I have almost always known that I love words – their tastes, textures and layers, their shades, cracks and creases, their shapes, turns and twirls. Words and the cadence of their silences, the reach of their worlds, and the crust of their characters. Words, and words in particular. In whatever language I know them, whether in bits or chunks or other. Words.
I love words and I like to believe that they too love me, and perhaps, better than I do them.
Until a discovery happened:
I had to translate two of my own! poems. From English to Ga. And I found struggle.
Now, Ga is my first language, my L1 and mother tongue. In its many dialects or varieties, Ga is mainly spoken by the people of mid-southern and coastal Ghana, from the people of Ga Mashi to Osu, Teshie, Labadi and Nungua and beyond.
English is the language in which I wrote, and you Reader Dear, now reads this post. And the irony of it all is a part of the said discovery.
See, I like to think I know Ga a lot, a lot more than merely being able to speak and read and write it.
First, Ga was one of ten examined subjects at the end of my junior high school years. And maybe I would have continued to study Ga, if not that my senior high school was outside Ga Mashi and Accra, and so I had to choose between Fante and French. Even though Ga and Fante were both Ghanaian, I had to settle for French because it was more familiar – as at then – than Fante, the dominant language of the Central Region of Ghana. At least I had heard and studied a little French much earlier: in primary school. At the time I was to start senior high school though, Ga remained not a option.
Then during my gap year after senior high school, I taught Ga in an private school somewhere in same Accra. I had my tongue and my grade in Ga from my junior high school certificate to prove my proficiency in the language, enough proficiency to teach it. My my C.V. and senior high school certificate proved other things, other thing(s) my then employers could have been looking for.
So to a little more than just a large-extent, I can say I know Ga.
If I may say same about English, it may be because I studied it all my life in school, because I studied literature-s in English at senior high school and for my first university degree. If I can say same about English, it will probably be because I speak it more than, and more often than I do any other language – including Ga – especially when I am not home. If I should say same about English, it is because I teach the language itself, and teach literature-s in it too. What more, I have read and written so much more in English than I ever have in Ga.
And that is how come this afternoon in December last year became the day I discovered I don’t know Ga as well as I had always thought I knew.
Maybe it’s because I originally did the thinking, crafting and the writing of the poems in English. And if what Robert Frost once said about poetry being that which is ‘…lost in translation.’ is anything to go by, then I should not be surprised, I should not feel hurt…
But I was hurt.
It hurt to think that maybe, just maybe, I think in English more than, and more often than I do in Ga.
It hurt me.
I struggled to do the translation, word after thought, thought for word, such after similar.
Having fought my way through this translation – with echoes of Grande-mother‘s Ga Bible, an eternal playlist of Wulomei and a saviour Ga-English dictionary edited by Mary E. Kropp Dakubu – I couldn’t imagine beginning to translate some of my other written work. Like Lens, my newest written short story. And Without Leash, a not-as-new poem.
Before I even got thrashed by the differences in the two languages’ syntax and the rigid-ties of trope and context and worldview et al, their diction alone had me confounded like scattered. Like. Think of how you would translate words like lithe, fray, literature, furrow, lullaby, fame – not as in name, nor reputation – in Ga, or in what you consider your mother tongue.
For one thing, I am yet to find what other different words there are for smile and like in Ga. For it seems Ga does not make distinction between these two words – there may be others – and their synonyms of a thicker hue: laugh and love, respectively. And there may may be some English words which in a similar situation, given Ga…
I finished the translation – the initial draft, at least. I will later do two or little revisions. But that first draft, I liked – no, I loved – it like nothing like it. And more so, because I was able to retain – and even add to – the poetic qualities of said poems.
And for this, I am very grateful and quite proud of myself.
But despite this success and the consolation which Frost’s words should be, the hurt abides.
The stark possibility that my linguistic intellect – if there’s such a thing – could be another hijacked one.
The thought that the essence of my language sense is less than whole – whole as in both full and pure.
The possibility that the parts of my mind and being which are touched and kept by both tongues‘ mights and realms and moulds and wonders are nothing but hacked. Hijacked and hacked. Atogether colonised.
Yes, nothing but fragmented and diluted and rid of freedom. This my being, mind and sense, my intellect.
And this hurts and hurts hard.
Or maybe, just maybe, I think too much.
Friday, 1st December, 2017.
North Kaneshie, Accra.
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* An earlier version of this thought piece first appeared as a status update on my Facebook account.
** Find more about Kwasi Ohene-Ayeh here and about the exhibition, Spectacles. Speculations…, here. Learn more about the exhibition from the Facebook page, Press Release, Curatorial Statement and Profiles of Participating Artists.