Sunday, February 26, 2012

Cutting the Native Tongue According to the Imagined Limits of Its Powers: Resistance to the Use of Igbo in Written Formal Communications


Obododimma Oha

I was once invited to teach a course in Igbo Stylistics on a temporary basis in a Nigerian university. All the students offering the course, I realized, were all Igbo-speaking and had Igbo as their first language. This was supposed to be an advantage and I felt that using Igbo as a language of instruction or as a language in which students would write their notes, assignments, and examination was not something that would meet any resistance. But I was wrong. My students complained bitterly when I insisted that they write their notes in Igbo, just I was teaching them in Igbo. I pointed out to them the absurdity of using a different language to teach another, as well as the fact that it would not assist them in developing their writing skills in the language they were studying. Their excuse was that they had all along been receiving instructions in their Igbo courses in English, same for the assignments and examinations and had also been permitted to write assignments and examinations in English. I was puzzled but really sad that it was so. Ah well, they just had to make a change, for my own ideology of language teaching spoke against their own orientation.

One of the excuses offered for not using Igbo to teach Igbo was that a metalanguage for such communication was lacking, or was still in infancy. That was false, terribly false, for a metalanguage for Igbo linguistics teaching had been made available very long ago and was already in use in the teaching of Igbo in primary schools since the early seventies. So why this resistance to its use? Is it the desire or tendency to treat English as being more prestigious than local Nigerian languages, or sheer laziness and lack of readiness to consolidate the gains already made by the fathers of Igbo linguistics? 

As a pupil in French language class, I was told that I would make greater progress in the language if I was taught the language in French and not English or any other language. It was also forbidden for any student in the French class to speak English while the lecture was in progress. The same regulation was sometimes maintained in the English language classes. This direct immersion approach helps learners to adjust faster  and begin to imagine themselves located as speakers in the very context of the use of the target language. Mediations of language learning through other languages that are competitors could slow down progress in the learning of the target language. 

How else could the target language and its learning be better promoted than in committing it to use in various written communications? It is in this regard that one is worried about the reluctance on the part of some native speakers to use their indigenous  Nigerian languages in official written business communications such as minutes of meetings, reports, memos, and notices. One is not ignorant of the fact that Nigeria is a multilingual country, or that many organizations and workplaces in the country are plural in their membership/staffing and therefore need a language of convenience like English in their interactions. But I am specifically concerned with those organizations in which all the members have a Nigerian language  as their native language, for instance town unions and village meetings. Why would such organizations prefer to have their internal written communications in English and not their native language? In addressing this question, I focus on my personal experience with resistance to the use of Igbo in such written communications in organizations and groups that have Igbo-speaking individuals entirely in their membership (but, for ethical reasons, I will not mention the specific names of these organizations in this essay).

I have served as secretary in several Igbo cultural organizations such as age-group, town unions, etc. My experiences in these cases show that English is either specified as the language in which the organization's written communications have to be made, or it is treated as a given that English would be used. Perhaps this attitude has resulted from the inherited colonial assumption that English and not the local language is the only suitable language for serious social or organizational written communication. This colonial mentality invests English with prestige and authority. Anyone seeking to write an ordinary letter in Igbo is viewed as being out to make people laugh. Since English is considered the norm in written communication, Igbo written communication, especially in an official context, is treated as some deviation that could have no other purpose than merely to entertain people. 

