Introduction of kpelle as a National Language

By Sonkarley T. Beaie

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
October 22, 2007


I have reserved this comment for long, when an issue of introduction of Kpelle as a national language was raised. Now, the argument on the definition of “kubba”, as published by the onliberianmedium had caused me to break the silence.

First, you all have some points in the argument, but I differ somehow in my view. In the Liberian Parlance or simple English, the word “Kubba” is an adjective, and used to describe one’s activity of extreme nature. For example, you can refer to someone as being kubba in politics, good governance, sealing, rampant corruption, prostitution, lying, communication, dancing, tricking people, etc. Simply, the person must be intelligent enough to convene people on whatever he or she does. If the person is not super or does not have command over the profession, then the person is not a kubba. For instance, you can say, the person is a kubba driver, mechanic, professor, crook, rascal, scoundrel, sneaky person, con artist, rogue, etc.

Secondly, bearing the kubba argument in mind let me comment on the introduction of Kpelle as a national language. An introduction of Kpelle as a national language could not be workable in the Liberian scenarios. Special conditions are needed to qualify a dialect or local language for that purpose. First, that language must be a trade language, meaning, it must be popularly understood by majority of the total population, and secondly, be used and spoken widely in most market places where people transact and buy basic commodities.

To this, the Liberian Parlance, commonly known as side-walk, waterside or simple English qualifies that condition. What we need is to research, and put the thousands of informal slang or English together and come up with a formal structured language. With that in place, people would not have problem in understanding the newly developed language, because the Liberian Parlance or simple English already exist in the market places.

Although, the Kpelle ethnic group comprises relatively a larger proportion of the total population in Liberia, it does not meet the qualification. For instance, majority of the residents in Gbarnga or Kakata, Headquarters of the Kpelle regions, don’t even transact businesses in Kpelle, rather, most of them speak the Liberian Parlance or simple English in the market places.

Unlike the Kpelle, Mandingo is a small ethnic group in Ivory Coast and Guinea, but because of their influence over trade and commerce, citizens there have learned over the years to voluntarily speak Mandingo. As a result, someone who speaks Mandingo can travel in nearly all parts of these two countries without a need for an interpreter. So, having such a language can necessitate a need for an introduction of a national language. For example, Creole in Sierra Leone or Swahili in East Africa became national language as a result of their respective popularity among the citizens. But, interestingly, their popularity did not come about, after they were introduced as a subject and taught in the school system in these countries, but the popularity demanded their usage as a language; hence were rationally nationalized.

Our case is different. I remembered when the late President, William R. Tolbert used to address some public occasions by first shouting slogan in Kpelle, thus, making people to think about the importance of the Kpelle dialect. Following President Tolbert, President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf had recently spoken about the importance of having a national language, and had further recommended Kpelle. I think these pronouncements and speeches are political in nature, which need to be reviewed and thoroughly studied before implementation.

Finally, it is not too late in Liberia to develop the Liberian Parlance, but the introduction of Kpelle, particularly in the school system, would increase the educational budget by adding extra curriculum, which may have little or no impact. Even, Kpelle is considered as one of the required courses at the Liberia College, University of Liberia. But, the question is, what has been the impact, since it was included in the curriculum some years ago?

© 2007 by The Perspective

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