Thursday, April 12, 2012

Having a LAFA

Language Variation around the world is the topic that I'm doing with my A2 (ENGA3) students at the moment, so this piece by Afua Hirsch in The Guardian from earlier in the week* is really timely.

In the article, Hirsch looks at the use of Ghanaian English and debates around it, particularly at the ways in which it is pronounced. She outlines the debate early on in the piece:

On one side of the fence are the old-school Ghanaians who were taught throughout their education to mimic received pronunciation – or BBC English, as it is popularly known – with varying degrees of success. On the other side, a backlash is growing against the old mentality of equating a British accent with prestige. Now the practice has a new acronym, LAFA, or "locally acquired foreign accent", and attracts derision rather than praise.

Conveniently for A level students, this is another very neat example of a language discourse or debate around a variety of English, so it's good territory for an ENGA3 paper. And while for many of my current students in Essex, Ghanaian English may seem a long way away, for my old SFX students in south London it was a lot more common. Even if you're not overly familiar with this particular variety of English and can't really tell your Nigerian pidgins from your Jamaican Creoles, the same bigger arguments are at play here: the same pushing and pulling between forces of change and forces of tradition.

Hirsch explains that part of the argument comes down to prestige:

...the idea that sounding "British" carries prestige also has a long history in Ghanaian society, manifesting itself in the country's struggle for independence in the 1940s and 50s, when an ideological difference emerged between an Oxbridge-educated Ghanaian elite and more radical, left-leaning leaders.
As with regional varieties and many other national varieties, the way you say something isn't always treated neutrally. While the sounds themselves don't really mean anything beyond the words they convey, they often signal much more - class, background, outlook and upbringing - so the arguments around how Ghanaian English is pronounced tap into all of these concerns.

 For Question 2 on the ENGA3 paper, the emphasis tends to be more to do with features of language rather than attitudes towards its use (although there is crossover) so this site, linked to in the article, gives an interesting (and bizarre) range of examples of Ghanaian English phrases for you to analyse.

(*thanks to @JaneSetter (blog here) for the link)

Updated on Monday 16th April to add:
This Pakistani-based newspaper website also refers to the Afua Hirsch article and adds its own local dimension to the argument. Definitely worth a read if you're working on World Englishes at the moment.

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