I once tried to change this attitude to written Igbo communication in one Igbo cultural group I belonged by daring to write minutes of meetings in Igbo. I must confess that the courage to attempt this use of Igbo in writing minutes of meetings derived mainly from the realization that:
(a) All the members were Igbo speakers;
(b) The members supposedly shared a strong feeling about promoting Igbo language and culture as a way of protecting their cultural identity;
(c) All the members had higher education;
(d) Igbo language being in danger of dying had often been discussed at the meetings of the group, and members were encouraged to teach their children Igbo at home;
(e) As secretary, I was in a good position to demonstrate that using Igbo in official writing was possible. 
Perhaps it was the last point above, which probably revealed what might appear to some as overzealousness, that pushed me on to dare to write, circulate, and read the minutes in Igbo.
But, to my surprise and regret, my experiment with Igbo in writing the minutes and notice of meetings received a stiff resistance. A member complained about the writing minutes of meetings in Igbo and so it became an item on the agenda at one of the meetings. The debate on the issue clearly showed that many members were against the use of Igbo writing minutes of meetings and notices. The following were the excuses given (or indirectly suggested) in the submissions during the debate:
(1) (Some) members cannot read written Igbo
(2) (Some) members cannot write Igbo
(3) There are still (dialectal) controversies in the writing of Igbo
(4) The use of Igbo for such written communication is more tasking/slows down proceedings
(5) Igbo language does not represent learnedness and modernity
(6) Igbo language is too local and does not confer integrity on its users.
And so the group, an Igbo cultural organization with highly educated members and which had been talking about the promotion of Igbo language and culture, as well as the protection of their ethnic identity, shelved the use of their language in their internal official written communication. It also enshrined it in its constitution, only allowing the use of Igbo in spoken interactions among members. That was the end of my being secretary, and, of course, my overzealousness in the group. 

Isn't it an irony that a group that is seeking to promote Igbo language and identity cannot allow the use of Igbo in its internal written communications, even for experimental purposes? Isn't it an irony that the very task of using the language in serious communication is assigned to others and not "us"? And isn't this how some "learned" Igbo people destroy their language, and one way they hope to erase their Igbo identity finally? I leave these questions to my readers, especially the Igbo (and other Nigerian groups that similarly resist the use of their own native languages in official communication) to think about.

Some common scenarios one finds in Igbo cultural organizations with regard to minutes writing are as follows:
(1) Having proceedings in Igbo and writing the minutes in English (ie as translations) -- listening to Igbo, writing notes in English
(2) Having the proceedings in a combination of English and Igbo and writing the minutes in English
(3) Having the proceedings in English and writing the minutes in same.
(4) Having the proceedings in a combination of English, Igbo, and other languages, and writing the minutes in English.

The first scenario mentioned above, of course, reveals the cultural hybridity of the members and the mentality of relegating Igbo in a kind of diglossic framework to the Low language status and English to the High. In this case, Igbo is considered only appropriate for informal exchanges but when it comes to serious formal written communication, English takes the stage. Perhaps this is caused not only by the colonial mentality that denigrates the "native" and the "native language" but also the poor knowledge of written Igbo among the members. But how can both challenges be addressed if the status quo is maintained? How can members defer or exclude the use of Igbo in their organization's written communication and expect to continue learning and improving the powers of their native language? 

Moreover, the writing of the minutes in English (as translations) definitely creates additional semantic and grammatical problems which often surface when the minutes are read and debated afterwards. A lot of precious time may be wasted in determining whether what Okeke and Okafo said in Igbo had been appropriated reported in the English version of the minutes. Of course, one cannot rule out (mis)interpretations of motives behind translations of what a member had originally said in Igbo, which would generate conflicts in the group. 

Scenario Two, which involves having deliberations in a combination of English and Igbo (what has been referred to in Igbo cultural discourse as "Engligbo") and writing the minutes in English, shares outlook and repercussions with the first. But, in addition, it promotes an emergence of hybrid spoken Igbo, the code-mixing raising further stylistic problems for the minute-taker/writer who has to resolve the structural problems that affect meaning in the bilingual grammar of each speaker in trying to grasp the meaning of what has been said.

The third scenario that involves having the spoken interaction in English and writing the minutes or other written communication in same is not very common; it is to be found among Igbo elite that, by virtue of their professional engagement and training, have English as the language of serious business communication. The context of their meeting perhaps have little or nothing to do with ethnolinguistic feelings. It is simply business that has brought them together. Moreover, their competence in written Igbo may be very low. Whereas the non-use of Igbo in such a situation is excusable, nothing prevents the group from attempting to bring Igbo into their business information practice, the same way that a Chinese or Korean group working together would commit their own languages to business practice, even when English remains a language of global business communications. 

