Language is NOT Static and So is its Domain “La’Za”
By G. Amare
Tigrai Online April 19, 2020
1. “A fanatic is one who can't change his mind and won't change the subject” (Winston Churchill).
2. “Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything” (George Bernard Shaw).
3. “You must take personal responsibility. You cannot change the circumstances, the seasons, or the wind, but you can change yourself. That is something you have charge of” (Jim Rohn).
At the outset, like what I did last time, I would like to make a disclosure of myself that I have no association to any political party, organization, or group, or what have you. All I am doing is express and share my personal view, expecting to learn from others. As it is said, “It is good to rub and polish our brain against that of others (Michel Eyquem de Montaigne).”
First, let me note to readers that I am in a breach of a professional rule by writing on something that I am clueless i.e. LINGUISTICS. I consider this like trespassing someone’s private premise and I sincerely request an apology, in advance, if I inadvertently hurt the feelings of anyone and particularly, those who specialize in linguistics. Please, understand me that I just did it because if I don’t add a brief discussion on language as a flavor and blend it to the mix, I am afraid readers would easily appreciate and receive the message that I intend to convey. Thus, I found it relevant to incorporate a layman description of the non-static nature of a language and the differences associated with it, even within single language speakers.
Otherwise, it is not my purpose to narrate about language. For one reason, I am not a linguist with a privilege and capacity to define, critique, and interpret as to what constitutes a language. I consider myself as illiterate as far as language is concerned and from what I have read and heard, linguistics (study of language and its structure) is a highly technical subject matter that involves phonetics (study and classify speech sounds), grammar (consisting of syntax and morphology), semantics (concerned with meaning) and pragmatics (dealing with use and context).
For a second reason, narrating about language is not my frontline purpose. The intentions of this piece are to: (i) open a dialogue about a tale related to Tigrinya/Tigrigna which seemingly is trivial but seen used as a diverter from Tigrai’s burning issues and courses of actions: break a chronically and deeply seated cycle of poverty; and (ii) ask linguists of Tigrinya to help us understand where the origin of this tale is and why it continues to linger around, even today. I was tempted to bring this matter to the attention of all and particularly, linguists for their critical analyses, review and then, find a remedy to this seemingly trivial matter but serving as a crack to allow adversaries of Tigrai to pass through and serving as a source of humiliations, unconstructive dialogues, unproductive arguments, unnecessary disagreements and distraction, and enough to erode our unity and solidarity; and create a barrier to prevent change and progress as a society.
The tale goes like this, “Tigrinya was born here, got sick there, died somewhere else, and then, buried in another; this Tigrinya is pure (“tsi’ruy”) and the other is impure and recently, I watched someone, presumably a politician, interjecting “La’Za” into a political agenda, which I think was a myopic and imprudent move. Not in exact words, but it sounds like equivalently saying that the “La’Za” of certain part of Tigrai has been spoiled because the locality has been administered by non-local officials who have their (the officials) own style of speaking Tigrinya and furthermore, he used this as a weapon to insinuate and condemn TPLF for assigning such officials to administer localities of their non-birthplace. And, as I understand it, the suggested panacea is none but to remove those officials from their position and replace them with natives, born in a specific locality.
I found this to be inconsistent and unhealthy way of democratization and also is weird because it is one thing to challenge the officials’/politicians’ wrongdoings and incapacities. It is another thing to bring “La’Za” to the mix which contributes nothing besides confusing and diverting people’s attention to trivial matters as opposed to focusing on gravely matters. Doesn’t everyone in Tigrai have the right to work anywhere as far as they meet the criteria to assume the position, be it a political or non-political? In my feeling and without doubt, “La’za” shouldn’t be a concern of todays’ Tigrai. For one thing, our difference in Tigrinya speaking style shouldn’t be a criterion for reasons that I will have to describe below. For the second, I found this to be irrelevant and with no purpose other than serving as a misleading or distracting tool to arise hostility among people and prevent them from becoming bonded together and confront with Tigrai’s most burning issues face to face.
However, readers shouldn’t get me wrong. I am by no means saying or approving whatever and everything that TPLF has been doing in Tigrai or elsewhere. It was an open secret that TPLF prefers to give much weight and credit to party loyalty as opposed to an individual’s merit and public loyalty and fidelity. The norm has been that as long as the individuals remain loyal to their party; it doesn’t matter whether the individuals serve the public effectively, efficiently, faithfully, sincerely, ethically and without any form of political corruption which may include bribery, extortion, cronyism, nepotism, parochialism, influence peddling, graft, embezzlement, repression of political opponents, and categorically characterizing different or non-TPLF ideas as adversaries of the people. These all, in my opinion, are the worst enemies of democracy and good governance, as well. In this regard, TPLF needs to seriously and honestly work hard and take sustainable corrective measures to renew itself (TPLF) and make a swift U-turn to drive back to its (TPLF) original history of dedications, inspiring principles, beliefs, and selfless struggles and commitments.
