‘We spoke English to set ourselves apart’: how I rediscovered my mother tongue
‘我们说英语让自己变得与众不同’:我如何重新拾起我的母语
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2019-05-13 10:59
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When I was a child, my great-grandmother, whom we called Daa, came to live with my family in Umuahia in south-eastern Nigeria. My father had spent most of his infancy in her care, mostly during a period when his mother was preoccupied with her role as one of the founders of a local Assemblies of God church. As Daa grew older and weaker, he felt it was his turn to take care of her. After much persuasion, he finally convinced her to leave her humble dwellings in a village far from where we lived and come spend her last days in the comfort of our modern home.

孩提时,我的曾祖母(我们叫她Daa)和我们一起住在乌穆阿希亚的东南地区。我父亲在婴幼儿时期基本由曾祖母悉心呵护,因为当时我的祖母是地方神召会教堂的创始人之一,她将大部分时间都奉献给了她的事业。当Daa日渐老去,身体慢慢衰弱,父亲意识到是时候轮到他照顾Daa了。在经过不厌其烦的劝说后,他终于说服Daa离开了她偏远而简陋的村居,在我们舒适的现代化房子里度过了她最后的时光。

Each time I watched her shuffle one foot in front of the other, her back bent almost double until her head nearly touched the top of her walking stick, it was hard to imagine my father’s descriptions of a Daa who was once one of the tallest and most stunning women around. The story went that the colonial-era arbitrator who presided over the dissolution of her first marriage found her so beautiful that he decided on the spot to take her as one of his wives. “How can you maltreat such a beautiful woman?” he was said to have asked the errant husband.

每次我看见来Daa回踱步时,她的背驼得很厉害,脸几乎要触碰到拐杖的顶端, 这时候我总是很难想象出父亲对 年亲时的描述。他说, Daa曾经是当地个子最高、最迷人的女人。故事是这样的:在那个殖民时代,那个判定我祖母离婚事宜的仲裁员发现是那么美丽,决定当场娶她为妻。据说,当时那个仲裁员对犯了错的丈夫这样问道:“你怎么能虐待如此美丽的女人?”

Daa’s favourite pastime turned out to be watching American wrestling matches on TV. She had lived almost an entire lifetime with no television; and yetno other entertainment that the channels had to offer caught her fancy. With her ashen legs stretched stiff in suspense, she stared agape, chuckled loudly and gasped audibly as Mighty Igor and his ilk beat each other up on the small screen. Daa also enjoyed telling stories. But, apart from popular words like “TV” and “rice”, she knew no English. Her one and only language was Igbo. This meant that her storytelling sessions often involved vivid gesticulations and multiple repetitions so that my siblings and I could understand what she was trying to say, or so we could say anything that she understood.

 Daa几乎一辈子都没看过电视。但自从来到我家后,她在闲暇之余最喜欢的就是在电视上观看美国的摔跤比赛,除此以外,也没有其他娱乐节目能吸引她的注意力。在看电视时,她的腿总是悬在半空,苍白而没有血色,她总是瞪大眼睛看着,当力大无比的伊戈尔和他的同伴在小屏幕上打斗时,她就会咯咯地笑出声,伴随着不大的喘气声。Daa也很喜欢讲故事。但是,除了如“电视机”和“米饭”等热门词汇,她对英语便一无所知了。她唯一会用的就是伊博语。这意味着她讲故事的过程中会出现生动的手势和反复讲述的故事情节,因为只有这样,我和我的兄弟姐妹们才能够理解她想表达的意思,又或者我们也能和曾祖母聊一些她能理解的东西。

None of us children spoke Igbo, our local language. Unlike the majority of their contemporaries in our hometown, my parents had chosen to speak only English to their children. Guests in our home adjusted to the fact that we were an English-speaking household, with varying degrees of success. Our helps were also encouraged to speak English. Many arrived from their remote villages unable to utter a single word of the foreign tongue, but as the weeks rolled by, they soon began to string complete sentences together with less contortion of their faces. My parents also spoke to each other in English – never mind that they had grown up speaking Igbo with their families. On the rare occasion my father and mother spoke Igbo to each other, it was a clear sign that they were conducting a conversation in which the children were not supposed to participate.

