- Editorial: Pan-African Language Patterns
by Dr. Gloria Emeagwali, Chief Editor
- Dr. John Tra, University of Missouri, Columbia, African/
French linguistic interaction: The rise of "Frebonics"
- Dr.Ayele Bekerie, Cornell University, A
Philosophical Interpretation of the Ethiopic Writing System
- Dr. Hanes Brown, C.C.S.U., Africa and
- L.Emile Adams, St. Jonsbury, VT,AfroJam:
400 Years of Jamaican Ebonics
- New Nation, Johannesburg, South Africa, De
klerk: a fool or dishonest?
- Third Annual Conference of African Studies,
Reinventing the Other: Perceptions of the AIDS Crisis in Africa
- The Regional Editors of Africa update.
We include in this issue contributions related to various
aspects of the "Ebonics" debate and venture into two regions
which have been actively engaged in the process of transformation and
change at the level of language and speech, namely, West Africa and
the Caribbean. The Ivoirian scholar John Tra points out that the newly
emerging trend in the so-called Francophone region is really to Africanize
French in a variety of ways, not only in terms of vocabulary and expression
of ideas but also in terms of syntax. Musicians such as Alpha Blondy,
Africa's pioneering reggae performer, no less than intellectuals and
university-trained scholars, very often embrace this new Africanized
mode of expression, in defiance of the conventional grammatical rules
and regulation of French as a mark of protest and in a spirit of liberation.
Tra's analysis brings into focus a whole new world of "Frebonics"
and Africanized French.
The analysis by Harvard-trained Emilie Adams focuses
specifically on the process of Africanization which has taken place
in the Jamaican case in terms of noun pluralization, methods of negation
and the verbal system. Equally significant has been the process of reorganization
of the English Pronoun System in such a way as to eliminate the whole
series of possessive pronouns and adjectives in ways which conform more
accurately to African donor languages of the Niger-Kongo and Nilo-Saharan
language families, two of the four language families which all African
languages are believed to belong to. Emilie Adams points out that the
Jamaican verbal system in the context of Africanization is in fact a
simplification and regularization of what she refers to as "the
vast jungle of English stem changing and irregular verbs." The
contributions of Tra and Adams were submitted independently but it is
clear that there are fundamental similarities in the process of change
which the two scholars comment on. Comparative analyses of the various
processes of Africanization which Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch, English
and French manifest in areas such as continental Africa, Brazil, Cuba,
Surinam, the United States and Martinique would undoubtedly enhance
our understanding of the current debate about pan-African language patterns,
for example, and may provide additional food for thought for policy-makers.
We have also included in this issue of Africa Update
some comments by Ayele Bekerie of Cornell University on the Ethiopic
Writing System, an African system of writing which is about 4000 years
old, and, along with other African writing systems such as Meroitic
and Egyptian Hieroglyphics of North-East Africa as well as Vai, Bamum
and Nsibidi of West Africa, constitute some of indigenous Africa's writing
We have included in this issue of Africa Update a brief
comment from the New Nation, Johannesburg, South Africa. A number of
us here at CCSU share similar views.
Table Of Contents
by JohnTra, University of Missouri, Columbia
When the French went into Africa, they did not envision
that the future of their language would depend on Africans. Today most
the French speakers are on the African Continent. The French taught
Africans French culture, language and history, making famous the saying
nos ancetres les gaulois. Africans learned to speak a perfect French,
to behave like French people, and think French.
But recently we see a rise of a new form of language,
a modified version of French, which we shall name Frebonics, a language
commonly used in the streets of West Africa. This new language arose
from the interaction of French and the local African languages, the
so-called dialects. Although it retains most of the French grammar and
vocabulary, it also enriches itself with local words and sentences.
Frebonics is moving more and more into the mainstream of standard languages
spoken in West Africa, with its epicenter the Ivory Coast, a country
long held as the foster child of France. Is Frebonics French or is it
an upgraded version of French? It is the symbiosis of African languages
and French. We can go so far as to call it the improved version of French,
because of its flexibility, its unlimited vocabularies, its expanding
grammatical structures and rules. Frebonics is the most practical way
of communicating among French speaking Africans.
As the French government moves toward cutting its aid
to African countries, resentment of France grows more and more in Africa,
making Frebonics more popular. Africans are now beginning to question
the need to use French as a national language. Why sustain a language
when ours are disappearing? Why help sustain French when English is
more economical and politically sound?.
