The Pro-Vice Chancellor of the University of Ghana, Legon, Prof E. Kweku Osam, says Ghanaians must decide whether it is more prudent to satisfy their basic needs or follow some “high flowing development agenda,” most often set by influential economic structures of the North.
“The one laptop per child is good, but what if the child is hungry?” was his rhetoric question in his inaugural lecture titled “Of cocoa, cassava and chocolate: the dilemma of an African Linguist.”
While not condemning the “one laptop per child policy,” Prof Osam wanted to know how useful that laptop would be to a hungry, deprived and destitute child. He recounted how as a child, some boiled cassava, sprinkled only with salt, could satisfy a famished person and put a soul at ease for some time.
He was of the view that the policy would be better served in an environment where the fundamentals were right, that is, where the child had his or her basic needs satisfied.
The lecture was a first by all standards and that was attested to by the Vice Chancellor, Prof Ernest Aryeetey in his remarks.
It was the first interactive inaugural lecture that witnessed, Prof Kweku Osam, using interesting slide presentations and involving the audience in an exposition of the linguistic structure of the Akan language.
What was more intriguing was his ingenious inferences from the study of a local language to show policy weaknesses in the country’s development policies.
He mentioned that from the early 1960s to date for instance, the standard set in the study of language and the dominant linguistic theory was that of Chomsky.
In those days, he said, it was fashionable to base research work on local languages on these dominant frames.
The result of that was that the study of local languages suffered.
They were not amenable to the dominant frames proposed by Chomsky, and research work in local languages criticised as being too descriptive and not backed by the dominant theories.
Breaking from the mold, Prof Osam shared some of his research work which showed the use of an alternative paradigm, the Functional-Typological Syntax (FTS), which is a more utilitarian and practical approach to explain meaningfully some phenomenon of the Akan language.
In an example, he mentioned how work done had resulted in a systematic way of adjective sequencing in the language.
Prof Osam was of the view that the utilitarian approach to the study of language brought direct benefits to people.
It was contrary to modes of language study that served the needs of global empires, which made no impact on students studying their own language.
He proposed the learning and studying of Ghana’s local language in practical ways to bring benefit directly to the users.
He asked parents not to think it chic to speak English with their children, as children would pick up the wrong language in the streets if parents did not start with them in the use of the right language.
Such a situation, he added, would lead to what he called, linguistically engendered generation, that is children who neither spoke English right nor their local language.
He also asked the government to “keep the Bureau of Ghana Languages alive.”
The inaugural lecture was also a first in that it was used by Prof Osam to institute a scholarship in the name of his mother, Rachael Aggrey, who was murdered 20 years ago by assailants who inflicted cutlass wounds on her. The assailants were never found.
In an emotive tone, Prof Osam pledged, GH¢5000 for the Rachael Aggrey Memorial Prize for the best female student graduating in the Bachelor of Arts programme.
He expressed the intention to increase the seed money to GH¢30,000 in the next three years.
Prof Aryeetey in his remarks commended highly the lecture.
He said as an economist he was inclined to the utilitarian value in things, and endorsed the call for the practical study of language to benefit people.
He also endorsed the view of using language as a country to build peace and develop.
He appealed to all to be tolerant of each other’s language and also endeavour to learn each other’s for a peaceful future.