New Era (Windhoek)

9 October 2012

Namibia: There Is No Such Thing As 'Namlish'

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MOST people in Namibia who cannot converse properly in English claim that they speak 'Namlish'. This is ridiculous! There is only one way out here: either you can speak good English or you speak bad English. To develop 'Namlish', as a variety of English, one has to develop the orthography and standardisation of 'Namlish.' Phrases such as 'I am coming' (instead of 'I will be back') 'My mother went for shopping' (instead of 'my mother went shopping') should not be viewed as 'Namlish' since these sentences are grammatically wrong.

The tendency in Namibia has been that if one does not speak and pronounce English words properly, 'Namlish' becomes an excuse. If you cannot pronounce a certain English word properly, there is a strong possibility that language interference has taken place and not 'Namlish.' Let me illustrate this clearly.

Some Oshiwambo speakers may experience difficulty in enunciating some of the English words that contain the letter 'r' but that does not mean they speak 'Namlish.' Additionally, some Otjiherero speakers may find it a bit troubling to pronounce words such as 'dangerous' without adding the letter 'n' to the letter 'd' (likely to read 'ndangerous'). That is why some Otjiherero speakers are likely to pronounce Ongwediva as 'Ongwendiva.'

Damara/Nama has got its share of interference - some speakers from these language groups may find it hard to pronounce the word 'university' or 'Unam' properly. For example, the word 'Unam' to some Damara/Nama may sound like /ju/nam. The letter 'u' becomes /ju/ as in 'June'.

Moreover, some Lozi speakers are likely to have trouble in pronouncing words such as 'health' and 'against' - these words are likely to come out as 'heuls' for health and 'agenest' for against.

In the Kavango region some Rukwangali speakers may find it hard to pronounce the word 'the.' The reason is because Rukwangali language does not have the dental sound /th/. The word 'the' for some Rukwangali speakers comes out as /ze/. Afrikaners are no exception in this conundrum. Some Afrikaans-speaking people may have trouble pronouncing the word 'help' - it comes out as /yelp/.

With all the above differences I hope you understand why we should not confuse pronunciation and poor grammar with 'Namlish.' The word 'Namlish' seems to have a negative connotation because it is only used when someone speaks improper English.

Furthermore, the illustration above is to show you the differences in language interference in respect of the English spoken in Namibia.

Let me turn back to what I said earlier, the phrase 'I am coming' (when you actually mean 'I will be back') is wrong in the English language. Most Namibians are guilty of this! I am asking you to observe for yourselves. When one person goes out momentarily or for a while and intends to return later, this person is likely to say "I am coming" when they are actually going away. In the English language when you say 'I am coming' you must truly be coming not going away. I have yet to be convinced if this is what you call 'Namlish'.

To put it into context, Namibians speak and pronounce English words differently due to language interference from their indigenous languages - it has nothing to do with 'Namlish.' If you speak English with poor grammar, it does not mean you speak 'Namlish' - in fact it simply means your command of English is poor, period! It should be pointed out that most Namibians have basic intercommunication skills in the English language. This means they can communicate easily in English but do not have a good command of English. It is against this background that one can assume that the majority of Namibians can speak English. In fact this is demonstrated by the fact that wherever you go in Namibia, people tend to communicate with you in English.

To develop 'Namlish' into an acceptable variety of English, we must first develop its orthography and standardisation. Taxi drivers must avoid phrases such as 'I shot one' when they actually mean 'I'm short of one passenger.' Avoid 'he went for shopping' it should be 'he went shopping'. Politicians must avoid phrases such as 'let's discuss about it' instead of 'let's discuss it' or 'he deputised him' instead of 'he deputised for him.'

I am not saying that 'Namlish' can be developed; I am just saying we are far away from that. The bottom line, which each person should strive for in Namibia is to learn to speak and read proper English. We should also be mindful of the fact that despite our desire to learn proper English, it should not be done at the expense of our indigenous languages.

I am confident and hopeful that the above explanation will promote a national debate on the status of Namibian English. Indeed, this will help English curriculum developers to plan properly.

Gerson Sindano is a Master of Arts English student in the department of Language and Literature studies, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Namibia.

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