The fourth scenario, which involves using Igbo and other languages (including French and other Nigerian languages) in deliberations and having the minutes in English, often manifests in Igbo cultural gatherings outside the Igbo homeland. Clearly, the multilingual nature of the language of deliberations is not just a consequence of not being purely Igbo again (given the experience of living away from the homeland and mixing with the non-Igbo). It could also be related to the much-talked-about tendency of the modern Igbo to neutralize cultural identity in wanting to be a citizen of the world, and demonstrating this neutrality as something to be celebrated, or as an indication of the fact that the self has greater cultural adaptation and exposure. One who tries to show that such an orientation is self-deception might be mistaken for drumming their cultural chauvinism too loud in a globalized world. 

When I attend some Igbo community meetings with predominant semi-literate membership, I find the Igbo members making strenuous and sometimes embarrassing efforts to communicate in English. The minutes of their meetings are written and read in very bad English, too, but they don't mind, for English, to them, is English, and a bad English at least allows them to belong to modernity. If one has to intervene to correct the errors in such use of English, then the meeting would have to deal with serious personality conflicts and probably take a whole day. So, the minutes and bye laws are packaged and stored in bad English. 

There are some serious reasons why an indigenous Nigerian language ought to be used in written organizational communication:
(1) Promoting the development of the language, creating opportunities for the creation of new terminology where some are lacking;
(2) Assisting members to use expressions that they fairly understand their meanings/implications
(3) Keeping the language alive: a language that is not written is on its way to dying
(4) Making the language truly functional and relevant in every context of discourse. 

If serious effort is not made to use Igbo in formal written communication, the language will likely revert to its precolonial status of being only a spoken language. Igbo scholars and leaders must exhibit more than mere rhetorical concern about the future of the language.

One must acknowledge some efforts made in recent times in Nigeria to rescue Igbo language from imminent death. The Government of Anambra State of Nigeria, for instance, realizing that the use of Igbo language, the indigenous language of the state, was in serious decline, came up with a campaign encouraging the speaking of Igbo language in the home and in public interactions in Igbo communities. It has enacted the following Igbo Language Usage Enforcement Law 2009, defined as " A Law to enforce the speaking and writing of, and wide-spread usage of Igbo Language among Ndigbo in Anambra State and Diaspora," to signify its seriousness in the campaign:

"The usage of Igbo language is hereby enforced by the following means with effect from 1st September, 2011:-
Igbo language as a subject in addition to English language and Mathematics must be passed by an Igbo student before he can be promoted from JSSII to SSS I in all secondary schools in the State;
Every State or privately owned tertiary institution in the State must establish an independent department of Igbo language bearing that name;
Every State or privately owned tertiary institution must make Igbo language a mandatory General studies course in the institution."

Also, a group called "Suwakwa Igbo" (Endeavour to Speak Igbo) was founded by Prof. Pita Ejiofor of Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, in 2006, with the mission "To restore vitality to the Igbo Language, make the entire Igbo people proud of it, speak it, write it, read it, teach it and carry out researches for its growth and development ." One is delighted that Suwakwa Igbo does not focus only on spoken Igbo. Indeed, we cannot have an effective Suwakwa Igbo without Debekwa Igbo (Endeavour to write Igbo) as its necessary complement. Speaking and writing are language production skills that are interdependent. Similarly, reading and listening, as reception skills, reinforce and are influenced by language production skills. Given this network of relationship among the language skills, how much of the use of Igbo in official written communication is actually going on in government circles and public life in the Igbo-speaking states in Nigeria, to reinforce the efforts of the "Suwakwa Igbo" group and Suwakwa Igbo as a cultural ideology? Where are the Igbo-language newspapers sponsored by the governments of these states? Suwakwa Igbo would have no meaning if it merely stops at the level of speaking the language. "Suwakwa" needs to be viewed, not just as an act of speaking (within oral communication) but as "speaking" through writing (i.e. within written communication). If the governments in these Igbo-speaking states are indeed serious Suwakwa Igbo governments, they ought to demonstrate this ideology by making Igbo a worthy language of their formal, written, administrative communications. 

It is one thing to speak passionately about saving a dying language; it is another thing to give life to such a language through permitting its use in those areas of official communication where it has to register its presence and create its future. 

