Grammar ‘Nor Be’ My Language

Grammar ‘Nor Be’ My Language

Tuesday, May 4, 2021 7:12 am


Coming 2 America


By Wale Olayanju

I do not consider myself a film enthusiast. As a matter of fact, I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of films I have watched this year.

However, when I met my wife and children watching ‘Coming 2 America’ last Saturday, I had to join them to see where the thirty-three years old story eventually ends.

For the uninitiated, Coming 2 America is a 2021 comedy film starring American actor, comedian and singer, Eddie Murphy. It serves as a sequel to the 1988 film, Coming to America.

In the movie, Akeem (Eddie Murphy) is the Prince (and later king) of Zamunda. According to Zamundian tradition, only a male successor can inherit the throne. Unfortunately for Akeem, he had fathered only girls.

The implication of this is that the kingdom faced a hostile takeover by General Izzi (Wesley Snipes), leader of Zamunda’s rival nation, Nexdoria.

Before the death of Akeem’s father (the king), it was revealed that he (Akeem) had inadvertently sired a son after a drug-induced, one night stand during his first visit to America.

Wale Olayanju

Following the death of the king and Akeem’s ascension to the throne, he had to travel back to the US to bring home Lavelle, his son.

While in the Queens, King Akeem was referring to Lavelle as “my son”. On getting to Zamunda however, he started calling and introducing the boy as “my bastard son”.

“This is Lavelle, my bastard son from America”
“Tinashe, this is your bastard brother”
“Princess Omma, this is Lavelle, your bastard brother from America”
“Princess Meeka, this is my bastard son ….”

He was emphasizing the word “bastard” as if it was a music to his ears, a thing of pride! In fact, my children were so puzzled that one of them asked why he seemed happy calling the poor boy a bastard.

My immediate answer was: “Because, he is a bastard”.

On a second thought, I decided to pause the movie to explain the concept to them in details.

Disparity in terms of language, culture and meanings impact on communicative process. While it appeared as if King Akeem was taunting the boy, he actually meant no harm. Lavelle is his bastard son!

Bastard is one English word that has lost its meaning in translation. There are many others.

In translating the Holy Bible to English, the translators committed some blunders.

The commandment in Exodus 20:13 that reads in Hebrew, lo tirtzach was translated to “Thou shalt not kill” when it clearly means “thou shalt not murder”.

This has misled many people.

Whereas all murder are obviously acts of killing, not all killings are acts of murder. Killing in self defence,in just wars and for food are not prohibited!

Also, in his attempt to find an equivalent name for Satan while translating English Bible to Yoruba, Bishop Samuel Ajayi Crowther had chosen “Esu”. This is grossly incorrect.

The English and Abrahamic traditions recognise “Satan” as the prince of evil spirits and adversary of God. Such a concept does not exist in Yoruba culture. Esu is a diety in Yoruba cosmology. He is an “orisa” in the likes of Ogun, Sango, Oya and Osun. He is never believed to be God’s opponents but rather His messenger on earth. It was therefore an error to have equated the English “Satan” to the Yoruba “Esu” in the translated Bible. “Satan and “Esu” are two different concepts.

But I digress.

Bastard is generally believed to be an insulting word. If it is not used to describe a person who has behaved very badly, it is used to refer to an illegitimate child. One whose parents are not married at the time he or she was born. In summary, a bastard is a child born out of wedlock, as used in the movie.

Surprisingly, some Yoruba speakers have erroneously translated this word as “omo ale”.

In Yoruba culture, omo ale is a child whose father or father’s identity is not known (at least to the public). The concept is so deep and implication so severe that no child wants to be called and addressed as “omo ale”.

Infact, Yoruba believe that an omo ale in a family represents chaos, sorrows, disorderliness and commotion. A family enjoys peace and tranquility only when the bastard is yet to grow up and become influential.

T’ile kan ba ntoro, omo ale ‘be ko tii dagba ni.

However, it is possible for a child to be called illegitimate and the father known. As a matter of fact, the father of a bastard is known. It only means he was born out of wedlock.

Whereas the Yoruba culture recognises the concept of omo ale, it does not recognise that of bastard.

A (married) man is free to impregnate a lady out of wedlock with no consequence as long as he accepts paternity. Such a child faces no discrimination, automatically becomes a member of the family and is entitled to everything like children from legal wives.

The same can not be said of a woman! If a married woman is impregnated by a man who is not her husband, the child therefrom is considered an omo ale. No one wants to associate with her and her omo ale. Such was the consequence in this patriarchal system.

Wizkid is a Nigerian artist. Today, he has three children from three different mothers. As at the time of their births, there was no marriage rite between him and any of his baby mamas. Information available on the Internet however revealed that the children were made to undergo paternity tests and the moment the results turned positive, he accepted them.

While it will not be out of place to refer to any (or all) of the children as a bastard, it will be incorrect to call them omo ale!

The Igbo traditional culture is a bit different. Both concepts of “bastard” and “omo ale” are alien to them..

A child is a child even if born out of wedlock. This, I learnt, is to discourage the child from suffering stigmatisation as a result of the “sins” of his parents.

They also believe that every child has a father and fatherhood does not necessarily have to be biological.

So, if a man got a girl pregnant without marriage rite (payment of bride price), the baby does not belong to the man but to the father of the girl and bears his name. He would be treated like every other member of the wife’s family.

Also, if a married woman got pregnant for another man, the baby therefrom belong to her husband. To them, fatherhood was seen as only possible through marriage.

That is however not to say that adultery is encouraged.

Like Wizkid, Davido is also a Nigerian artist. He also fathered three kids from three different women.

The only difference is that one of these women, Chioma is of Igbo extraction.

Davido got Chioma pregnant and in order to have a right over the child therefrom, marriage was quickly organized by paying her bride price. Had Davido not “paid anything on Chioma’s head”, the child therefrom would have belonged to Chioma’s father or Chioma’s future husband (depending on the part of Igboland she comes from)

To them, getting a woman pregnant does not mean the child is yours. If the mother is not your wife, you have no right over the child.

It is important to state here that modernisation and external influences have affected these cultures and a lot has changed in recent times.

Language and culture are intertwined. The meanings of a particular language represent the culture of the social group. A language point to culture of the people.

So, language teaching should always contain some explicit reference to the culture from which the language is extracted.

Besides, translation is done by human beings. So, the misinterpretation could also be as a result of the translator’s culture, ideas, thoughts and/or motives.

Sir Shina Peters was right when he said that Grammar (English) was not his language.

Every language is different. Every laguage has a unique system. Just like culture, no two languages are the same. To avoid direct translation in languages, which is a syndrome of language incompetence, it is necessary to understand the culture of the speakers of the languages and the similarities and differences in the two languages.

Grammar, Grammar
Grammar nor be success
Grammar, Grammar
Grammar nor be progress
Grammar, Grammar
Grammar nor be my language.

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