As the world embraces the computer revolution, many French
speakers are a step behind because they have to wait for software or
any scientific breakthrough to become available in French. English speaking
Africans seem more in tune with the information revolution.
Frebonics has a net advantage over French because of
the unlimited wealth of vocabulary it has at its disposal in the thousand
African languages. The rules guiding the creation of a word are non-restrictive
nor regulated by French usage. Adoption of a word comes sometimes out
of the desire to express an idea that the French language does not help
to convey. Let's consider the following Frebonics word coco. The word
coco was introduced to describe many types of behaviors some Africans
have adopted to cope with the economic crisis following the devaluation
of their currency (CFA) by the French government. Coco is a noun as
well as a verb. There is no agreement on the conjugated form. But everyone
knows what it means when used. Coco is used to describe someone who
consistantly lives on other people's resources. This behavior can not
be classified as begging or parasitic because it is more sophisticated
than these two. A coco can be a girl who never refuses an invitation
to eat. A coco is also this well-dressed intellectual who is jobless
and lives with friends and takes himself a bit too seriously. The flexibility
and expandability of words make Frebonics easier and handy to use.
Frebonics is practical. It has no boundaries. It can
either use the grammatical structure of the local languages or of French
or English. Frebonics brings freedom from the frustrating grammar and
rules of French. It conveys more efficiently the multidimensional aspects
of the African culture, Africans' sensitivity and of daily realities.
It provides the extra emotions that are lacking in the French language.
When ones says "on la frappe jusqu'aaaaaah," he is saying
that "Il a ete bien bastonne;." The first conveys the emotion,
even suggesting how the person was beaten. The latter just states the
fact. Words such as "oh," "eh," "hein,"
"humm" are therefore frequently used is Frebonics.
Frebonics is also a way for Africans to show their freedom
from a language that has for a long time tried to overshadow their local
languages. It is becoming more and more frequent to see African intellectuals
used Frebonics. Musicians are the best apostles of Frebonics. So that
when a well-known singer such as Alpha Blondy says "y'a fohi,"
people understand what he means. People would rather use "y'a fohi"
than "il n'y a pas de problem, " (no problem). "y'a fohi"
sounds more African and more powerful. "Y'a fohi" also means
"who cares?" The word "fohi" is a Dioula word for
"nothing". "Y'a" is a shortcut for "il n'y
a." Put together we have a useful and more determined way of saying
"we aren't afraid of death: "y'a fohi."
There is a parallel between the American English and
Frebonics. American English has succeeded in standing on its own from
the original English language. In order for Frebonics to pass the doorsteps
of classrooms all over Africa, Africans need to be emotionally, economically,
psychologically, culturally and intellectually free. Free from the French
influence trying to build the community of French users gathered under
"la francophonie." But this freedom is slowly coming about
as some former French colonies are rejecting French as their language
of instruction. As we see these changes sweeping across Africa, we can
be sure that Frebonics has a chance to become this unifying language
Africans dearly need to face the challenges of the 21st century.
Table Of Contents
by Ayele Bekerie, PhD
Africana Studies and Research Center, Cornell
One of the most salient features of philosophy is critical
thinking - thinking in the pursuit of meanings and sensibilities of
human activities. Philosophy, as I see it, is a way of analyzing, synthesising
and understanding of life. Philosophy is about asking questions, and
asking more questions even when solutions are found. The modality, sophistication
and systems of philosophy vary from society to society. However, in
all instances, one should be able to observe certain governing principles
regarding inquiries, which evoke analysis, synthesis, description, definition,
and reflection. The process of articulating ideas may be conducted collectively
or by a set of selected individuals (training being the major criterion
of selection), who are, in the case of Ethiopia, totally committed to
the process. What the majority of the members of the society do every
day, every year, every generation - tasks such as farming, fishing,
trading, and raising a family - find their poetic voices expressed by
those who devote their lives to creating images, scripts, symbols, icons,
oral arts, and the like. The ultimate objective of these meaningful
acts is to build bridges among human communities.
Philosophy, therefore, facilitates the formation of levels
or orders of seeing, of voicing, of exploring, and of understanding
the world from within and in relation to without. Philosophy is, indeed,
a profound and deliberate way of validating life. It is not only goodness,
beauty, virtue, truth, and freedom, but it is also abstractions and
resolutions of contradictions, conflicts or ither tensions in human
interactions. Further, all issues are subject to philosophical analysis
and interpretations with the intent of knowing and improving human conditions.
