English is a world language. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that English is a whole bunch of national and regional languages which all have the same name and have a lot of similarity to each other. I have lived in two countries in Africa whose official language is English – Kenya and Ghana. In both cases I was confronted with English words used in ways I found strange. Sometimes I found that the “strange” way was right — at least according to the British. (Both countries were once British colonies.) But my favorites are the strange (to me) English words and phrases which are part of the everyday vocabulary of Kenyans and Ghanaians. These kenyaisms and ghanaisms are adaptations of standard English to local conditions and thinking.
My favorite kenyaism is “carpet the road” or ” re-carpet the road” meaning to pave or re-pave it.
Here are a few ghanaisms I have collected.
- spot n. = grocery shop, especially a small or roadside shop selling packaged and canned goods as well as beverages.
- land v. = to say something directly without beating around the bush
- book long a. = educated
- rubber n. = plastic bag
- slate and cutter n.= long skirt with matching blouse
- meat n. = beef – example: “Do you want chicken, fish or meat”
- off v. = turn on – example “off the lights”
- on v. = turn on – example “on the lights’
- one time adv. = all at once – example: “Bring the tools one time”
- Ghana n. = cedis, the local currency. In response to asking for the price of something, I get the reply “50 Ghana”.
- glass n. = window – example while sitting in a car with the ac running: ” Your glass is not up”
- lights n. = electricity/power – example: “The lights are off” means “The electricity is out”. A sign in a village without electricity announced “No Light, No Vote”. In other words, the people of the village will not vote for the incumbent until the village has electricity.
- top v. = fill up, – example, I would say “top it up”, but the “up” is omitted.
- small adv. = a little – example, “Top it small”, meaning “add a little (air to a tire)”
One of my favorite ghanaisms is “chop”. It can be used as a verb meaning “eat” or a noun meaning “food”. One sees “chop bars” – informal restaurants serving local food, along the road. In many African languages the verb “to eat” is used with various figurative meanings. And so “chop” is also used figuratively. It often corresponds to “eat up” in standard English, as in, “car repairs are eating up all my money”. So, if someone “chops money” he or she is wasting it. A few months ago there was a popular song by a young man saying that his girl friend was chopping his money, but he did not mind because she was so beautiful. By the end of the song, however, he was changing his mind. The song was entitled “Chop My Money” and that phrase was repeated often in the chorus.
In Ghanaian English, “chop” is extremely versatile. The phrase “chop money” refers to money set aside for food and household expenses. Also, “chopping money” refers to corruption. So someone might say that money for this or that project was “chopped”.
And with that, I think that I have chopped enough of your time for today.