Orphaning the orphan, Geez

By Godofai Tgiorgis
Oct. 13 2010

The argument for Geez to be a national language has taken an unexpected twist. It has become instead an argument for English. This time not based on hate but based on its merits. Geez is, or Amharic for that matter, considered way below the standard today’s world can handle. Whether this is founded on profound knowledge of Geez or English regardless, their proposal is that English becomes a national language because bringing English not only brings broad service but also will ease the simmering now open now hidden conflict along ethnic lines. I am not sure if English is a cure to our ills. But I am sure such move deep down is an attempt to orphan the already orphaned Geez. English is pretext but since it is argued for with academic flavor, I will try to challenge (although I have pointed my opinion in the previous article) the assertion from that angle.

To replace a language which has, not only in use but also value wise, disappeared from the minds of the people is not an unwarranted move because it can be taken for dead. Geez is not dead yet however. What causes the cynics to conclude the impossibility of reviving Geez is, other than those hate and prejudice driven I mentioned in my previous articles, the belief that the task is more than the talent, time and energy Ethiopians can handle. For them, trying to revive Geez is making the impossible possible and viewed from the expense and the expertise it requires it is almost similar to crossing, in broad sunny day, the desert of Danakil. It is a waste of time, a thought that only comes from the naive who does not understand the value of time, the meaning of death and above all what is impossible. It is an outmoded idea of the impervious mind which cannot value the value of change and time because, no one with the right mind, will insist wasting so much time and energy to get a sparks from an already extinguished fire.

Why English? English is universal and comprehensive by comparison. It is all over and a sign of the times and civilization. It cuts short the road of translation and interpretation. English airs convenience. English fosters independence. Plus, it belongs to no one and people would not feel bad or reminded by old wounds associated with languages such as Amharic or Geez. Therefore with English as a medium of communication they assume the atmosphere will be better because any bias or retardation in terms of relation or progress will be “buried under”.

This feel good attitude is good only until the sun sets however because underneath the immediate comfort that these people envision is a venom that destroys everything Ethiopian overnight. English does not ensure authenticity. It does not ensure continuity. It does not assert identity. All it does is counter those qualities on the contrary. It erodes them, it destroys them eventually. The comfort that some minorities think will enjoy too disappears as soon as one starts conversation in English with the extremists. The accent soon gets mixed with color and there you will have double shots.

The immediate reaction of the cynics to this will be skepticism to its fullest because for them this is nothing more than a disguise to maintain the status quo, a diehard pride, an obsession with the past glory that has been in play among Ethiopians for many years with no practical outcome and clear objectives. It is a disease that has crippled and confounded the people generation after generation in the fences themselves have erected in. That is, it is opium they are addicted to through times and which consequently has deluded them from opening their eyes to change and new discoveries. In short, it is, according to them, a consequence of a chronic problem of Ethiopians that has escaped detection so far but one that needs an immediate examination and cure.

The criticism is put rightly in some respects. There were and there are times and areas where Ethiopia gave deaf ear to new concepts and is paying dear price for it. We can cite a lot of failures across the disciplines that would have benefitted it much had it not been for its indifferences. Even today despite much rhetoric about change and progress, we see lots of resistance adapting to changes that are of importance to the development of the country and the people. Compromising privilege for issues of national importance seems a remote possibility when it comes to our leaders who preach good governance through their ministries. For that reason we are where we are, behind, compared even with those countries Ethiopia helped establish their identities.

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