Let me draft a scenario here. I am currently sitting in my apartment, and I’ve already had two glasses of red wine. Judge me. Today of all days, it is snowy in Dublin and the weatherman or weatherwench says we’ll have heavier snow in the next couple days. I am also wearing Primark thermal socks because I’m ready to hibernate for the next 24 hours. So what better thing have I got to do on a snowy day off? Write.
So here I go.
Language is a very important factor in our evolution as a species. Being able to communicate through speech is a characteristic that puts man very far ahead when compared to other living creatures on the planet. Language can unite, and yet divide. I would explain this further below, and how this relates to my beloved country of Cameroon.
I would like to add a disclaimer to this article. Which is the fact that, whatever I say here is possibly relevant only in Cameroon, because I know the country quite well since it is home. And so I am not speaking for any other regions around the globe where more than one major language is used. I am no Einstein on the broader topic of language and linguistics. But I really do hope objective readers would be able to see some sense in these bars I’m about to spit.
Take ’em to Church.
Cameroon is my home, a Central African nation with just over 20million people. And with over 200 local dialects, a very strategic physical location, and the exhibition of all major climates and vegetation of the continent (coast, desert, mountains, rainforest, and savanna), it isn’t hard to see why the country is referred to as ‘Africa in miniature’.
These diverse climates and vegetation are home to even more diverse sets of people, with complex dialects and beliefs. Simply travel from the North of the country down to the South and you won’t believe you are in the same country. You will come across very different climates, attitudes, lifestyles and infrastructure that might even leave you confused as to how such a small nation can contain this much diversity. Mind you, I have toured most, but not the entire country myself. But in my small town of Bamenda alone, I can identify about ten dialects and there are several more in that region.
If I didn’t know any better, I would say this is starting to sound like a Tripadvisor review for Cameroon.
Anyway, back to the real matter at hand. Unlike most other African countries, Cameroon has no dominant or common local language. That is the reason why the post-colonial English and French languages are still the official languages of the country. The only other nation to have these two languages is Canada. The sheer amount of language diversity in the nation, with no particular dominant dialect among the 200 dialects, would create serious division when setting up both governmental, economic and education systems across the nation. I believe that is the reason why the French and English languages, albeit reluctantly, have been adopted to address this issue. Can you imagine just what would happen if almost every majority dialect was considered a national language? Man I swear we would be screwed sideways🤣
The level of pride Cameroonians have in their cultural backgrounds is sometimes ludicrous. This is also a huge reason why if one dialect was officially selected as a national language and another one was left out, the entire nation would descend into chaos. I believe each and everyone of us should be proud of our origins, and in the preservation of many aspects of cultural heritage such as language, beliefs, lifestyle, art and so on. But such pride should not become a basis for hate and discrimination against people from different cultural backgrounds. Instead, we should learn to find ways of acknowledging and appreciating other cultures without allowing them to have lasting damaging impacts on our won. This is easier said than done, unfortunately.
Also, one thing I’ll add. I do not condone discrimination of any sort, but I do feel like there are certain types of discrimination that make sense to me on a certain scale.
Let me paint a picture to illustrate my point.
In my tribe, more conservative parents take serious offense to their children dating or marrying people from other tribes. And that is across the entire nation. To put it simply, the next tribe could be only 50-100km away, with a different dialect. But that need to preserve cultural heritage and purity is so strong in the conservatives that they do not consider the happiness of their children in any form. Old school folks do not want to be ridiculed within their communities and peers as ‘sellouts.’ Now imagine if that same child (from a conservative background) dates or marries someone far North of the country or far South. Well, they might just be pretty much alienated or disowned.
Now imagine if that same child were to date or marry someone from neighbouring Nigeria, Chad or Congo. All hell would break fucking loose. So then, what on earth do you think would happen if that same child dated or married someone further out of the continent: be they white, Latino or Asian? I’ll leave that to your imagination.
