Thursday, November 10, 2005

Adventures in English, Part I

Since we are constantly in the process of trying to understand, trying to be understood, and trying to learn at least a little Twi (not to mention Ga and a few other tribal languages spoken here), language will be a subject I'll return to often. Here's my first stab at the ever-evolving linguistic quirks we've got goin' on...

English is the official 'business' language of Ghana. Official does not necessarily mean correct, or even usual- just that most everyone here can speak and understand it. In some form. Ghanaians speak the British english they learned from colonial days, which makes not only our American accents hard to grasp, but our American words. "Cookies?" "Trunk?" "Gas?"

We are occasionally incomprehensible, even when we speak s-l-o-w-l-y.

Or LOUDLY. :-)

Then there is Ghanaian english, much of which we love. Finish means done or broken, as in "The pizza is finish." (We have no more pizza), or "The clocks are all finish." (None of them work anymore). Groundnuts are peanuts, groundnut paste is peanut butter and groundnut soup is way better than peanut soup- we aren't sure of the connection yet. I'll get back to you on that one.

The taxis and tro-tros have words on their back windows that usually spell out some sort of religious idea, e.g. Faith in the Lord, or Inshah Allahu. Sometimes they are missing letters, so you have to figure out the meaning of "Eternity is fou d in the Lo d". Sometimes the message is misspelled like "Remmeber the Lord", "Except the Lord" and our personal favorite: "Who Kwons?".

When you drive, especially on the motorway, there are billboards reminding you of many things, but two biggies are "Overspeeding kills!" and "Wrongful overtaking kills." All over town are the ubiquitous condom ads- "If it's not on, it's not in." or "It's better on top- always keep it on!"

There are lots of handpainted signs advertising services or real estate. One near our house offers a home for rent with 'swiming pole'. Nearby is a guy who does "Expect Gardening".

We stopped one day at a roadside vendor because I liked some baskets he had piled up. When I went to look at them, I realized they were very sturdy and nicely made, but had no bottom. I took one to the man who made them and asked if he could put a bottom in it. He nodded his head, took the basket, put his hand where the bottom would go and said, "Yes, yes, yes, I put plowood on the down."



You probably got that way faster than I did. He had to repeat it twice in response to the blank and/or puzzled look on my face until I finally twigged. So now I own a very nice bread basket with plowood on the down.