This fundamental principle of philosophy is perhaps well-expressed by
Kwame Gyekye (1988) when he wrote: "The ultimate goal of philosophizing
is - and ought to be - the concern for the nature of the good in human
being or society - for human values, and not for dry and abstract matters
for their own sake."
A systematic study and analysis of the Ethiopic Writing
System led us to conclude that the system is in fact an illustration
of philosophy and philosophical method imbued with fundamental concepts,
human messages, and cultural (historical) significance. Philosophy,
through the system, is an affirmation of the indivisibility of reasons
and feelings, and spirituality and material culture.
By a writing system I mean a system of symbols created
and perfected for linguistic, philosophical, aesthetic, and religious
purposes. With regard to language, graphs are elements to designate
the sounds of a given language. That is, sounds are transcribed as graphs
representing monosounds or polysounds. The graphs (and in the case of
the Ethiopic, syllographs) may represent a single sound, word, sentence,
picture or any other component of what I call ear-eye interactions via
the magic touch or works of hands.
The Ethiopic writng system reached its zenith or centrality,
at a yet undetermined time. It is estimated to be about 4,000 years
old. It is a system that evoloved from a free form called Ge'ez, which
eventually became the first column of the system (There are seven sound
columns.). Most inscriptions, coins, and some manuscripts on parchments
were written or inscribed solely by the Ge'ez syllographs of the system.
Until recently, it has been thought that the Ge'ez syllographs
were brought to Ethiopia from South Arabia. The findings of several
Ge'ez inscriptions in the 19th century there, at a time when Yemen was
a British colony, resulted in an interpretation, its most salient feature
being: the Ethiopian civilization including its writing system has its
anteriority in South Arabia. Thanks to the works of scholars such as
Jacqueline Pirenne, Rudolfo Fattovitch, Ephraim Isaac, Getachew Hailu,
Hailu Habtu, and Asras Yanesaw, what I call the South Arabian paradigm
or the external paradigm has been convincingly challenged, if not refuted.
In fact, Munro-Hay (1991) of the British Institute in
Eastern Africa, in his most recent book, Aksum: An African Civilization
of Late Antiquity, appeared to have reached a conclusion that suggests
a paradigm shift. More and more scholars are now looking at the Ethiopian
civilization within the framework of African history and cultures.
The Ethiopic writng system, a system known for its elegance
and philosophy, is central to various branches of knowledge. Some of
these branches are described in Bekerie's Ethiopic, An African Writing
System: Its History and Principles (1997). It is a system
that simultaneously displays independence and unity. There are no big
and small case of syllographs; it is written at all times as independent
syllographs. In other words, the graphs do not fluctuate in shapes whether
they appear at the beginning, middle or end of a word. The system is
so advanced, it is able to stand tall for at least 2,000 years without
The system's contours are laid out by taking into consideration,
at least, the following major properties: pictographic, ideographic,
astronomic, numeric, and grammatic (see Ethiopic, An
African Writng System for descriptions and illustrations.) While I invite
readers of Africa Update to read Ethiopic, An African Writing System
for a detailed presentation of the history, principles and use of the
Ethiopic writing system, here are some of my general observations about
1. The system was created in order to facilitate intergenerational
interactions of the Ethiopian people.
2. The system is founded on a cardinal principle of unity,
because images have been created to represent ecological, regional,
and seasonal diversities.
3. The system is an outcome of serious research and discipline.
It is also an outcome of a collective effort.
4. The system has direction different from Hebrew and
Arabic scripts. Its antiquity has also been confirmed by our research,
for the Ancient Egyptians had a similar sense of the beginning and the
end. The Ethiopic begins with Ha (The Beginning) and Pa (The End).
5. The system is a system of meanings - meanings about
beliefs, the heavens, governance, grammatical conventions - all permanently
etched in signs, symbols, syllographs, thereby, not only establishing
a structure of knowledge, but ensuring continuity and change of the
6. The system is a science of languages. It is a complete
notation or composition of sounds in a language. It is also a marker
of gender, proposition, hyperbole, action, and other components of linguistics.
7. I think, more importantly, it is a reference point.
It is a center of the people's identity, historical activities and progress.