我们家这些孩子里面没有人会说我们当地的语言——伊博语。与我们家乡的大多数同龄人不同,我的父母选择只对我们这些孩子说英语。我们家的客人也因此习惯了我们是一户说英语的人家,只不过英语水平各有差异。我们也帮助鼓励周围的人说英语。很多从偏远村落来的人一开始一个单词都不会说,但几周过去后,他们便能说上一连串句子了,说话时脸上的表情也自然了很多。我的父母在互相对话时也用英语——虽然他们自小和家人对话时用的是伊博语。只有在少数情况下他们会用伊博语交流,很明显,在这种时候,他们一定是在讨论一些不希望被我们听懂的话题。

Over the years, I endured people teasing my parents – usually behind their backs – for this decision, accusing them of desiring to turn their children into white people. I read how the notorious former Ugandan president Idi Amin, in the 70s, brazenly addressed the United Nations in his mother tongue. The Congolese despot Mobutu Sese Seko also showed allegiance to his local language by dumping his European names. More recently, the internationally acclaimed Kenyan writer Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, after a successful career writing in English, decided to switch almost entirely to writing in his native Gikuyu. Upholding one’s mother tongue over English appeared to be the ultimate demonstration of one’s love of people and country – a middle finger raised in the face of British colonialism.

多年来,我一直在忍受人们在背地里嘲笑我的父母——指责我父母让我们说英语是为了想让我们变成白种人。我曾看到关于前乌干达总统伊迪阿明的报道。这个臭名昭著的前总统在其古稀之年,公然用母语在联合国发表演讲。刚果暴君蒙博托·塞塞·塞科也表达了他对当地语言的忠诚,从而抛弃了他的欧洲名字。最近,饱受国际赞誉的肯尼亚作家恩古吉·瓦·提安哥,在用英语进行创作大获成功后,决定转向几乎全用母语吉库尤语进行文学创作。爱自己的母语胜过英语似乎成了人们表达自己对祖国与人民的热爱的最终方式——也是对英国殖民主义思潮的鄙视。

Lee Kuan Yew, the first prime minister of Singapore, thought differently. When he replaced Chinese with English as the official medium of instruction in his country’s schools, activists accused him of trying to suppress culture. The media portrayed him as “the oppressor in a government of ‘pseudo foreigners who forget their ancestors’,” as he explained in his autobiography, From Third World to First. But he believed the future of his country’s children depended on their command of the language of the latest textbooks, which would undoubtedly be English.

新加坡首任总理李光耀却不这么想。当他用英语代替中文作为新加坡学校的官方语言时,激进主义分子指责他试图压制文化。他在名为《从第三世界到第一世界》自传中写道,媒体将他刻画成了一个“忘本的外来伪君子,一个政府的压迫者”。但他坚信,新加坡孩子的未来取决于他们对最新教材上语言的掌握程度,毫无疑问,这种语言非英语莫属。

“Without English, no race would have an advantage,” he wrote. “English as our working language has … given us a competitive advantage because it is the international language of business and diplomacy, of science and technology. Without it, we would not have many of the world’s multinationals and over 200 of the world’s top banks in Singapore. Nor would our people have taken so readily to computers and the internet.” Within a few decades of independence from Britain in 1965, Singapore had risen from poverty and disorder to become an economic powerhouse. The country’s transformation under Yew’s guidance is often described as dramatic.

他写道:“若是没有英语,所有的民族都将失去优势,英语作为我们的工作语言,给予我们竞争优势,因为这是一种关乎商业、外交和科技的国际语言。若是没有英语,很多跨国公司和两百多家世界顶级银行就不会入驻新加坡。我们的人民也不会那么快适应这个属于电脑和互联网的时代。1965年新加坡从英国独立出来,在这之后短短几十年内,新加坡便摆脱贫困和混乱,成为了世界一大经济强国。在李光耀领导下历经转型的新加坡可谓是经历了历史性的蜕变。

My parents shared Yew’s convictions. They hoped English would give their children an advantage. But, as potent as that reason might be, my father admitted to me that it was secondary. He had an even stronger motivation for preferring English: “We spoke it to set ourselves apart,” he said. “Those of us who were educated wanted to distinguish ourselves from those who had money but didn’t go to school.”

