Are you afflicted Phonecular-Mylitis? Phonetics vs Vernacular
Words by Chinedu Ezeike
This North America has a way of making one lose touch with their culture. While this phenomena can manifest itself in many ways, it is most evident in issues pertaining to language where people try to change their lingo and intonation to sound more North American and in turn, less foreign. Naijarians know this as Phonetics. Unauthorized linguists and curious observers (moi) have studied this phenomena and diagnosed it as a disease we shall call Phonecular-Mylitis.
I struggled briefly about writing this article as I wasnt sure how it will be perceived. You see, while this piece is about Naijarians in general, I have numerous friends and acquaintances that might be afflicted with this disease. I wasnt sure if they would see it as a knock on them (which is unfair) or see it as what it is a by product of a sometimes intolerable and unforgiving society. One that is not entirely accommodating to foreigners and fails to see people for who they are. I decided to go ahead with this piece after recently watching an evening news segment of a local Toronto TV station. The story was on immigrants to Canada and how they are encouraged to conform and assimilate if they have any ambitions of moving up the corporate ladder and on a basic level, exist comfortably in a North American society.
Individuals from different countries were interviewed but the main subject was a Naija man. The reporter pointed out that he had a reputable job at one of the major banks in the Toronto. But it was suggested to him that he should try to sound more North American so as to communicate better with the high profile clients in his portfolio. He actually admitted he was tired of people replying him with Pardon me? after every Naija accented utterance. Clearly hes a smart dude and his English was impeccable but he was put in a position where he felt he had to lose his thick Naija accent in order to communicate better. The individuals proceeded to take speech therapy classes (which they paid for) in order to suppress their indigenous accents and in turn adopt the pronunciation and enunciation associated with the North American version of the English language.
Clearly, Phonecular-Mylitis has reached pandemic proportions as it affects people from different countries and all walks of life. Just like any other disease there are different stages. But unlike other ailments, the middle stage of Phonecular-Mylitis is the worst and most deadliest stage.
The beginning stage is marked with some exasperation as you quickly realize that you have to make a decision fast. You either reject the disease and or let it ravage through your body and consume your whole being. In a lot of documented cases this rejection is not always intentional. It is as a result of the defence mounted by the vernacular antibody. You see plenty Naijarians are immune to Phonecular-Mylitis. Not that they dont want to buss Phonetics, but the problem is that their vernacular is so conc that any attempt by this disease to invade their lingo is thwarted and dismantled by the vernacular anti-body.
The final stage, where the afflicted individuals exhibit the symptoms of full-blown Phonecular-Mylitis, can be a dubious spot to be in; depending on the individuals convictions. People here have completely mastered the art of Phonetics. This is not in any way an easy feat as it takes years of attentive listening and constant practice to achieve that level of expertise. Indeed, this can be so tortuous for some that they are unwilling to put their oral cavity through that kind of training. Those that are willing and able eventually attain a certain level of expertise that allows them to deftly weave through phonetics and vernacular. But herein lays the problem.
Some people get so caught up and excited by their successful phonetics immersion that they in turn taint their lingua franca with this
foreign lingo. This is one of the most common, and puzzling traits of Phonecular-Mylitis carriers. Gradually they start to butcher their native tongue by peppering it with phonetical enunciation. They invest so much time in learning how to speak English the proper way but wont hesitate to massacre their lingua franca with their acquired lingo. (Congratulations, you have now learn how to speak English the proper way, you can now proceed to butcher your indigenous tongue)
Some however have phonetics mastered to the R&T.
Granted some Nigerians dont even know how to speak their indigenous language. But this can be due to various factors and is not fair to always be judgmental. Some families have parents from different ethnic groups or nationalities therefore making it impossible for the family (especially the children) to communicate in any language other than English. Some parents despite having the same ethnic background dont communicate in their tongue but prefer to raise their children with the English language so they can have a better grasp of the universal tongue. Some people in this category did not invite Phonecular-Mylitis into their system. They already had it from infancy. Some also came to North America at a very young age making it easier to adapt to the new society. It is ultimately the parents decision to choose what language they want to instruct their offspring.
The middle stage of Phonecular-Mylitis is the most dangerous as this is a very pivotal stage marked with a lot of confusion. Here the patients struggle whether to embrace this sickness or reject it. Most are unable to commit totally to enunciating the dreaded letter R and T (the North American way) in every instance it appears in a sentence. Theres something slightly humorous about individuals bussin all the phonetics they can muster and keep trippin' on the letter R and T.
Patients in this middle stage also exhibit a lot of impatience in the sense that they cant wait to debut their acquired phonetics and impress their peers. But because they are not fully committed on which way to go, they have a very uneven lingo. For example a 7-word sentence might contain 3 words peppered with phonetics; another 3 peppered with vernacular and one word a mix of both. This brand of uncooked speech can be very arresting. Like the venerable Osuofia (aka Osuofiason) would say oyibo gi a eyero eye (your English is uncooked)
Another offshoot of Phonecular-Mylitis is the English Name Syndrome. People are starting to pull out their long forgotten english names left and right and replacing it with their first names. Some cats that never even had an English name are starting to adopt some. Others even go as far as changing their last names to English names.
A true and telling story about the importance of language and communication especially comes to mind. A Chinese family was visiting their good friends who happened to be Nigerian. During that visit the young boys from the respective families started engaging in a playful wrestling match. This caught the attention of their dads as each started rooting for his son. Within a short time the Chinese boy started to systematically dismantle the Naija kid and pin him repeatedly. The Chinese dad was yelling out instructions in Cantonese to his son while the Naija dad was intuitively yelling out instructions and tips in his indigenous tongue. But his cries were falling on deaf ears as the Naija boy only understood English. Frustrated, the dad proceeded to yell out instructions in English which did not do his son any good as the Chinese kid knew what moves the Naija cat was going to make. Although the Naija man put on a smiling face throughout the ordeal, he was utterly embarrassed and swore the language of communication was going to change in his home.
A friend of mine recently asked me if I considered myself a patient afflicted with Phonecular-Mylitis, but I replied Its not about me, its about us.