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Writing for an Addresser Who Re-Schools You: The Drama and Signifying Practices of Letter Writing in an African Village


Obododimma Oha

The ability to write letters was, for the old folk in the African village, a true mark of literacy. As an indication of literacy which was considered a possession of white man's magic of civilization, letter writing, in the perspective of the local people, presented a mystery because someone's voice is captured in scribbles on paper and sent to someone else far away, and that someone addressed is able to decode the message and indeed recover the emotions packed into the message. That was a mystery. If those elderly people of those days were to witness the use of modern forms of correspondence like SMS, email, mobile telephony, and video chat, they would have simply concluded that the white man is a either a god or a powerful wizard. 

I once enjoyed the honor of being a 'professional" letter writer in our village. The non-literate in the village once in a while needed to 'talk" to their relatives in distant lands and I was invested with the honor of establishing that contact, as someone who knew the art facilitating that conversation, having been certified by the elementary school I attended that I had mastered the ways of "converting" the Igbo message of my clients into appropriate English. Indeed, the prestige seemed to lie in the idea that I had made my non-literate clients speak English to their relatives who were faraway. That was no mean feat! I would sit and listen and then try to capture the voice of the speaker in a way that would make it possible for the receiver of the letter to recognize and recover the presence of the addresser. 

There I was, a major actor in a drama of literacy. Indeed, in each context of letter writing, which I configure as a dramatic performance, I was merely a proxy protagonist: the real protagonist was the person speaking through my letter, the person who hired me. My clients were the owners of the scripts as well as the directors who made sure I performed my proxy role according to expectation. In an interesting way, too, I was the audience of my client that dictated his or her message in Igbo, the local language, again playing proxy for the addressee of the letter. Two types of proxy role converge here: proxy-sender and proxy-receiver, and they made enormous stylistic demands on me! Sometimes, I had to omit some parts of the narrative for my own convenience; sometimes I and to add some bits of information that I considered tolerable. In a word, I had to try to enter the minds of my clients to be able to write what I felt they wanted to say. Wasn't that a risk? 

How could I forget the unique style and grammar of that special local performance of the White man's language? Those words added color to the content of those letters. One found "missive" more authoritative than "message" or "letter" and so had to use it. 

The Opening always opened doors for the letter writer as an experienced hand. In spite of what my teachers had taught me about the need to "go straight to the point" and much later dwell on other matters such as little talks about the recipient, the villagers -- both the literate and non-literate -- believed that the how-do-you-do's come first. One must ask about the health of the recipient first, as a demonstration of goodwill or being a well-wisher, about the family, about employment, about this and about that, before dwelling on the main purpose of the letter. This used to put me in a fix: I didn't know whether to go with my English teacher's theories and principles of letter writing, or the templates that the villagers had in their heads. 

I was expected, at every letter writing encounter, to take care of this aspect of Opening before asking what the addresser wanted me to put down as his or her message. Very often, it went thus: "How do you do? How about you? How about the present condition of your health which is very important to me. I hope you are swimming in the ocean of happiness as we are here today. If so, thank God." Even if the non-literate persons could not read English, they at least could see with their eyes and know whether I had performed the initial regular ritual in the letter. There was no way I could deceive them, assuming I wanted to follow what my English teacher had taught me about going straight to the point. Also, I would end up making the situation complicated -- possibly raise doubts about my competence in letter writing -- if I had tried to lecture them about why going straight to the point, according to my teacher, was a better way to write letters. They could have just started scratching their eyelids, giving me one of those strange smiles one found on their faces whenever they were incredulous or had doubts about the acceptability of one's statement. The village people knew how to say things with the look on their faces! 

It must have been established in their heads long ago when they had the highly trusted first generation of village letter writers who, armed with Standard Six certificates, knew the White man's language and "proper" ways of doing things. Those of us who came much later when adugbolija had also entered post-colonial Nigerian schooling had some difficulty proving that we knew our kernel. For the villagers, Standard Six was the measure of learning. And so they sometimes sang satirically:

Pasin'  Six 
Amaghi ede leta
Na ebiisi ka ya mma 
O hooo!

Roughly translated, this means:

A holder of Standard Six certificate 
Who knows not how to write letter
Someone in the kindergarten is better than s/he
O hooo!