February 7, 1997
Bekerie, Ayele. 1997. Ethiopic, An African Writing System:
Its History and Principles. Lawrenceville, NJ: The Red Sea Press.
"The Four Corners of a Circle: Afrocentricity
as a Model of Synthesis," Journal Of Black Studies (25:2, December
Gyekye, Kwame. 1988. The Unexamined Life: Philosophy
and the African Experience. Accra: Ghana University Press.
Munro-Hay, Stuart. 1991. Aksum: An African Civilisation
of Late Antiquity. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
Table Of Contents
by Haines Brown, C.C.S.U.
Malawi would seem an unlikely candidate for playing an
active role in "cyberspace," but with Malaysian sponsorship,
that is exactly what has happened in the last year.
However, expansion has proven difficult because of poor
telephone service and because of the Malawi government's attempt to
regulate telecommunications. The government may be concerned about opening
the doors to degenerate Western culture such as the pornographic sites
that have sprouted in nearby South Africa. Its regulations have slowed
expansion and frustrated the commercial interests who prefer a laissez
faire atmosphere in which anything goes.
In May, 1996, Posts, Telecommunications and Broadcasting
Minister Jay Naidoo announced that his department would take over the
task of developing telecommunications policies. The Independent Broadcasting
Authority (IBA) was thenceforth limited to the regulation of the airwaves
and the issuing of television and radio licences.
Some lauded this decision, but those representing for-profit
telecommunications backed by foreign capital were not enthusiastic.
Chairman of the Freedom of Expression Institute Raymond Louw said that
while the IBA's scaling down of responsibilities would bring it in line
with other regulatory bodies in the world, there existed concern that
policy formulation and decision-making by the ministry could extend
to meddling in the actual broadcasting function. Minister Naidoo gave
assurances that this would not be the case, but Louw argued that policy
decision-making by the ministry could lead to "temptation,"
where "policy is possibly used to dictate to the public broadcaster
its programme content."
The for-profit sector has invited in foreign capital
to expand unregulated networks to serve the business community, which
raises the likelihood that the telecommunications infrastructure will
serve only the rich and preclude the general public from any benefit.
Few people in Malawi can afford a computer (a modem costs about two-months
For example, in May, 1996, the Commercial Bank of Malawi,
CBM, created a computerized Autobank service that offered banking from
home and a daily news feed by e-mail. Telecom Networks, a joint venture
company between Telekom Malaysia and the Malawi Posts and Telecommunications
Corporation plans to upgrade this limited facility.
As for Internet, private alternative networks would help
relieve the problem of narrow telecommunication bandwidth of the link
through the University of Malawi and would escape regulation. Private
corporations are providing network services outside government control
and there is a link to CompuServe through South Africa's Council for
Industry Research and Internet Africa (CSIR). The commissioning of a
fourth earth station is slated for Dowa in central Malawi and there
will soon be reliable access to Internet through IBM's international
(Material drawn in part from MISA News)
Table Of Contents
by L. Emilie Adams, St. Johnsbury, VT
Author of the best-seller, Understanding African Patois
A major transformation of the English language was effected
during the traumatic era of the slave trade and slavery. The offspring
of this transformation, the so-called English Creole languages of the
New World and West Africa, have not only survived to the present, but
are thriving. That these languages have been neglected and underestimated
even to the present day is due to no other fact than to the stigma of
their creators being captured black Africans. Since many of those who
speak these languages are poor and poorly educated, some would link
their language to their economic and social condition. How could such
languages have any future value? Only the specialized creolist scholars
take these languages seriously; they have never caught the imagination
of the international public.
The real importance of all such Africanized English languages
to the outside world is that herein may be found some radical innovations
in the grammar of standard English, which could point the way towards
a modernized and streamlined international English. No reviewer has
contested a statement I made in my preface to Understanding Jamaican
Patois, An Introduction to Afro-Jamaican Grammar (Kingston, JA: Kingston
Afro-Jamaican English has simplified Standard English
by disposing of irregular verbs, verb suffixes, stem vowel changing
past tenses, case variation in pronouns, irregular noun plurals, and
much else. It is possible that the various forms of African English
springing up around the world may bear a closer resemblance to the international
English of the coming milennium than does the encumbered and still archaic
standard English of today, which may by then have been relegated to
the role of the priestly language, the language of the mysteries of
science, technology, and theology!
