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Columnists, Scruples

The English Student In Africa (4)

Posted: Nov 10, 2015 at 12:00 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

By Ugochukwu Ejinkeonye, 08112662685


Indeed, the English student should not allow himself to be distracted by some ill-defined ideologies about language domestication and make a flourishing failure of his studies.  If the Philosophy or Sociology student is not barred by some pseudo-Afrocentric slogans from making a success of his career, one wonders why the English student should endure such an undesirable, unprofitable and totally needless sanction.  The English student should learn how to resolve the phonological conflicts between his mother tongue and the English language. This becomes easy if student makes up his mind to practice the articulation of the speech sounds regularly after disabusing his mind on the impossibility of pronouncing English speech sounds intelligibly by a non-native speaker or the desirability of such an attainment.

The same care and determination should be exercised in all attempts to produce elegant and edifying written English. Here too, genuine, institutional obstacles exist. The course contents designed these days for our English students by our universities do not really offer the students practical solutions to their grammatical problems.  Most English students who have offered the course that go under the name of “Discourse Analysis” are still wondering how the wonderful knowledge they got from it could help them write better English. Yes, the English student has also studied a lot of the history of linguistics; he knows so much about Ferdinand de Saussure, the father modern of linguistics, about his Acoustic Image and Concept theory, also about the Paradigmatic and Syntagmatic relationships he identified in the study of meaning; he also has heard about Ogden and Richards and their Triangle of Signification or Semiotic Triangle and how they disagreed with de Saussure’s tripartite approach to the study of meaning, otherwise, called Semantics.  What of Bloomfield the Behaviourist and Chomsky the Mentalists?  All these the English student has heard about. Yet, he lacks the good grammar to express all these wonderful knowledge!

It is time we get down to meaningful business and begin to formulate curriculum and courses whose contents will effectively address the grammatical malady of the English student in a most practical way.

But this does not excuse the English student from the serious work he has to do on himself. Reading culture in Nigeria has achieved an all time low, and so, if the English student fails to avail himself of the rich literatures, produced by serious writers, which we can still find today despite the literary drought in the land, then, he should have now one to blame for his sickening grammar. The practice of restricting oneself to only the books recommended for the courses one is offering, is one way working hard to fail. There should be that curiosity, that greed to devour and swallow every good book that one can find. And while reading literary works, a keen eye should be reserved for beautiful styles and good presentations, and not just the story itself. In the process, one gets one’s grammar polished without knowing it.

But talking of writing today, how many English students actually write?  How many try to take their time to formulate admirable prose beyond the scope of hurried assignments and barely literate term papers?  Indeed, writing regularly affords one opportunity to improve, mature and produce better materials.

Reading here, by the English student should not be restricted to novels, poems and plays. Granted, there is a lamentable dearth of literary materials nowadays, because, many universities do not consider it a priority anymore to order them, but a serious English student can go into the library and look for the old issues of literary journals gathering dust in some obscure corners of the University library. The old ones are even better, because they were published when serious-minded scholars invested time and rigour in the critical enterprise. Such journals like, African literature Today,  Research in African Literatures, The Literary Griot, Black Academy Review, Presence Africaine, Journal Of  Commonwealth Literature, Black Orpheus, Transition, Okike, Matatu, and several others. Some of these journals are no longer coming out, and the universities have virtually stopped ordering the ones that are still being published.

It is most unfortunate that we are blessed with a government that parades a noisy army of “intellectuals” yet the government’s apathy towards literary development has reached a nauseating height.  What indeed is this government’s policy on the development sustenance of its literature?  What has it done or plans  to do to promote literary culture in both our schools and colleges, and in our entire polity?  I have once argued that this government has the resources to help re-invent the robust literary culture that flourished in this nation in the 1960s, 70s and even much of the 80s and go on to make Nigeria the centre and rallying point of literary activities in Africa .  This will, to a great extent, exert considerable impact on the English Student and make him infuse a greater sense of purpose in his study.  It will equally provide sufficient incentive for re-enthroning challenging literary scholarship which appears to be lamentably vanishing in our universities.

What is the future of literary scholarship in Nigeria . Indeed, what is the future of our education? In many English students today, the excitement of academics is, lamentably, at its autumnal stage.  How many English students bother to see if they could get at some of the books and journals cited in bibliographies of some of the books they have been forced to read, to try to get additional knowledge?

The point is that the present teachers of English will retire someday and today’s English students will become tomorrow’s English teachers.  The sooner adequate preparations are made to safeguard that tomorrow, the better for everybody.  Already the public primary and secondary schools are in pitiable states.  The rot may soon become intractable if allowed to eat deep into our university system.  Achebe has already lamented the poor reading habit among many of us in an essay in Times Literary Supplement as far back as 1972 which he called,“What Do African Intellectuals Read”  It is even worse today even among our English students.

Finally a word must be passed to University admission seekers who enter for English for reasons other than that they have a love for the course.  It needs no saying that they may never do well.  The same applies to those who are more interested in reading just for examination purposes while studying English.  That they won’t do well is quite obvious.  They may even end up not passing their examinations well.

The English student is one who loves to learn the English language and literature in English with admirable enthusiasm and excitement.  He may not be an Englander nor will whatever he writes be appropriated to the body of English letters.  Rather, he is one who makes effort to study English well, in order to speak and write it well. He reads good literature, good newspapers and journals in order to enrich his vocabulary and style.

He is careful in deciding what to believe after reading some declarations like “A novel may be badly written by Western standards, in terms of language, and still portray life vividly and meaningfully for us” (Ezekiel Mphahelele, The African Image (1962) p. 11; or this by the celebrated English novelist and literary theorist, Virginia Woolf,  “any method is right, every method is right, that expresses what we wish to express, if we are writers; that brings us closer to the novelist’s intention if we are readers.”  Whatever choice the English student makes should be influenced by a desire to make a success of his chosen career.