And so, one always remembered how this satirical song could apply to one, and therefore just comply with the conventional model of letter writing in the village. No professional village letter writer wanted to be told indirectly that a KG child was more experienced in that art of writing. 

For the locals, those opening inquiries are not a casual howdy which a linguist would explain as not being a question requiring information about the addressee's welfare but a way of servicing relationship, of showing concern. For the locals, the howdy goes deeper than a mere ritual that services tenor. So, the recipient of the letter in replying has to take time to respond to such an inquiry. In fact, it is also part of the main purpose of writing the letter, so to say. The village letter writer thus has to respond to inquiries made about every Okeke and Okafo, as well as inquiries about the New Yam festival, the age grade, the ezinuulo, and other things the original addresser had asked about in demonstration of the spirit of community. 

Indeed, there is some sense in wanting to ask after an addressee's welfare before presenting the main issue of the informal letter. In one respect, the context of indigenous Igbo culture privileges identifying with the other over the propensity for minding one's business. One who therefore writes to the other acquaintance or relative and just plunges into the main issue might be viewed as preferring to be distant. If it is a request that the person wants to make, such a request might be given a negative or casual response. This is particularly so in the case of a tenor that makes it necessary for the recipient to be searching the language and structure of the letter for evidence of the performance of affection and intimacy. In this regard, what comes first matters to the addressee. Is it the symbolic presentation of affection that comes first (to prepare the mind of the addressee) or the "selfish" requesting of a favor?

On the other hand, presenting inquiries about the addressee's personal life, which are outside the main purpose of writing the letter, delays or even "buries" that main purpose. It could therefore be a risky distraction that might affect the measure of attention given to the expressed purpose. Buried things take some effort to dig up, and might not be properly or fully dug up! Now, that my English teacher's theory of writing, which my clients in the village only find funny, for they believe that an addressee that cares for an addresser and relationship with the addresser has to "dig" into the letter with utmost commitment. Only an ofooegeri whose mind is elsewhere would receive a letter from a relative and not read every word as if it were a precious message from his or her chi. Which is why the hired letter writer must know the craft and show it in the run of his or her pen, they reasoned.

The problem however lay in the generalization of this pattern, even to the point of using it in official letters, as well as thinking that it was the only "appropriate" way to begin all informal letters. 

One must not, of course, forget another important source of education which the Onitsha Market pamphleteering represented on such matters as "how to write powerful letters," "how to talk to girls and win their love," "how to make money in business," etc. Those how-to pamphlets provided what many of their readers thought were the right models of writing.The model letters, whether in an Onitsha Market pamphlet or a secondary school English text such as that of the popular S.M.O. Aka, even consolidated the wrong assumption that they were the formulae to good letter writing. One only needed to copy a pattern in one Onitsha Market letter writing pamphlet while writing to one's girlfriend, in the sure hope that it would turn her head and make her fall madly in love with the letter writer. So, one did not forget to sprinkle such "magical" expressions as "You are the apple of my eye," "You are the sugar in my tea," etc in the love letter. 

But why shouldn't the art of letter writing be sensitive to cultural preferences and expectations? Who says that societies that were assumed not to have developed traditions of writing cannot inject into received written communicative forms their own concerns about what makes communication much-more fulfilling? The village folks, whether educated and half-educated on Western ideas, can localize the Western forms of communication brought back by those they sent out there to be their eyes and ears. 

Being a "professional" letter writer in a remote African village is not just something one can easily dismiss as one of those strange things associated with strange places. It did serve as a training (and even re-training) for many locals on how to manage information and also manage an employer whose voice one must speak. I cannot see much difference between being a letter writer to a non-literate or semi-literate villager, with some little ego mmiri oyi as compensation afterwards, and the "big job" of a Personal Assistant or Speech Writer to a big man in government in Nigeria. The Personal Assistant takes dictations or originates what he or she thinks is the Master's Voice. The big man in government also re-schools the PA, "helps" the PA to see the world and ways of addressing issues in the world differently. School is theory; the job is practice. Yes, the "job." The job re-schools and changes us. We write the job. Our creativity and radicalism can wait.

