Tuesday, September 29, 2020

How good is Reginald Richardson’s Setswana?

The heading of this column has its roots in the Sir Ketumile Masire’s interview with the award winning journalists: Mr. Reginald Richardson and the extraordinarily bright Ms. Tshepo Ntshole some two weeks ago in The Solid Morning Show. During the interview one caller attributed Mr. Reginald Richardson’s incompetence in the Setswana language to the BDP policies which have over the years alienated young people from their local languages. Mr. Richardson was shielded from this attach by a generous Sir Masire who justified Mr. Richardson’s use of English on English’s international relevance. I pick on this attack on Mr. Richardson to throw a spotlight on the linguistic challenge that faces numerous young middle class urbanized individuals. So this column does not interrogate Mr. Richardson’s linguistic competence on the Setswana language as an individual, but considers him as a metaphor of the young, modern educated person in Botswana. So for the purposes of this column dear reader you are Reginald Richardson.

It has become fashionable, almost attractive to hear someone say Setswana se thata. These words are commonly uttered by individuals who are perfectly competent in the Setswana language. Their Setswana grammar is impeccable. If anything, peccadilloes may be found in their English language use. They may not know certain Setswana idiomatic expressions; but they are linguistically competent in the Setswana language. It is also now a truism that there are many urbanites who do not make an effort to speak Setswana, let alone with clarity and beauty, as many of those who have gone before us use to do. I say many and not all since there are still flickers and remnants of those who pride themselves with the Setswana language. I am here thinking of persons such as Mr. Gomolemo Motswaledi who speak Setswana with incredible beauty and finesse or the amazing poet from Molepolole, Mr. Moroka Moreri. The lawyer, Duma Boko, has also been demonstrating an excellent use of the Setswana language, demanded by his politicking. In the media, Nutty Chilume, a native speaker of Kalanga, continuously impresses me on his use of the Setswana language. On the music front, we have the works of Kgotla as well as two of my favourite musicians, Tshepo Lesole and KayZee which are rendered in such beautiful Setswana. The claim is not that these persons do not communicate in English. Indeed as Sir Ketumile has argued the English language has international communicative relevance and it is no wonder that it is Botswana’s official tongue and its medium of instruction in schools. It is additionally the language of international education and commerce.

Over and above that, it has a status symbol. One who speaks good English is seen as educated and sophisticated while one who lacks its grammar and diction may be mistaken for being rustic and ill-mannered. Setswana on the other hand is the local tongue whose mastery demands no classroom exposure. It is the language of the old men who sit around in the kgotla and converse about bonyatsi, masimo and dipoo. It is the language of the village old lady with squinting eyes and local gossip on her tongue. Setswana is the language of the cattle herders who traverse the moretlwa shrubs every day on foot chasing the promise and the hope that may be found in that beast that those of old called the god with a wet nose. Because of the association of learning, wealth and glamour with English, and the association Setswana with backwardness, traditional dance troops clad in leather paraphernalia and ignorance; it is unsurprising that many who are perfectly competent in the Setswana language feel ashamed to claim competence in its diction and idiom. It is therefore not surprising that those who speak perfect Setswana deny such competence and feign ignorance of the language. It is equally unsurprising that those with a limited knowledge of the English language prefer it to the Setswana language that they know better.

The problem is compounded in the urbanized middle class. These are largely university graduates who may be lawyers, bankers, journalists or teachers. The crisis amongst these is that they are neither fully competent in Setswana nor in English. They know sufficient English to read newspapers and magazines. Most are not sophisticated enough to purchase books to read for personal pleasure and development. They watch endless English television and read very little of anything that is useful, especially if it is written in Setswana. The size of their television exceeds the size of their library. They have never read a Setswana book since they left secondary school. The local urbanized middle class masters neither English nor Setswana. They desire western beauties and professionalism and lack the linguistic skills of English to complement their desires. They therefore cannot hold an intelligent discussion exclusively in English or exclusively in Setswana. Their world is that of codeswitching and code mixing. They live in a hybrid world. They are the hybrid generation. The hybridization applies to all parts of their lives. They believe in the modern ideas of women’s liberation and yet they put a bride price for the purchase of a wife. They are city boys and girls and yet some keep a moraka not very far from the heart of the city. They may delight in western music and cuisine but they also have a yearning for the traditional and cultural: the music and the dances and the culinary delights.

We must however return to the question: How good is Reginald Richardson’s Setswana? And the answer is: very good. He is unlikely to make any Setswana grammatical mistakes. He possesses a rich knowledge of Setswana terminology. The question: “How good is Reginald Richardson’s Setswana?” is best answered by you because you are Reginald Richardson. How good is your Setswana?

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The Telegraph September 30

Digital edition of The Telegraph, September 30, 2020.