In countries where democracy is properly functioning, for example in the U.S., civil servants assume public positions based on their merits (not undermining the influences of networking and systematic racial discrimination), but they should not have to be necessarily born in/resident of a certain locality or a state for that matter. All they need to meet are job the specification and requirements which don’t essentially include a birthplace or locality/county/state. That is why many people of a non-American origin, not born, raised in the country, and understandably, don’t possess same language proficiency, compared to natives’ gradation and expression style as far as phonetics, grammar, semantics and pragmatics. So, to speak, native speakers expectedly have a different “La’Za’!!! Not sure if “La’Za” exactly translates or is annotated to style, phonetic, grammar, semantic, or pragmatic components of a language. For my purpose, it can be all and it doesn’t matter. I will leave this for linguists of Tigrinya to deal with.
When it comes to political positions (in a country where democracy is properly functioning), candidates running for office should be elected by the public and the common criteria may include: residency, for example 2 years, in a locality/county/state where the individual intends to assume the position. The general public has the responsibility to question them and importantly, the media plays deciding roles in vetting and scrutinizing potential candidates’ experiences and qualifications; their history of misdemeanors and felonies; their mental, physical and social capabilities to demonstrate leadership qualities etc. through public debates, town hall discussions, and interviews. Candidates can be representatives of a party or have the right to run as independent citizens. However, no one dares to ask their birthplace unless otherwise the individual is running to serve as a president. However, no one is concerned about their “La”Za”. They may have a Spanish “La’Za”, a British English “La’Za”, Indian “La’Za”, or an American English “La’Za” and so and so forth.
Of note, what I hate most is when I hear individual politicians saying “TPLF should altogether vanish from existence, be destroyed, and buried.” This is unacceptable and MUST be unequivocally denounced not only because it is undemocratic but also is inhuman. This idea should be utterly pronounced as “Dead” as it is fundamentally flawed. The people of Tigrai should not entertain such a childish political discourse. Tigrai deserves to practice matured politics. Those individuals who are engaged in this kind of politics, I ask them to refer to what is stated in “1 Corinthians 13:11” of the bible, “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I understood as child, I thought as a child, but when I became a man, I put away my childish things.” Let me give a case to support my view.
In the U.S. there are two major parties: The Republican Party and the Democratic Party. Every now and then, it is common to see a few individuals from both parties commit or get involved in political scandals, corruptions, sexual harassments, misdemeanors, felonies, and what have you. When this occurs, the individuals are held responsible by bringing them to the legal system but whatsoever the case may be, no one is tempted to say the party that the individual is representing (the Democratic or the Republican party) should altogether be destroyed and vanished from existence.
Think of TPLF. It is an organization that came to existence after recognizing the chronic problems and the discriminatory rules that deprived the people of Tigrai not only of their self- rule, the right to speak and write their language, and practice the culture of their choice but also denied of their freedom to develop economically, socially, and politically while allowed them to live in poverty and misery, suffering from lack of basic health services, education, and infrastructures. TPLF has been born out of the people, raised by the people, and lived the real life of the people. and Importantly, TPLF is a constituent of thousands, if not millions, of members who have dedicatedly and selflessly struggled/still struggling and gave/giving their precious and irreplaceable lives to materialize justice, equality, democracy, and self-rule and bring development not only in Tigray but also in all parts of Ethiopia.
So, by any measure, it is not only unconstitutional, undemocratic, and a prejudiced statement but also is socially and traditionally unacceptable and immoral to say that TPLF should be destroyed and vanished from existence because some of its members have been immersed in all kinds wrongdoings that I described above. There are many ways by which an individual, a group or a party could challenge TPLF i.e. by demonstrating how different one is when it comes to policies and political ideologies and their abilities to effectively, efficiently and practically resolve constituents’ burning issues and the entangling problems of Tigrai. Leave the rest for the general public to make their own judgments and decisions as to whether or not TPLF should vanish or exist. Relevant to mention is that a non-stop foul cry, without having clearly defined, stipulated and perceivable policies to help as an opposition to shine out, is none but good for nothing.
Otherwise, “To err is human. To blame someone else is politics'' (Hubert H. Humphrey) and again “To err is human, to forgive, divine” (Alexander Pope).
Apologize for taking you into a detour discourse but it is what it is. Now let me get you back to my start point: to give you my layman description of what constitutes language and address its non-static nature and so is its domain “La’Za.” However, before I deep dive into the general language description, let me stay focused on Tigrinya. Historically and as every “Tig”re’way” recalls, Tigrinya had been disallowed from being formally taught as a language in classes until 1991, when EPRDF came to power, and those of us who completed school prior to this year, didn’t get the privilege to study Tigrinya as a language and develop our skills to explicitly describe it as a subject matter, which like any other languages, involves phonetics (study and classify speech sounds), grammar (consisting of syntax and morphology), semantics (concerned with meaning) and pragmatics (dealing with use and context).