Friday, February 3, 2012

English, Colonial De-jobbing, and the Mapping of Victimhood


Obododimma Oha

This day in history, 2nd February 1929, Asuquo Okon inyang, a colonial subject and employee of the colonial British government in Nigeria, wrote a very powerful letter to the British Embassy, protesting over his dismissal and appealing for reinstatement. The letter has come to be recognized as one of the significant documents of Nigeria's colonial history, especially with regard to the colonial subject writing back to the imperial authority. A confirmation of the letter's significance is the fact that it has been archived in notable repositories such as the online "Letters of Note." It is also widely consulted and read. Whereas many of its readers are excited over its author's unconventional and humorous use of English, some examine it as evidence of the emerging non-native variety of the language in the colonial environment, or as evidence of the proficiency levels found among the colonized people struggling to embrace Western culture and expressions. For me, it is not just about "good" and "bad" varieties of English. I am rather attracted to Asuquo's courage in trying to exercise the right to twist the language, creating words that are non-existent in English, even as a non-native speaker. He has been given this language as part of the project of colonizing and governing him, and as Chinua Achebe indicated in one of his essays "The African Writer and the English Language," he (Asuquo) would make English carry the burden of his "dejobment." A transcript of the letter which has been sourced from Letters of Note is as follows:

February 2nd 1929. 

Kind Sir, 

On opening this epistle you will behold the work of a dejobbed person, and a very bewifed and much childrenised gentleman. 

Who was violently dejobbed in a twinkling by your goodself. For Heavens sake Sir consider this catastrophe as falling on your own head, and remind yourself as walking home at the moon's end of five savage wives and sixteen voracious children with your pocket filled with non-existent £ S D; not a solitudery sixpence; pity my horrible state when being dejobbed and proceeding with a heart and intestines filled with misery to this den of doom; myself did greedily contemplate culpable homicide, but Him who did protect Daniel (poet) safely through the lion's dens will protect his servant in his home of evil.

As to reason given by yourself — goodself — esquire for my dejobbment the incrimination was laziness. 

No Sir. It were impossible that myself who has pitched sixteen infant children into this valley of tears, can have a lazy atom in his mortal frame, and the sudden departure of eleven pounds monthly has left me on the verge of the abyss of destitution and despair. I hope this vision of horror will enrich your dreams this night, and good Angel will meet and pulverise your heart of nether milestone so that you will awaken, and with as much alacrity as may be compatable with your personal safety, you will hasten to rejobulate your servant. 

So mote it be - Amen

Yours despairfully

Sgd. Asuquo Okon Inyang.

The colonial job of entrenching the values of Englishness is transmitted through a language which the colonized African did not share (or was not allowed to share) in the pride of its mastery. The colonial subject, it was assumed, would never measure up to the competence of the native speaker, even with the best colonial education, even with an Oxford training and foreign sojourn. Perhaps, Braj Kachru's Circles of English presents a clearer mapping of the location of the colonized in an English world. In the Kachru model, countries colonized by Britain and which have English as a second-language, are placed in the Outer Circle and regarded as "norm-using" while countries like the UK, the US, New Zealand, Australia, etc where English is used as mother tongue, are in the Inner Circle. These Inner  Circle countries are regarded as "norm-producing," in other words, they dictate correctness in the use of the language. Countries such as France, Germany, Russia, China, and Japan, that were not colonized by Britain and which do not assign any official function to English in their government and public communication, are located in the Expanding Circle. Although the Circles of English in Braj Kachru sense represent an imagined geography of English language speech, the word "Outer" in "Outer Circle" already suggests a sense of exclusion and/or distancing. And so Outer Circle speakers of English like Asuquo Okon are greatly distanced from appropriateness in the use of the language and would therefore need to be "helped" through language teaching procedures, to minimize their errors and ascend to a level of intelligibility.

Asuquo Okon's letter was a symbolic case of the Outer Circle writing to the Inner Circle. Already, the Outer Circle suffers a disadvantage in not being recognized as an authentic source of good English. Its members are already dejobbed as transmitters of acceptable English, or at most needed to be monitored closely and "assisted," even when they can never be seen as measuring as high as native speakers. This dejobbing, sad as it may seem, has been an inspiration for determined and highly creative experiments with English in the cultural productions in the colonized environments. Rather than despair, Outer Circle users of English have gone ahead to make English do business for them in many aspects of their cultural lives, registering impressive results in the area of literature mainly. 