我的父母和李光耀有着同样的信念。他们希望英语能给他们的孩子带来优势。虽然这个原因听起来很有说服力,但我的父亲承认,这其实并非他的本意。他对英语的喜爱有一个更为强烈的动机:“我们说英语,可以让自己变得与众不同。像我们一样受过教育的人想让自己与那些富有却没有上过学的人区分开来。”

A perennial issue among the Igbo of south-eastern Nigeria is the battle between the mind and the purse; between certificate and cash. All over Nigeria, the Igbo are recognised for their entrepreneurial spirit and business acumen. From pre-colonial times to today, a majority of the country’s successful traders and transporters have been Igbo. Many of them began as apprentices and worked their way up, never bothering with school. The Igbo are also known for ostentatiousness and flamboyance – those with great wealth usually find it difficult to be silent about it. While the moguls flaunted their cash, the educated members of my parents’ generation flaunted their degrees, many from British and American schools. They might not have had the excess cash to fling at the masses during public functions or to acquire fleets of cars, but they could speak fluent English – an asset that was not available for purchase in stores.

尼日利亚东南部的伊博人常年都会遇到这样一个问题,即思想与财力间的斗争以及证书与金钱之间的斗争。放眼整个尼日利亚,伊博人因其创业精神和敏锐的商业头脑从人群中脱颖而出。从殖民前期至今,这个国家大部分的成功商人和货运商都是伊博人。他们中有很多都是从学徒开始一步步走向成功的,从来没有上过学。伊博人也以虚荣和铺张浪费闻名——那些拥有巨额财富的人往往虚荣浮夸,铺张浪费。当富人炫耀其财富时,我们父母这代受过教育的人便会相应地炫耀他们的学历,其中很多是从英国和美国的学校毕业的。他们也许没有过多的金钱用来在公众场合大肆炫耀,也买不起一个车队,但他们能说流利的英语——这是一种在商店里买不到的财富。

I still remember strangers staring and smiling at us in wonder whenever my family talked among ourselves in public. Speaking English was just one way of showing off, especially when one lived, like my parents, in what was then a small, little-known town. Some of my parents’ contemporaries distinguished themselves by appending their academic qualifications to their names. Apart from academics and medical doctors, it was common to hear people describe themselves as Architect Peter or Engineer Paul or Pharmacist Okoro.

我仍然记得,每当我的家人在公共场合互相交谈时,陌生人都会微笑而好奇地盯着我们看。在他们眼里,说英语仅仅是一种炫耀的方式,特别是当你生活在一个不为人知的小镇上时,就如同我的父母,便更是如此。和我们父母同时代的一些人会在自己的姓名上加上学历说明,以此让自己与众不同。除了学者和医生,我们常常能听到人们称自己为建筑师皮特,或者是工程师保尔亦或是药剂师奥克罗。

My father’s first degree was in economics, while my mother’s was in sociology. They met during the civil war between the government of Nigeria and the secessionist Igbo state of Biafra, and they spoke to each other in English throughout their three years of courtship, long before any of their children were born. “That was one of the things that attracted your daddy to me,” my mother said. “The way I spoke English fluently.” Back then, villagers made fun of my father for his choice of wife. They sneered that his determination to marry a university graduate had blinded him to the choice of a woman who was so skinny that she could surely never carry children successfully in her womb. Even if female university graduates were scarce, couldn’t he marry an uneducated woman and then send her to school?

我父亲的第一个学士学位是经济学,我母亲的是社会学。他们是在尼日利亚政府与比夫拉伊博州的分离主义分子进行内战的时候相遇的。在他们三年相恋岁月中,他们都用英语与对方交流,那时候,他们还没有孩子。我母亲说:“这是我能够吸引你父亲的一个原因,也就是我的英语很流利。”那时,村民们都嘲笑我父亲娶了我母亲。他们讽刺他,说我父亲想娶大学毕业生的决心蒙蔽了他的双眼,让他娶了我母亲这般的女子做妻子。我母亲是那么的骨瘦如柴,以至于让他们觉得她无法生孩子。即使当时女大学生很稀少,那他就不能先娶一个没上过学的女人,然后再送她去上学吗?