I am not going to deal with much-needed changes in English
spelling, or with pronunciation, syntax, or vocabulary - just with grammar.
My examples are all drawn from Jamaican or AfroJam, which has had 400
years to homogenize into a fully integrated language in a defined territorial
unit. According to the historians of African-American speech, a language
or languages resembling Gullah or Jamaican may have been widespread
in America in the 17th and 18th centuries. It was probably the ancestor
of modern Black English, which has in the meantime travelled far in
the direction of standard. For an African American to study Jamaican
or Gullah is to learn a language like that of his first African ancestors
born in the West.
I: Reorganization of the English Pronoun System
Africans felt the need in English for a distinct second
person plural pronoun, to which they were accustomed in their own languages.
The Southern "y'all" is deemed to be a possible successor
to an earlier African-American hoonah. In Jamaica this same second person
plural pronoun takes the form uno or unu, which is the form it has in
the Igbo language of Nigeria, the most likely donor language. (The h-
may be due to early Cockney influence, and can also be heard in Jamaica.)
This pronoun can also be found in widely scattered parts of Africa in
the Nubian and Nilotic language families and indeed as far as the so-called
Negrito languages of Malaysia.
The real contribution of Jamaican to the pronoun system
of English, however, is not adding a missing pronoun, but vastly reducing
the total number of pronominal forms by abolishing the nominative, objective
and possessive cases. Pronouns in most likely Niger-Kongo donor languages
also do not exhibit case. In Jamaican there is no grammatical difference
between I and me. Either can serve as subject or object, though I as
object is a relatively recent Rastafarian innovation: Gi I some ital
ilaloo!/ Give me some pure kalaloo [greens]". Mi/me is a common
Niger-Kongo form of the first person pronoun, while ai/I, found in both
English and Nubian, is actually proto-Nilo-Saharan, going back probably
tens of thousands of years. In the AfroJam system he, she,and her have
been eliminated; "im" serves as both subject and object. And
no gender, we are all "im"! Us has been blitzed, leaving wi
for all cases. They is out, leaving only dem.
Is this a great loss? After all, consider, we have never
had an objective case for the 2nd person, no "youm," nor have
we distinguished 2nd person singular and plural. Has this caused us
any great difficulty?
This Africanized system eliminates the whole series of
possessive pronouns and adjectives: mine and my, yours and your, his,
hers, its, ours and our, theirs and their. By simply using the preposition
fi (derived from "for") in front of each of the personal pronouns
(fi mi, fi yu, fi im, fi wi, fi uno, fi dem) we have our possessive
series. This radically reduced pronominal system is simple to learn
and soon sounds natural to the ear.
II: Noun pluralization
The very complicated noun class system considered typical
of Bantu and much of the rest of Niger Kongo did not cross the Atlantic.
It had already begun to drop off in the Sudanic empires of medieval
Africa. In this system nouns each have a prefix (sometimes a zero prefix)
indicating to which class they belong: e.g. living beings, small things,
vegetable kingdom, paired objects, uncountable subtances like flour,
etc. Each class then changes its singular prefix to a plural prefix.
Simple examples from the Sotho language of southern Africa: mosadi/
woman, basadi/ women; sefate/tree, lifate/trees; bosiu/night, masiu/nights.
Looking beyond Niger Kongo, the Meroitic language of
Kush, though still not really "cracked" or translated, has
yet revealed a few tantalizing grammatical features. Meroitic had a
much simpler method of pluralization by adding the third person plural
pronoun -b/-p as a suffix on nouns. This exact device is also found
in the Sudanic region, home of the former Western African medieval empires,in
the Mande language family. It is also found in various other West African
languages, such as Ewe, presumably replacing the more archaic system
of noun classes.
This very same pluralizing device has crossed the Atlantic
to take root in Jamaica and Haiti. The plural in Afro-Jamaican is still
formed, not by the letter -s, but by the 3rd person plural pronoun dem
being added after the noun: di bwai dem/ the boys; di Telwell dem/ the
Thelwells. In Afro-Haitian the 3rd person plural pronoun is yo: chwal-yo/horses;
fam-yo/women. A comparable example from the Ewe language of Ghana, the
most likely donor language, is ame-wo/ the man-they = the men. Of course
if other elements in the sentence already indicate plurality, such as
the adjectives plenty or nuff, or a numeral, then there is no need to
pluralize with the dem suffix.