The transcript of Okon's letter above exhibits an attention to the expansion of the structures of English words, both in acceptable and unacceptable directions. Perhaps, he might be said to generalize the affixation rules of English and therefore poor in his English lexicology. I am sure many readers of his letter would find his uses of words like "dejobbed," "childrenised," and "bewifed" strange, not because some English words don't have that kind of structure, but because those words are strange and have been created to solve conceptual problems experienced by the writer of the letter. Okon was creating and using words he felt would capture situations or phenomena he could not immediately find words for in his English. Ok, let's say his stock of English vocabulary was much limited but the interesting thing is that he did not treat that as a disadvantage; he rather went ahead to make English say it. Would you say he was a kindred spirit to Humpty-Dumpty who would insist that if he uses words, they mean what he means, whether the relationships between those words and meanings assigned to them are generally recognized or not? 

But Okon's letter also indirectly calls attention to the irregular nature of lexical derivation one finds in English and how it could lead to the creation of strange and amusing patterns. If the plural of "ox" is "oxen," why is it not possible for the plural of "box" to be "boxen" in English? Why the hell is this language so unpredictable? If we can say "begotten" and "besieged," why can't we also say "bewifed"? And what about "childrenized" when we can also say "womanized"? Moreover, one who carries the burden of providing for several children that have probably resulted from a marriage he never wanted is not wrong in describing self as being "childrenized." And, if we can "reinvigorate," why would anyone ridicule a "dejobbed" Okon for asking to be "rejobulated"?

By the way, Asuquo Okon, as an Outer Circle courageous manipulator of the English language might as well be the precursor of today's African scholar who, in navigating between the post in post-colonialism and the post in post-modernism, has to attach the "de" and "re" prefixes here and there, in order to be properly read and endorsed by the colonial master and norm-producer. As the "postal" Asuquo Okons, we in the knowledge ilo have to try and speak the Master's voice, with the Master's little extra tricks with words!

Has Asuquo Okon not shown that he is an exciting poet and rhetor who would not spare any imagery that could turn the heart of his highly placed addressee to "rejobulate" him? Who but a heartless boss would not listen to the plea of an employee saddled with "six savage wives and sixteen voracious children" in "a den of doom"? The addressee is reassured of the high esteem in which he is held -- his "goodself," for whom a prayer is made that the "good Angel will meet and pulverize (his) heart to awaken" to the necessity of this "good" deed of "rejobulating" Okon. 

Indeed, what Asuquo Okon's letter suggests to his addressee is that he is a victim: he is a victim of the culture that has orientated him to enter into polygamy and poor planning of parenthood; he is a victim of five "savage" wives who probably make his life an example of hell; he is a victim of an employment system that appears not to bother about the personal lives of employees and how the stress from those lives affect their work performance, in fact, an employment system that dispenses with feelings; and of course, a victim of the colonial system that does not understand the colonial subject, and does require the touch, indeed some "pulverizing" by the "good Angel."

Indeed, in cultural productions and oratory of public display in Nigeria, the tendency to play with and enjoy English as a "strange" language has long been in practice, typical examples being Chief Zebrudaya Okoroigwe Nwogbo's English (or "Zebrulect") and Igodomigodo rhetoric associated with the Edo State politician, Patrick Obahiagbon. Chris Okotie, the evangelist, also represents another case of an attachment to flowery gobbledygook in English.

Now, is Asuquo Okon only a victim of what Basil Bernstein calls "language deficit," the type we make him become when we regard the English in his letter as inferior to ours, just as the colonial power cancelled the authenticity of the colonized culture? No; at another level, Okon's letter as a cultural production signifies the struggle of power at the level the signification. As a subject of the English language, he is already a victim of the process that requires him to search for a semiotic that would ensure his being understood by the colonial master. It is this task of making oneself understood, even at the cost of being laughed at both in the colonial moment and in the online presence, that seems to me to be Asuquo Okon's highest level of victimhood.