The simmering resentment betweenthose with certificates and those with cash exploded to the surface in the 1990s, when the Nigerian economy plunged. Suddenly, it was not so difficult to find an educated wife willing to marry a man who could also take on the responsibility of her parents’ and siblings’ welfare. Whether or not he could speak English or read and write was immaterial. Around that same time, a significant number of uneducated but daring Igbo men found infamy and fortune by swindling westerners of millions through advance fee fraud, known locally as 419 scams. There were stories of learned men – professors and engineers and accountants – being openly scorned during community meetings. “Thank you for your speech, but how much money are you going to contribute?” they would be asked. “We are not here to eat English. Please, sit down and keep quiet.” There were also stories of 419 scammers sneering back at those who mocked their incorrect English and inability to pronounce the names of their luxury cars. “You knows the name, I owns the car,” they would say.

证书与金钱之间的斗争不断激化升级,终于在20世纪90年代爆发出来,那个年代正值尼日利亚经济萧条时期。突然间,不难发现一个受过教育的女子愿意嫁给一个有钱人,只要对方能够支付得起她父母以及兄弟姐妹一大家子开销。他会不会说英语,能不能用英语读写都无关紧要。也就是大约在那时候,一大群未受过教育却胆大包天的伊博人通过定金诈骗,从数百万的西方人那里获得了一大笔不义之财——即当地人称为419骗局的事件。据说这期间一些有学问的人——包括教授,工程师和会计师——他们在社区会议上受到公开指责。“感谢你的演讲,但是你打算捐多少钱呢?”有人这样质问他们。“我们来这里不是来吃英语的。请坐下保持安静。”还有传言说419骗局中的骗子们讥笑这些曾经挖苦他们英语蹩脚,连自己豪车的品牌都读不出来的学问人。他们会说:“你们知道车的品牌,可是我们有车。”

This longstanding battle between the mind and the wallet is probably why Igbo has suffered the most among Nigeria’s three main languages. The other two, Yoruba and Hausa, despite facing threats from English as well, seem not to be doing as badly. Yoruba is one of the languages on a list of suggestions for London police officers to learn, while the BBC World Service’s Hausa-language operation has a larger audience than any other. Meanwhile, Igbo is among the world’s endangered languages, and there is a rising cry, especially among Igbo intellectuals, for drastic action to preserve and promote our mother tongue.

思想与钱包之间的持久战也许就是为什么伊博语成为了尼日利亚三种主要语言中受创最深的语言。其他两种语言,约鲁巴语和豪萨语,尽管也受到来自英语的威胁,但总体情况没有像伊博语那样糟糕。约鲁巴语被列为伦敦警察应学的语言之一,BBC国际广播中的豪萨语广播的听众人数大大超过了其他小语种。同时,伊博语被列为全球濒危语言之一,伴随而来的还有伊博知识分子日渐高涨的呼声,呼吁人们采取强有力的行动来保护和发展他们的母语。

Many of the children who admired people like my family grew up determined that their own children would also speak English. My parents spoke excellent English – my father certified as an accountant in Britain, while my mother acquired a PGCE in education and then taught in London primary schools. They quoted Shakespeare and used words like “effluvium” in everyday speech. Not many of the new generation of parents speaking English to their children have a command of the language themselves. Unfortunately, the public school system in Nigeria has continued to deteriorate, and few parents can afford the private education that could provide their children with good English lessons. There is now an alarming number of young Igbo people who are not fluent in their mother tongue or in English.

很多孩子羡慕像我们这样的家庭,因此,长大以后他们决定让下一代也学习英语。我的父母英语说得很棒——我的父亲拿到了英国的会计证书,我的母亲拿到了研究生教育证书,在伦敦的小学任教。他们引用莎士比亚的话,在每日演讲中使用“恶臭(effluvium)”这般书面化的词语。现在的家长跟孩子们讲英语,但这其中英语好的家长却并不多见。不幸的是,尼日利亚的公共学校系统日益衰败,鲜有家长可以支付得起私立学校高昂的学费,然而只有私立学校才能让孩子接受好的英语教育。如今,伊博年轻人中,既不会说流利的母语也不会流利的英语的人数高得惊人。

My difficulty in communicating with Daa was not the only disadvantage of not being able to speak Igbo as a child. Each time it was my turn to stand and read to my primary school class from our recommended Igbo textbook, the pupils burst into grand giggles at my use of the wrong tones on the wrong syllables. Again and again, the teachers made me repeat. Each time, the class’s laughter was louder. My off-key pronunciations tickled them no end.

