Friday, 9 December 2011

Yoruba or no?

So one thing I enjoyed about travelling around South East Asia is picking up a few words here and there from each country, although I must admit I don't remember much of it since returning. I can only say "welcome" and "goodbye" in Malay and "thank you" in Thai. My sister is much more skilled in picking up new languages. When she went to Singapore 3 years before me she learnt Mandarin - she doesn't currently speak it but she's the type of person who could recapture it if she spent enough time in Chinatown.

She gets that from both my parents, they're both really good at picking up languages. My father is Yoruba (tribe in Nigeria) but upon meeting my mum and her family, he took up Twi (from the Akan people in Ghana) and because my father could understand and speak Twi we never really developed the need for Yoruba. Like Ga or Fanti is to my mother, Yoruba was my dad's special secret language, used solely for speaking to his family - my sister and I rarely took any notice, let alone an interest in learning it. We could guess largely what each conversation was about. On the phone each of my parents would get overly animated if a family member would share frustrating news/opinons. This would betray the mystery of a secret language. My sister and I, if I remember clearly, would always be able to decode the situation without one direct translation from any word in any of my parents' secret languages.

As we have grown up though, being able to read my parents' body language instead of translate their words has not been enough. How can our parents ask us to learn French and Mandarin when we can hardly communicate with our own grandmothers effectively? Queue going to university. SOAS - the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London - was my insurance choice to study African Studies and Politics. The undergraduate course would have enabled me to learn Yoruba, and decode once and for all with unquestioned authority all those family phone calls. My family (on my mum's side) couldn't see why I would make this my degree. They were less than impressed to say the least and my father didn't show the type of enthusiasm I would have expected from an immigrant man who's child had grown up to decide that she wanted to discover and claim ownership of her heritage for herself. In the end I chose Manchester, and I don't regret it.

But now I have the choice of a Master's programme and SOAS has reared it's head again. If I were to study there I would take an Africa related course, and if I were to do that then I think it's only right that I learn my father-tongue. But given that I'm down to one Nigerian grandparent who speaks alright English, given that I have no immediate intentions to go to Nigeria, and I'm not immersed in the Nigerian community any more so than DJ Abrantee from ChoiceFM, is it really worth taking the language as a significant portion of my Master's course? Perhaps, my father has liked having a secret language known only to him (and of course 85million other people but me and my sister). Perhaps I give my mother an unfair advantage in that she still has two secret languages to interchange at the flick of a tongue.

I've given you the context of my dilemma. Do tell me, in my shoes, would you learn Yoruba?

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