Vol. IV, Issue 2 (Spring 1997) Pan-African Language Patterns.

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Pan-African Language Patterns

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 systems.

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.

Gloria Emeagwali

Chief Editor

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African/ French linguistic interaction: The rise of "Frebonics"

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.

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A Philosophical Interpretation of the Ethiopic Writing System

by Ayele Bekerie, PhD

Africana Studies and Research Center, Cornell University

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 major modifications.

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 the system:

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 society.

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


Selected Sources

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 1994), 131-149.

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.

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Africa and the Net

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 average wages).

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 network.

(Material drawn in part from MISA News)

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AfroJam: 400 Years of Jamaican Ebonics

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 Publishing, l991):

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. 59].

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:
Simple Present im say he/she says
Present Progressive im a say she is saying
Past Definite im en say she said
Past Progressive im ena say she was saying
Future im a go say> im o say she is going to say
im wi say she will say
Past Future im enao say she was going to say
Conditional im wooda say she would say
Past Conditional im wooda en say she would have said

Negative Forms of the Tenses:
Simple Present im no say he/she does not say
Present Progressive im naa say she is not saying
Past Definite im nen say she did not say
Past Progressive im nena say she was not saying
Future im nao say she is not going to say
Past Future 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)
Simple Present a-sema (a-a-sema) he/she says
Present Progressive a-na sema she is saying
Present Perfect a-me-sema she has said
Past Definite a-li-sema she said
Future a-ta-sema she will say
Conditional a-nge-sema she would say
Past Conditional a-ngali-sema 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 Tense:
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 revolutionary.

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De klerk: a fool or dishonest?

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 gullible.

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.

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from the Third Annual Conference of African Studies

November 2,1996

Reinventing the Other: Perceptions of the AIDS Crisis in Africa

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.

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The Regional Editors of AfricaUpdate

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.

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