我孩提时不会说伊博语,不仅仅造成了我和Daa之间的沟通困难。每当轮到我在小学课堂上朗读现行伊博语教材的时候,学生们都会嘲笑我读错了词。老师们会让我一次次重复朗读。每一次朗读过后,同学们就会笑得更大声。我别扭的发音成了他们无休止的笑话。

But while the other pupils were busy giggling, I went on to get the highest scores in Igbo tests. Always. Because the tests were written, they did not require the ability to pronounce words accurately. The rest of the class were relaxed in their understanding of the language, and so treated it casually. I considered Igbo foreign to me, and approached the subject studiously. I read Igbo literature and watched Igbo programmes on TV. My favourite was a series of comedy sketches called Mmadu O Bu Ewu, which featured a live goat dressed in human clothing. After studying Igbo from primary school through to the conclusion of secondary school, I was confident enough in my knowledge to register the language as one of my university entrance exam subjects.

但就当他们忙着嘲笑我时,我却在伊博语考试中拿到了最高的分数,高分于我就像家常便饭。那是因为,考试是笔试,笔试不需要你准确地读出来。班上的其他同学往往疏忽了他们对于语言的理解,忽略了语法部分的学习。而在我看来,伊博语对我来说很陌生,所以我很努力地学习。我阅读伊博语文学作品,看伊博语电视节目。我最喜欢的喜剧小品叫Mmadu O Bu Ewu,主要讲的是一只山羊装扮成人的故事,从小学到中学毕业,我一直在学习伊博语,所以在大学升学考试时,我很自信地选择语言科目作为我考试项目之一。

Everyone thought me insane. Taking a major local language exam as a prerequisite for university admission was not child’s play. I was treading where expert speakers themselves feared to tread. Only two students in my entire school had chosen to take Igbo in these exams. But my Igbo score turned out to be good enough, when combined with my scores in the other two subjects I chose, to land me a place to study psychology at Nigeria’s prestigious University of Ibadan.

所有人都觉得我疯了。选择地方语言作为大学准入考试的科目,我是认真的。我踏入了很多专业语言学家都不敢涉足的领域。整个学校,只有两个人学生选择伊博语作为考试科目。但不出所料,和我的其他两门课分数相比,我的伊博语考试分数足够好,这个分数让我得以进入尼日利亚的顶尖学府——伊巴丹大学心理学专业深造。

Eager to show off my hard-earned skill, whenever I come across publishers of African publications – especially those who make a big deal about propagating “African culture” – I ask if I can write something for them in Igbo. They always say no. Despite all the “promoting our culture” fanfare, they understand that local language submissions could limit the reach of their publications.

因为我非常渴望展示我那来之不易的技能,所以每当我遇到非洲出版业的出版商时——特别是那些非常希望推广发扬非洲文化的出版商——我就会问他们,我是否可以为他们用伊博语写点东西。但他们总是拒绝我。尽管他们口口声声说是要发扬光大我们的文化,但他们认为出版地方语言作品会缩小他们出版物的受众范围。

Indigenous works form an essential part of a people’s literary heritage, and there is definitely a place for them – but not, it seems, when it comes to world domination, or pushing beyond the boundaries of our nations and taking a place of influence on the world stage. Every single African writer who has gained some prominence on the global scene accomplished this on a platform provided by the west, to whom our local languages are of absolutely no significance.

本土文学作品是人类文学遗产不可或缺的一部分且应有其一席之地——但当我们想要成为世界主导者,或者走出国界,在世界舞台上产生影响力时,本土文化就不再是不可或缺的了。每一个在这个西方国家搭建的平台上有所成就的非洲作家,根本不把我们的地方性语言放在眼里。

Africans are no longer helplessly watching outsiders tell our own stories, as we did in past decades, but foreigners still retain the veto over the stories we tell. Publishers in Britain and America decide which of our narratives to present to the world. Then their judges decide which of us to award accolades – and subsequent fame. The literary audiences in our various countries usually watch and wait until the west crowns a new writer, then begin applauding that person. Local writers without some western seal of approval are automatically regarded by their compatriots as inferior.

