as I’m concerned, that point does not go beyond burying one’s own mother tongue. It does not include punishing school children when they communicate in their own mother tongue.

Yes, we were beaten up if we spoke Sesotho at school. The teacher or the principal would elect prefects, who went around with pen and paper writing down names of wrong-doers. And those would duly get whipped, to the glee and mirth of the faultlessly English speaking clique.

I mean, holy *%^+%#&, what the shite was that all about? You mean our teachers and parents and school system were happier when we spoke someone else’s language better than our own? That’s insane! I do not know how the system functions today but if our young country folk are still being terrorised in that fashion then the whole system needs to be chucked out the window and a new one designed.

The last thing we want is little Basotho-cum-Brits running around speaking in tongues and thinking that those tongues are better than their very own, and that those tongues give them some sort of edge over their other Basotho-cum-Basotho country folk who speak good Sesotho and poor English.

Don't get me wrong, I like English. It’s a fun language. Through it I’m able to talk to millions (precisely what I’m trying to do at this very moment), but I like Sesotho more. (It's more fun and it sounds better and tones), and it is all mine! Nobody can say a word about how I pronounce it or don't pronounce it. And when I speak Sesotho, I feel whole and on a par with anybody else. I do think there are serious repercussions to forcing people to abandon their mother tongue or not to speak it as well as they should. Inferiority complex is one such repercussion. You're doing your darndest to speak someone else's language, but you'll always be a step or two behind in the meeting, at the restaurant during a heated discussion, at the job interview, and so on. And you know it. The crunch comes when you realise that you don't really master your mother tongue either.

Listen to anybody in Lesotho speak Sesotho and you'll soon realise that everybody is speaking a mixture of English and Sesotho and Afrikaans. I'm sure if ntate Moshoeshoe the First came back today he'd be stumped! He wouldn't know what the hell we were talking about.

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