Tuesday, December 14, 2010

African English: another elephant in the room.

As with my ongoing series on "African Incompetence," this post is going to try to tackle another somewhat taboo topic, namely African English. I'm a big fan of reading local media. In Malawi there are quite a few newspapers, most of which have a good online presence. Here is a list.

In South Africa there is also a new newspaper in town called, appropriately, The New Age.
Reading local newspapers is worthwhile for a lot of reasons and I'm a big supporter of them. But by and large the quality of writing in these newspapers, from a Western point of view, is pretty dismal.
There are a lot of good reasons for this. English is usually not the author's native language. Different dialects of English are legitimate and "African English" could arguably be one of them. African newspapers have little incentive to write to Western standards because their readership is not Western. And in any case certainly an article's message is more important than its grammar.
All of this is true and makes my critique look very petty and tactless. And so it may be. But it is undeniably a common perception amongst Westerners who read a lot of African media. Hiding that perception, even if one is ashamed of it (like I am) won't make it go away. For the same reason that I have been discussing "African Incompetence," I also think talking about African English is important. "Elephants in the room" should be acknowledged and dealt with.

I confess, however, that I don't have a clue how to deal with this one. Maybe you do?


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