So, it becomes apparent for us to observe range of differences when it becomes to the sounds that we echo when we speak and the choice of vocabularies or words that we commonly use. And it sometimes is normal to see words of different meanings. In other words, we clearly see different “La’Zas” in different parts of Tigrai, be it in “Shire”, “Axum”, “Abi’y A’di”, “Kili’te’Aw’la’elo”, “Ad’wa”, “A’ga’me”, “En’de’r’ta”, or Ra’ya. How we say it or how our sounds echo is influenced by and correlate with nothing else but with the environment, community or social group that we are brought up and without formal and uniformly developed curricula or education system, it is unlikely for our way of expressions or speaking styles or our “La’Za”, if you wish, to differ from that of our parents, localities or communities.
Relevantly, in absence of a common learning textbook and a dictionary, it is normal to notice differences among Tegaru in various parts as far as the vocabularies they commonly use and their styles of speaking and communicating are concerned. And when I say formal and uniform school curricula, I meant the teaching of Tigrinya language based on textbooks that help one learn how to speak, listen, read, write and construct a grammar. The other important and helpful tool is creating a dictionary that collects, identifies and lists all possible Tigrinya words from every corner of Tigrai and also provides meanings, synonyms and antonyms. This will help everyone in Tigrai and wherever they live to know and say the words, easily understand and communicate with each other, and so, will not have or express strange feelings when they hear someone saying them.
This way, the differences that we observe, be it in style or sound or “La’Za” can be narrowed down. Otherwise, Tigrinya is Tigrinya, one and the same which, like any other languages, uses a grammar, sound system, syntax, semantics, pragmatics and others. Language, as defined by Scholarpedia (1), is a system of conventional spoken, manual (signed), or written symbols by means of which human beings, as members of a social group, use to communicate, identify, play, and share their imaginative expressions and emotions. It is very important to recognize the fact that language is not static but always changing. Pronunciations evolve, and new words are borrowed or invented, and some world get obsolete.
A good example is the development of the American English. As history tells us, early settlers of North America included but not limited to the colonies of Spanish, English, French, Swedish, and the Dutch. As you can imagine, each of these countries used to speak their own language.
However, over a course of time, the historical situation dictated them to choose and use speak English as a language. So, it wouldn’t be difficult to imagine how different their accent and expression style could be initially.
As a matter of fact, the use of English in the United States is a result of British colonization but today’s America speaks an English that sounds different in style and accent. Why? It is because America as an independent nation developed its own English after years of teaching efforts.
Watching old movies and documentaries are enough to see the differences between the old and the new generation of American English. There are a lot of changes in words, styles, accents, and so and so forth. Of note, they also, like the tale that we, Tegaru, reflect today, the Americans used to ridicule each other by saying, “this English is pure vs the other adulterated”; “this English is good vs bad” etc. Even though there are still some insignificant differences in accents and styles, much attention is not given to it. So, it is a matter of time for Tigrinya to gradually develop as change is inevitable through realization and implementation of a uniform and universal language teaching-learning process.
According to Academia.edu (2), a platform for academics, language is not always easy but messier to use and more diverse; the reason is that when people use language, they are creative and respond to situations by doing new things which could not always be predicted by linguistics; it develops over time; some sounds/letters that where fully pronounced ended over time. The letter <g> in ``gnarly/gnarl and gnaw and the letter <K> as in “know” and “knife” are examples of words in which the first letters are now silent/not pronounced. Sounds of a language also change and become diverted over time. English and Greek are claimed to have descended from a common ancestor called Indo-European and their relationship can be noticed in words that begin with /p/ in Greek and /f/ in English: “Pater” vs 'father', “Penta” vs “five,” and “pod” vs “foot.”
In other circumstances, languages have been deliberately changed to facilitate and accommodate easy of communication. This can be easily seen within the Voice of America (VOA) Tigrinya unit where individuals with different Tigrinya speaking style or “La’Za” are working together. In other words, the journalists and reporters working for VOA are from different parts of Tigrai and Eritrea. If you listen to them, they try to narrow down their differences, both in style and sound and this is done intentionally to facilitate communication and create a common understanding within themselves and among their followers. Other, conditions such as urbanization, social mobility, and broadcasting can also force a language to change and develop.
In addition, not only are word meanings somewhat different but they are not fixed for all time in any one language (2). Semantic changes take place all along, differ from context to context, and show flexibility to accommodate circumstances. So, every language can be readily adapted to meet changes occurring in life, vocabularies altered, and every user adopts new words, accepts or invent new meanings for existing words, and, of course, ceases to use some words. In a nutshell, languages change in all their aspects, in their pronunciation, word forms, syntax, and word meanings (semantic change).
In conclusion, let us all have the common understanding that language is NOT static and so is its domain “La’Za.” Let’s focus on constructive and productive dialogues by reflecting political maturity as opposed to being engaged in unnecessary arguments, disagreements and distractions that serve no purpose but erode our unity and solidarity; and hinder us from progressing as a society.
1. Aronoff M (2007), Language (linguistics). Scholarpedia, 2(5):3175. http://www.scholarpedia.org/article/Language_(linguistics).
2. THronborrow J and Wareing S. Patterns in Language, an introduction to Language and Literary Style.