I am not suggesting that this device is superior to the
English -s plural, which is unlikely ever to be replaced. I am only
pointing out that it is an African modernization, not of English, which
already has a modern system, but of more ancient and complex African
methods of pluralization. The fact that this much simplified system
of forming noun plurals is found both in the Meroitic empire and the
Mali empire, as well as in the Caribbean diaspora, suggests that the
older more complicated systems may have been scrapped in the metropolitan
polyglot centers of these ancient empires, as a lingua franca emerged
which may have become the established language of the empire. Right
now there is an academic controversy about whether the Mande language
family belongs in Niger-Kongo, where it has been placed by Greenberg,
or in Nilo-Saharan, home of the Songhai language. The consensus seems
to be that Mande has undergone some kind of simplification process,
or even hybridization process. Similarly, during the slave trade, when
members of totaly unrelated and geographically separated language groups
were suddenly thrown together in terrible intimacy, the system with
the greatest simplicity, plus the ability to easily absorb vocabulary
from the most varied sources, would be most likely to predominate.
III: Verbal System
When teaching your children to read and write, doesn't
it make you wince to have to smash their innocent sense of reason and
force them to learn contradictions and inconsistencies instead? Now
double that problem by imagining your child speaks AfroJam. Don't say
John a di bigges say John is the biggest. Don't say I a go say I am
going. Don't say Wi a Jamaican, say we are Jamaicans. The poor child
has this wonderful word a which expresses the verb "to be"
for all persons. Teaching her to conjugate the irregular verb "to
be" - what good reason can you give her for needing so many different
forms? We say "am" so we know it is I, but yet (unlike Spanish)
we can't say am without the I, so what is the need for "am"
if we already know it is I? The only verb which English still conjugates
in all three persons is the present tense singular of the verb "to
be." This little Jamaican verb a relieves us of the need for conjugating.
It has been suggested it may have derived from a Twi [Ashanti] particle
meaning "there is, there are" [F. Cassidy, Jamaica Talk, p.
AfroJam, like Spanish and some African languages, divides
the verb "to be" into "to be in a place" (like Spanish
estar) and "to be someone or something" (like Spanish ser).
The latter, the copula, is the Jamaican verb a which we just discussed:
Man a heavy load/ A man is a heavy load. "To be in a place"
is expressed by the verb de (pronounced deh, like a clipped "day")
which may have a double Anglo-African derivation. It may be the English
adverb there deh, which in Jamaican is a homonym of the verb de. Or
it may derive from an African verb de in the Twi language of Ghana,
meaning "to be situated, to remain, to live, to rest." Ewe,
cousin to Twi, also has de/ to be. Further afield, even Old Nubian,
the language of the Christian kingdoms of medieval Nubia, has a verb
da meaning "to be, to exist" and also "there is, there
are." This may seem irrelevant, as no Nubian slaves are known to
have been brought to Jamaica, but in fact the Ashanti and some other
members of the Kwa sub-group of languages, such as the Yoruba, claim
an ancient Eastern origin. We just saw that Igbo shares the pronoun
unu with Nubian and Nilotic.
Getting back to AfroJam, to say "there are many
people here" one would say nuff people de ya. This de ya usually
becomes da ya by some ancient African principle of vowel harmony whereby
a vowel is influenced by the succeeding vowel to alter its vowel color.
Thus wi de a yaad becomes wi daa yaad/ we are home. Wi de ohta sea becomes
wi dohta sea. If "de/ to be" is followed immediately by "de/there",
one gets "de de/ to be there." But for some reason the verbal
de usually changes form here to distinguish it from the adverbial de
and we get di de. Dem no di de/they aren't there.
The Jamaican system for all other verbs is a vast simplification
of that of standard English. It is modelled after perhaps the most common
verbal system in modern Africa, most typically found in the Bantu languages,
but widespread also in other language families. It is characterized
by a single unchanging stem for each verb, preceded by a tense particle,
which may be a condensation of an original auxiliary verb. Thus the
vast jungle of English stem-changing and irregular verbs, which have
to be laboriously memorized by anyone learning English as a second language,
has been done away with at one stroke. No more "go, went, gone",
"think, thought" or even "sing, sang , sung." Has
any great loss occurred here? One does not need irregular verbs to discuss
nuclear physics! Furthermore this system allows for easy absorption
of verb roots from any and all foreign languages: a single unchanging
form is borrowed and easily put through its tense changes.