过去我们只能无助地看着外人讲述非洲的故事,现在我们摆脱了这种状况,但外国人依然拒绝听我们讲故事。英美的出版商决定着谁能代表我们国家对外发声。他们判定我们中的哪一个可以获奖——以及之后的名誉。我们国家的读者们经常就是这么张望着翘首以盼,直到西方国家选出新的获奖作家,他们便开始为他鼓掌。而那些没有获得西方国家批准认可的本土作家会自动被同胞们视为平庸之辈。

The west is also where our books scoop the easiest sales. The west has better marketing and distribution structures, while those which exist in the majority of African countries are simply abysmal. Nigerians in Punxsutawney can have access to my novels if they so desire, and so can those in Pontypridd. But in my country, where online shopping is still an esoteric venture, my books are accessible to the public in only a handful of cities.

在西方国家,我们国家的作品轻而易举就能大卖。西方国家有着更好的市场营销策略和分销网络,然而那些只能在非洲主要国家流通的作品就备受冷落。如果在美国庞克瑟托尼的尼日利亚人想要看我的小说,他们立马就能买到,住在威尔士庞特普里斯的尼日利亚人同样可以。但在我的国家,网上购物仍然没有得到普及,人们只能在几家零星的书店找到我的作品。

Over the past decade alone, a number of major literary prizes have been awarded to writers of African origin. Ngũgĩ has been rumoured as having been considered for the Nobel prize in literature. That would hardly have happened had he begun his career writing in Gikuyu. He would probably not even have been known beyond the peripheries of Kenya, where the prevalence of that local language begins and ends. As the Nigerian author Chinua Achebe noted in a 1964 essay: “Those of us who have inherited the English language may not be in a position to appreciate the value of the inheritance. Or we may go on resenting it because it came as part of a package deal which included many other items of doubtful value and the positive atrocity of racial arrogance and prejudice … But let us not in rejecting the evil throw out the good with it.”

就光过去十年来看,有很多主要文学奖项颁给了非洲籍作家。有人曾传言,恩古吉被提名为诺贝尔文学奖候选人。若是他用吉库尤语(起源于肯尼亚,亦失传于肯尼亚)来写作,这样的提名永远不会发生,也许他只能为肯尼亚人民所知。正如尼日利亚作家齐诺瓦阿切比在其1964年发表的文章中指出:“我们中继承英语的人也许没办法去欣赏这种语言的内在价值。或者我们也许还会继续憎恨它,因为伴随而来的还有其他很多值得令人怀疑的价值观和那个种族的傲慢与偏见以及他们的各种暴行......但是我们得辩证地看待问题,做到去其糟粕,取其精华。”

Perhaps Ngũgĩ and some other African writers care little about westerners being able to read their works. It could be that Nobel prizes and sales figures mean absolutely nothing to them. Maybe they are quite content with a local audience – but the local audiences themselves may not be able to read the authors’ books written in Gikuyu or Igbo or Chi.

也许恩古吉和其他一些非洲作家并不在乎西方人是否会去看他们的作品。也许诺贝尔奖和作品销量对他们来说不值一提。也许当地读者已经让他们倍感欣慰——但当地的读者也许看不懂他们用吉库尤语,伊博语或是齐伊语写的作品。

Africa currently has the world’s lowest literacy rates. Unesco reports that more than 1 in 3 adults in sub-Saharan Africa are unable to read and write, as are 47 million young people (ages 15-24). The region accounts for almost half of the 64 million primary school-aged children in the world who are not in school. Not even the English are born with the ability to read their language. They are taught – usually in schools.

非洲近来是世界上文化水平最低的大陆。联合国教科文组织报告指出,超过33%撒哈拉以南非洲的成年人无法进行读写,年轻人文盲达到(15-24岁)4700万。全球未受教育学龄儿童有6400万,而该地区的的未受教育学龄儿童数几乎占到全球总数的一半。就算是生来就会说英语的英国人也会去学校学习英语。

I wonder how many literate Gikuyu speakers can read their language. I wonder how many have read Ngũgĩ’s work. My parents, who have spoken Igbo their entire lives, can hardly read and write their mother tongue fluently. They were never taught. At the time they went to school, the colonials, whom we detest so much, were probably still busy transcribing our own mother tongues for us – from ideograms to the more universal Roman letters – to enable us begin to read and write our own local languages.

