Meet Mama A. Nii Owoo, Ga language activist

Photo provided by Mama A. Nii Owo.

In 2019 as part of a social media campaign to celebrate linguistic diversity online, African language activists and advocates will be taking turns managing the @DigiAfricanLang Twitter account to share their experiences with the revitalization and promotion of African languages. This profile post is about Mama A. Nii Owoo (@AdobeaO) and what she plans to discuss during her week as host.

Rising Voices: Please tell us about yourself.

My name is Mama A. Nii Owoo. I also write under a pseudonym Naa Oyoo Owoo which is my ethnic and ancestral name. My ethnic language is Gã. Gã is the indigenous language of natives from Accra, Ghana. In addition to GãDangme, I speak a number of languages: Akan (Ghanaian language, English, Spanish and French.

I am curious about the kind of implementational spaces that educators can open or closed for indigenous languages to thrive. I love teaching and have worked with students of all age levels in Ghana, Cuba, the USA, Spain and Canada. I have also worked as a Translator in Spain at the Universidad de Sevilla International Center in Spain. Currently, I am studying for a Ph.D. in Language & Literacies Education at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education.

My research interests lie in language policy and how educators’ language experiences inform the way they implement mother-tongue based bilingual education policy for students.

RV: What is the current status of your language on the internet and offline?

Gã, my native language is going through a process of revitalization and modernization. Apart from local television and radio programs in Ghana, older and younger generations of Gã speakers in Ghana and in the diaspora are creating awareness around the preservation of the language by setting up virtual language havens on social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Blog sites, websites, etc.

Looking at popular culture, artists are creating resources such as music and theatrical skits and shorts in Gã that can be useful in the educational sphere. You can also find resources such as religious literature, bibles, dictionaries and historical treatises of the how the Gadangme came to settle in present-day Ghana after a series of migrations which has been linked to the biblical exodus from Egypt.

RV: On what topics do you plan to focus during the week that you’ll manage the @DigiAfricanLang Twitter account?

I will focus on the accessibility and availability of educational resources for learning indigenous Ghanaian languages online. I will focus more on Gã as it is my native language.

RV: What are the main motivations for your digital activism for your language?

I used to be a Spanish teacher and I loved my job. However, I became involved in indigenous language revitalization because I realized that the absence of educational resources in indigenous languages is a huge contributor to Ghana’s child literacy crisis. Having proficiency in your mother tongue is critical to your educational development and to understanding other languages and cultures.

Additionally, I was studying a language my community did not need. There is a need for Africans to tailor their education to meaningfully address the developmental issues their communities face. Mother-tongue based instruction is a cornerstone of literacy development and vital to developing academic skills in English. Unfortunately, this task has been neglected in schooling Africans.

I founded the Afroliteracies Foundation (AF), @afroliteracies, a think tank and action-research based network for revitalizing indigenous African languages in education based in Ghana. The Afroliteracies Foundation brings together teachers and community language experts to develop culturally relevant bilingual teaching and lesson materials for free use in Ghana and other contexts.

What are your hopes and dreams for your language?

In one of my wildest dreams, Gã is a language at par with English in terms of the intellectual vibrancy and socio-economic status English enjoys. But that is a limited vision because I tend to see English as an imperial language fighting against the linguistic diversity that is woven into the fabric of human cultures. So, I hope that intellectualizing Gã to the zenith that meets our community’s immediate and long-term needs can set off a trend for other lesser known indigenous African languages in the areas of educational and technological innovation, scientific research, literary and artistic reproduction, etc.

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