Basic Jamaican Tenses:
||im a say
||she is saying
||im en say
||im ena say
||she was saying
||im a go say> im o say
||she is going to say
||im wi say
||she will say
||im enao say
||she was going to say
||im wooda say
||she would say
||im wooda en say
||she would have said
Negative Forms of the Tenses:
||im no say
||he/she does not say
||im naa say
||she is not saying
||im nen say
||she did not say
||im nena say
||she was not saying
||im nao say
||she is not going to say
||im nenao say
||she was not going to say
No wonder a child who thinks in this language has trouble
trying to translate his thoughts into standard English, especially when
this process of mental translation is given no explicit recognition
in the classroom! This Afro-Jamaican verbal system has an almost exact
counterpart in Afro-Haitian, which has thus cut its way free of the
even more tangled jungle of French conjugations and irregular verbs.
As an example of an African protype of such a stable stem verbal system,
here is a similar conjugation from Swahili, itself a modern or stripped
down system by comparison with many of the more
archaic Bantu languages. (Note here too the lack of a
gender distinction, which I have always found very freeing in a psychological
sense. Not to have one's gender continually referred to by the language
when it is in fact most often totally irrelevant to the matter at hand.)
Swahili tense system (Bantu, Niger-Kongo)
||she is saying
||she has said
||she will say
||she would say
||she would have said
The resemblance ends with the negative forms of the tenses,
however. Afro-Jamaican has adopted the simple Spanish form of negation
based on no.
Swahili and other Bantu languages use a negative form
of the pronoun.
Swahili Negative Conjugation of the Future
|ni-ta-sema/ I will say
||si-ta-sema/ I will not say
|u-ta-sema/ you will say
||hu-ta-sema/ you will not say
|a-ta-sema/ he/she will say
||ha-ta-sema/ he/she will not say
|tu-ta-sema/ we will say
||hatu-ta-sema / we will not say
|m-ta-sema/ y'all will say
||ham-ta-sema/ y'all will not say
|wa-ta-sema/ they will say
||hawa-ta-sema/ they will not say
IV: The Method of Negation
One of the commonest and most useful innovations of all
the English Creoles is the use of simple no for negation. This was probably
derived from one of the two Iberian languages, Spanish or Portuguese,
either during the Spanish occupation of Jamaica fro m 1492-1655, or
from the 15th century Africanization of Portuguese along the Guinea
Coast. In English we may use "no" as an adjective: "there
is no reason." But we cannot use it as an adverb, for which we
have to use not. But we cannot say "We not see," we have to
use "not" only with an auxiliary verb: "we do not see,"
"we have not seen," "we are not seeing." Isn't this
clumsy? Oddly enough, I don't think I was ever conscious of this fact
about English negation until in middle age I came to write about Jamaican
negation. In Spanish they simply say no vemos/" we no see,"
which is exactly what we say in Afrojam, only we spell it wi no si.
Just the other day I learned that English originally
did have a simple negation system, with ne before the verb: "we
ne see". Then under French influence after the Norman conquest
English began to sandwich the verb between two negatives: "We ne
see not." Later, too bad, the "ne" got dropped, leaving
"we see not." And now finally we can't even say "we see
not" but we have to say "we do not see" - i.e. we have
to have an auxiliary verb to negate, we cannot negate the main verb
(unless it's the verb "to be" or a modal as main verbs.) Weird,
eh? Believe me, once you start to use this simple no negator you very
quickly stop hearing it as bad grammar. It's just superior and sensible
grammar. This Jamaican "Iberianization" of the English system
for negating verbs is a grammatical feature that could - and should
- easily slip into the future English of the global age.
Finally , to quote the last paragraph in my book (p.
104, op. cit.):
The seeming ease with which the oppressed Africans of
Jamaica and Haiti have streamlined, simplified, and rationalized the
archaic tongues of their former slavemasters will probably be seen from
the perspective of the coming third milennium AD as nothing short of
Table Of Contents
from New Nation, Johannesburg, South Africa
March 20, 1997
Details of the existence of a dozen or more death farms
this past week draw significance more from the monumental cover-up it
reveals than from the truth it exposes. Along with evidence given voluntarily
at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the graves in kwaZulu-Natal
offer eloquent testimony of the gross dishonesty the commission has
been bombarded with.