我想知道有多少说吉库尤语的人能读懂他们自己的语言。我想知道有多少人读过恩古吉的作品。即使我的父母一生都在说伊博语,但他们却无法流畅地读写他们的母语。他们从来没有受过这方面的读写教育。他们上学的那个时候,那些令人憎恨的殖民者们说不定还在忙着为我们抄录我们的母语——将我们的表意文字转换为更通用的罗马字母——让我们得以读懂我们的语言并成功写出自己的语言。

Daa eventually got weary of modern life and sulked until my father allowed her to return to her village, where she eventually died peacefully in her sleep. But it was not until the 2000s that I finally understood her fascination with US wrestling, after a former colleague told me of how her aged grandmother, while visiting from her village and watching Jerry Springer for the first time, suddenly exclaimed in shock: “Ah! So white people fight?!”

Daa最终厌倦了现代生活,不断吵闹直到父亲让她回到村落生活。在那里,她在睡梦中安详离世。直到21世纪,我终于明白Daa为何如此热衷于美国摔跤比赛。我的前同事告诉我,她那年迈的祖母从老家来看望他们时,在电视上第一次看到杰里斯普林格时,突然震惊地大叫:“啊!原来白种人也打架啊?!”

All those years ago, Daa was probably equally intrigued to see white people punching each other on TV. Living in Umuahia, where the sight of a white person is still today so rare that it draws a crowd in the street, meant that the few Caucasians Daa had glimpsed in her lifetime were probably missionaries and colonial officers – most of whom were models of civilisation, poster boys of higher breeding. When she came to stay with my family, she must have been shocked by the uncharacteristic sight of white people acting so savagely on TV.

多年以前,Daa也许同样因看到白种人在电视上打斗而大吃一惊。在乌穆阿希亚,直到今天白种人还是如此少见,以至于有白人出现的地方就会有人围观。这意味着曾祖母这辈子见过的为数不多的几个高加索人也许就是那个时代的传教士和殖民长官,他们中的大部分人都是文明的典范,当地人眼中受过高等教育的文明典范。所以,当她搬来和我们一起居住时,看到电视上白种人出乎意料的野蛮行为时,着实让她大吃一惊。

That said, having one language to dominate others must have reduced conflict. If, for example, we decided to dump English and use a mother tongue as the language of instruction in local schools, which of the at least 300 tongues in Nigeria or the 70 in Kenya or the 120 in Tanzania (and so on) would those countries use to teach their children? This would be more difficult than ever today, when many African societies are becoming urbanised, with different ethnic groups converging in the same locality. Which language should schools select and which should they abandon? How many fresh accusations of marginalisation would arise from this process?

有这样一种说法,要用一种语言来统领其他语言,定会减少相互之间引发的冲突。那么如果,比如我们决定抛弃英语,各国选择一种母语作为地方学校的官方用语。但就光尼日利亚至少有300种语言,肯尼亚有70种语言,坦桑尼亚有120种语言(诸如此类)那么这些国家应该采用哪种语言来教育他们的孩子?现如今很多非洲国家正处于城市化进程中,很多少数民族也随之不断走向融合。所以相比于今天的民族融合趋势,选择一种母语作为官方语言对他们来说是一种更为艰难的选择。学校应接纳哪一种语言,又应该舍弃哪一种?在这个接纳与舍弃的过程中,又会有多少种语言面临边缘化的指控?

Lee Kuan Yew pointed out in his book how a multitude of mother tongues could have been a major hindrance to Singapore’s national security. Without a unifying language, the country’s armed forces faced a huge risk: “We were saddled with a hideous collection of dialects and languages,” he wrote, “and faced the prospect of going into battle without understanding each other.”

李光耀在他的书中指出,若不是他将英语定为官方语言,各色各样的新加坡母语就会成为新加坡国家安全的主要绊脚石。若是没有一种统一的语言,国家的武装力量将会面临巨大挑战。“我们曾斡旋于各种可怕的方言与语言之间,”他写道,“我们差点就因不了解彼此而大打出手,陷入混乱。”

In Africa’s case, it would not just have been going to battle without understanding each other, but going to battle because we do not understand each other. The many wars around Africa are usually fought along ethnic lines. The lack of a common language would have further accentuated our differences, giving opportunity for yet more conflict. Languages like English have made Africa a more peaceful and unified region than it might have been. The contemptible colonials at least gave us an easy means of communicating with one another, preventing a Tower of Babel situation on the continent.

