more bantu

Bantu is a language.

We disagree about this, it and me.

I think Bantu is more than a language. Of course I am not so far gone as to deny its utilitarian value. Here, in the land of the free, the extremely limited use that I can put it to is apparent.

And so, against the run of history, I tie Bantu up with my innermost being. And where I could spread my wings and fly, should hold my hands out for more and, above all, should realize just how lucky I am, my head is instead filled with thoughts of Nongqawuse. What, I wonder again and again, words did she use to utter her false prophecy.

Bantu, on the other hand, insists that it is no more than a language.

After the first few months of going cold turkey of everything African, horrified at my craving for Mzantsi (so parochial!, that need) the language emerged as an indispensable crutch. Part of it, I realize, is its insistence that I do not need it. And so, just to spite it, I need it. The other is, embarrassingly, the fact that it is right. If only I could be brave, this could be my home. Then, if I chose, I could do more for Bantu in English, as so many of my continentmen are already doing.

It is people like me, backwards retrogrades, who hold everyone up.

I saw just how much I agree with Bantu when I was recounting an experience I had in Mzantsi to a progressive academic. Even such a simple telling (turns out it was simple only to me) quickly turned into a linguistic game. I lost that game.

The problem between the progressive and me, it emerged gradually, was language. I am classified as a second language English speaker, he a first language speaker. When speaking to each other the point of reference for words and their meaning was he. The meaning of my experiences must make sense to him, so that he can meaningfully translate them.

If I am to express my experiences correctly, I will have to learn to articulate them correctly. To articulate them correctly, I will have to learn to speak correctly. To speak correctly, I need no more than the right language.

And so, with that progressive as with retrogrades of every hue, I could not speak Bantu.






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