But this transparent dishonesty has not always come in
the form of blatant lies. Instead, it has been fed to the commission
in the form of statements deliberately sanitised to tell us nothing
of the past. And FW de Klerk, his police and army are all guilty of
this crime of omission.
Assuming De Klerk is telling the truth about the killing
of two Operation Vula activists, then his guilt derives from the fact
that as leader of his party, he simply did not do enough to establish
the full truth. And this begs the question - was it deliberate or not?
If it was not a deliberate attempt to disguise the truth,
then De Klerk and his generals owe us all an explanation as to why they
felt less than inclined to enquire about the whereabouts of scores of
missing activists. It is possible that De Klerk was gullible enough
to accept manufactured accounts of the fate of these activists peddled
by his police. But that is unlikely De Klerk is as intelligent as he
is an astute politician and it would be discourteous to suggest he is
A case in point is the mystery that until now surrounded
the whereabouts of Stanza Bopape. Police claimed at the time that he
had escaped while handcuffed and manacled in leg irons. It is a matter
of record now that the account was roundly dismissed outside the NP
as transparently dishonest given its obvious flaws.
Did De Klerk believe it? We must know, because if he
did, it would certainly bring his intelligence into question.
However, if he did not, we must know why.
There is no public record that De Klerk made any attempt
at all to question the ineptitude of the police so glaringly apparent
from their accounts.
We know now that police manufactured the statement about
Bopape's alleged escape at Vlakplaas, one day after he was killed in
detention. We also know that instructions to manufacture such a statement
came from security police headquarters, and in particular, from a policeman
who has applied for amnesty.
If De Klerk is to convince us that he knew nothing of
the murders, he must explain why he did not, as the rest of South Africa
had done, question the wholly inept explanations police dished out.
Until he does, we will continue to doubt his honesty, alternatively,
his intelligence and political astuteness.
Table Of Contents
from the Third Annual Conference of African Studies
Reinventing the Other: Perceptions of the AIDS Crisis
by RenÇe T. White, Department of Sociology, Central
Connecticut State University
The history of the AIDS crisis in sub-Saharan Africa
is a complex one socially, politically, scientitically, and historically.
There is a connection between the question of human rights, economic
development and health outcomes. However, attempts to identify the point
of origin of HIV and to explain the rapid spread of infection throughout
parts of Africa reflect a troubling racialist trend: race ideology influences
research on HIV and African people. Such a mythology has resulted in
a few outcomes. First, the introduction and spread of HIV and AIDS infection
can be explained by the presence of an international sex industry which
was patronized by both men and women from Europe and North America.
In spite of this, there is a heightened presumption that the spread
of HIB is solely due to the sexual activity of African people. Second,
research on HIV and AIDS has often not accounted for the economic, cultural,
and political reality of the lives of individuals in central and southern
African countries. Third, the international scientific community has
often excluded or discounted the contributions of African researchers.
Due to tensions in the Western scientific world, we continue to see
the under-representation of African subjects in clinical trials and
behavioral studies. In this paper I address how all of these factors
are connected to the construction of a mythological African identity
and sexuality, and I consider the lasting implications for dealing with
global public health crises.
Table Of Contents
Zenebworke Bissrat served for several years
as Senior Management Expert at the Ethiopian Management Institute, Addis
Ababa. She is at present associated with the CMRS, Ethiopian Catholic
Church, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Maimouna Diallo is an economist and also
a consultant to the United Nations Development Program. She resides
in the Cìte d'Ivoire, West Africa.
Julius Ihonvbere is a Professor of Government
at the University of Texas, Austin. Among his books are Nigeria, the
Politics of Adjustment and Democracy (New Brunswick: Transaction, 1993)
and The Political Economy of Crisis and Underdevelopment in Africa (Lagos:
Jad Press, 1989).
Paulus Gerdes is the Rector of Mozambique's
Universidade Pedagogico, Maputo, Mozambique. He has extensive publications
on African mathematics and is the Chair of the Commission on the History
of Mathematics in Africa.
Mosebjane Malatsi is a Senior Policy Analyst
at the Development Bank of Southern Africa, based in Johannesburg. He
is a leading member of the Pan-African Congress.
Alfred Zack-Williams is from Sierra Leone.
He teaches in the Department of Historical and Critical Studies at the
University of Central Lancaster, UK. He is also a member of the Editorial
Board of the Review of African Political Economy (ROAPE), United Kingdom.
Table Of Contents
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