对于非洲来说,可不是因不了解彼此而大打出手这么简单,而是因为不愿相互了解而引起冲突战争。很多非洲战争经常源于种族分歧。缺少共同语言会加剧各个民族间的分歧,引发更多冲突。比起以前,英语让非洲成为了一片更为祥和的土地,也让非洲人民变得更加团结。这样看来,那些可恶的殖民者至少让我们相互交流变得更为简便,阻止了非洲大陆上巴别塔传说(传说上帝为阻止人们建造通天塔而变乱了人们的语言使人们相互之间无法交流,最终四散而去)的发生。

I attended a school in Nigeria where speaking your mother tongue was banned for that very reason. Shortly after the Nigerian civil war, which was instigated by venomous tribal sentiments, my country’s government hatched the idea of special schools in every state. A quota system would ensure that as many ethnic groups as possible were represented in each of the “unity schools”. For the first time in Nigeria’s history, children from every region would have the opportunity to mix and to get to know one another beyond the fog of tribalism. We were taught to see ourselves as Nigerian, not Igbo or Hausa or Yoruba or whatever. Local languages were part of the curriculum, but speaking them beyond the classroom was a punishable offence.

我曾在尼日利亚上过学,这里的学校禁止学生说母语就是因为这个原因。一些种族分裂势力引发了尼日利亚内战。在这之后不久,我国政府提议在每个州建立特殊学校,并建立相应的配给制度,要求各个区域的学校要尽可能保证招生生源遍布各个民族。对于尼日利亚各个区域的孩子们来说,这是首次在没有部落主义阻碍的情况下,有机会和其他部落的孩子进行沟通。我们总是被教育要将自己视为尼日利亚人,而不是伊博人,豪萨人,约鲁巴人或是其他什么人种。地方语言是课程的一部分,但在教室以外的地方使用地方语言便应受到惩罚,因为这是对他人的一种冒犯。

It was not until university that I at last began to speak the language. In Ibadan, away from Igbo land and from the laughing voices, away from those who either did not allow me to speak Igbo or who did not believe I could speak it, I was finally free to open my mouth and express the words that had been bottled up inside my head for so many years – the words I had heard people in the market speak, the words I had read in books and heard on TV, the words my father had not permitted around the house.

直到我上大学,我才开始说伊博语。在远离伊博的伊巴丹,我远离了那些嘲笑声,远离了那些不允许我说或者不相信我会说伊博语的人,最终我可以开口说出盘旋在我脑海中多年的话——我听人们在市场中说过这些话,在书中读到过,也在电视上看到过。而我的父亲却不允许我在家周围说这些话。

Speaking Igbo in university was particularly essential if I was to socialise comfortably with the Igbo community there, as most of the “foreigners” in the Yoruba-dominated school considered it super-important to be seen talking our language in this strange land. “Suo n’asusu anyi! Speak in our language!” they often admonished when I launched a conversation with them in English. “Don’t you hear the Yorubas speaking their own language?”

如果我想顺利融入伊博语学生团体,在大学说伊博语对我尤其必要。就好比在约鲁巴语学校的外地学生看来,在这片陌生的土地上让人们看到你说约鲁巴语,是一件相当重要的事情。“Suo n’asusu anyi!用我们的语言说话吧!”每当我用英语和他们说话的时候,他们总是这么劝告我。“你没看到约鲁巴人用约鲁巴语交谈吗?”

Thus, in a strange land far away from home, I finally became fluent in a language I had hardly uttered all my life. Today, few people can tell from my pronunciations that I grew up not speaking Igbo. “Your wit is even sharper in Igbo than in English,” my mother insists. Strangely, whenever I am in the presence of anyone who knew me as a child, when I was not permitted to speak Igbo, my eloquence in the local tongue often regresses. I stammer, falter, repeat myself. Perhaps my tongue is tied by the recollection of their mockery.

因此,在一片远离家乡的陌生土地上,我最终能流利地用一种语言与人交谈,而这种语言是我这一辈子几乎都没有说的。今天,几乎没有人能从我的发音推断出我小时候没有说过伊博语。我母亲坚持说:“你在伊博语上的天赋超过了你在英语上的天赋。”让我百思不得其解的是,每当我遇到从小就认识我的人时,当我遇到不让我说伊博语的人时,我的伊博语语言能力就会退化。我就会变得支支吾吾、结结巴巴。也许,对于他们嘲笑我的记忆束缚住了我的舌头吧!

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