Thursday, July 13, 2006

Ripping my beloved English (05 August 2005)

I am bemused. John McWorther has just proven to me that I belong to the generation that grew up in the 1920s. He has it in large writ all over the book I just finished reading: Doing Our Own Thing.
Apparently, according to JM, the Yanks have no love for their language, English. On the contrary, they seem to see good English as corny, pro-establishment, and smacking of elitism. In the same vein, they perceive good music (classical being one) and poetry as contrived and unnatural – the natural being “visceral, straight to the gut” type of music exemplified by rap. According to JM’s simile, whereas people up to 1960s ate using knives and forks, the US today “linguistically eats with its face”.
I shudder to think what happens when my generation dies out. I am only seven years older than MJ, and already my English is an anachronism (or an archyopteryx, as MJ calls us) simply on the account that I am very well versed in English grammar, write sentences using clauses (like this one) enjoy reading Edna St. Vincent Millay and Robert Frost (among many other poets), listen to classical music (and much other music as well) and – most importantly of all – DO NOT WRITE LIKE I SPEAK. Although, I have to admit, my English has actually deteriorated ever since I arrived on this Fatal Shore.
But I am an avid, sworn, relentless Anglophile. Somewhere in his book, MJ says that the degradation of English in the 1960s was a result of the people’s loss of trust in the Establishment, the civil rights activism, the incorporation of minority languages and the feeling of guilt by American people over America’s heritage of imperialism.
We were not occupied by the Yanks. Our occupiers were British and please, can someone ask me and many others like me, about what we think before such stupid sentences are splashed in academic books? I left in 1995, and even then my generation and the generation of my father remembered the Brits with nostalgia. We wished they could come back and occupy us AGAIN. Excuse me, we are realists not idiots. But no one ever asks us, the whole notion of “imperial sin” was created by left-wing, white academics with nothing better to do. The Brits gave us roads, bridges, hospitals, schools and a university that for long was the best in sub-saharan Africa. They taught us parliamentary democracy, 5 PM tea, cricket and wearing jackets to dinner. They gave us the gift of English and we cherished it. My people were called by the Brits “Africa’s Englishmen!”
Please don’t look at what is left of my country today – this is the direct result of 20 plus years of being ruled by the kind of idiots who did not benefit an iota from the Brits. And what was the first thing they did when they came into power? They killed English!
My God, folks, we were bilingual (in my father’s and my case even trilingual) at home. “Did you see the papers today, uncle? They were talking of the PM starting talks with the …. pass the salt (in Arabic), and the guy was so straight-faced about the whole episode..gee, can I have some more soup, it is delicious (in Arabic), as if he had never taken bribes … (a line or two of poetry and satire would follow in Arabic)…” MY ENGLISH is what the Yanks are rapping and ripping.
And pray, let me ask: what kind of a nation this is that has no pride in its own language? It sickens me beyond description when I hear an Australian say, “Oh, your life is so interesting. We are all so, oh, boring Anglo-Saxon.” Hey, people, for God’s sake – don’t you read your own history? English, far from being boring, has a history so fascinating, so rich and so ingenious that it now rules the world on the strength of this linguistic genius. Pompous? Well, it deserved to. It was the language on which the sun never set – and it still is, in a different way. From Japan to Hungary, from Sweden to South Africa, imperialism, colonialism and globalization are all forgotten as thousands of children everyday learn – as I did – “This is a man, that is a pan.” They will continue to learn this English despite MJ and Eminem and any other linguistic vandal from the native-speaking country. And when the Yanks have finished killing their language and dissolved as a nation – since you cannot have a nation without a language; when the ensuing Tower of Babel will breed chaos all over the place, Shakespearean English will raise again, like Christ Resurrected, albeit in a slightly different accent.

“But thou, contracted to thine own bright eyez,
Veed'st thy light'z flame vith zelf-zubstantial vuel,
Making a famine vhere abundance lies,Thyself thy foe, to thy sveet self too cruel.”

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