You can understand now why I think this excessive language diversity in the country is also making it fall apart at the seams. If we have so much intolerance at the tribal/family level, just how much do you think that would translate on a national level?
This also brings me to my point of why I understand certain forms of xenophobia and discrimination abroad. Again, I am not saying I condone it, I only understand it. How you deal with it is up to each individual. I can understand why say, a Polish conservative mom would cry her eyes out if her daughter brought home a Congolese boyfriend. That is waaaay out of her comfort zone. She might be okay with maybe an Irish or Ukrainian male with certain different, yet similar attributes to her Polish mindset. The reasons for both the differences and similarities could be related to skin colour, culture, religion, political views as well as lifestyle choices (vegetarianism for example).
Tribalism, Nepotism and Workplace Discrimination.
I am not a history connoisseur, because I usually study historical facts on a need-to-know basis. But if there is one thing I noticed, it is the fact that all the great nations throughout history all had one thing in common : a common language that was understood and spoken by all, if not most of the people. In terms of politics and uniting people, a common language is the biggest tool that brings masses of people together to contribute towards a common goal. This is why the most powerful nations today usually have a single predominant language that allows its citizens to come together and cooperate towards progress. Look at most developed economies today for example.
On the other hand, I believe that nations with too much cultural and language diversity allow their conservative pride to get in the way of cooperating with each other for a common, greater good. I’ll use the entire African continent as a crucial example. Because I do believe that the entire continent would be an unrivalled political and economic superpower if it wasn’t for it’s ridiculous language and cultural diversity. Can you believe it? In this ‘progressive/liberal’ day and age where diversity is all the rage in the developed world, I am actually blaming Diversity for something.🤐
In the greater western society, most forms of discrimination are usually based on colour first, then maybe religion and political beliefs. In Cameroon, we all have the same colour. We are all black. So what’s the next criteria for discrimination? It is dialect and cultural origin. What tribe are you from? What dialect do you speak? Also, are you from the Anglophone region of the country or Francophone? Political, lifestyle and religious beliefs take a back seat. Unfortunately, this kind of behaviour is especially prevalent in government establishments and the workplace. Just like a lot of women have missed out on opportunities for advancement just because they are female, thousands of people at home cannot make further progress in their careers simply because they are not from the tribe of one of the Executives. Speaking a different national language or dialect as your mother-tongue is enough to make you lose out on life changing opportunities.
Such is the reason why many young brilliant nationals escape abroad to seek better opportunities based on merit and not unjustified privilege. I have come across a good few tourists that absolutely love the country, but cannot seem to understand why most young people try to leave and try their luck elsewhere. Just like most tourist destinations in underdeveloped countries, if you’re there for a short while, you’re focused on making the most of your time there and so subconsciously focus on experiencing all the good stuff. But once you’re there long enough, you start to learn more and look at everything in the region from a much broader perspective. You spend enough time in the region to see the good, the bad and the ugly. Surely, this is applicable everywhere.
I am sure that if you’ve read this far, this looks like I’m damning the nation. But this article is far from that. I love where I come from. I am simply pointing out a factor amongst a hundred others, that I believe is hindering us from becoming a far better nation than it currently is. That is that. To me, one thing worse than highlighting a problem is not providing a suggested solution for that problem. And if I’m being honest, I cannot really think of any way of introducing a common national language while preserving all that diversity. Trying to have my cake and eat it. Long shot, I know :).
I love my home. I really do. I don’t think it’s a great place for tons of reasons but I still love it. And with a host of young people that are actively looking for ways to change the situation of the entire state for the better, I can only hope in the near future that we will be able to find ways to inject new and fresher ideas in the political, economic and educational spheres and change the entire nation for the better.
Despite all that, language diversity is an inextricable part of life in several countries around the globe, and should be understood and respected by everyone. It should not be seen as a force pushing different cultures apart for both political and social reasons, but rather as a medium to celebrate both cultural as well as national individuality.
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Thank you. 🙂
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