Summary: Reading Group #7

The reading was taken from Melissa Marong’s Ph.D thesis, entitled “Gambian English: Syntactic Features of a West African Variety of the English Language”. In the work, Marong attempts to outline the syntactic features of Gambian English and discuss these features alongside other West African varieties of the English language. 

The meeting started at 17:00hrs GMT, on Tuesday 7th June 2022. In her opening remarks, Dr Clyde Ancarno, on behalf of the three co-organizers (Momodou Lamin Demba and Lamin O. Ceesay are the other two co-organisers) emphasized that the reading group is open to the general public (i.e. one does not have to be a linguist to participate). She added that there is plenty of room for research in both indigenous and exogenous languages in The Gambia. She expressed her delight working with teachers whom she described as responsive and up to the task.  

The meeting took a thematic approach. We focussed on addressing the following questions: 

1. How many varieties of Gambian English can you think of (or expect to be present in The Gambia if you’re not familiar with English in The Gambia)? E.g. Gambian English spoken in Gambian pop music, English spoken by College students, English written in newspapers or spoken by broadcasters. Region-based Gambian Englishes. 

2. How frequently do you use or do you hear others use the present or past continuous instead of the present simple or past simple?  

3. Are there marked differences in the way speakers from different ethnic groups speak English? Are there differences in the way people from different regions of The Gambia speak English? 

In addressing the first question concerning the varieties of Gambian English, it was discussed that different varieties of English exist in The Gambia. It was observed that the English used in the courts and legal documents, for example, differs widely from the English used on the radio, television and newspapers, or the English used on the streets, in pop music, and also different from the English sometimes used in the service barracks and stations. However, people also stressed that not much is know about the exact features of these varieties of Gambian English. 

On how frequently users of Gambian English substitute the simple present and simple past with present continuous and past continuous, we concluded that it was commonplace to come across such constructions in contemporary Gambian English but that this was restricted to certain circles where knowledge of the rules seems to be the factor responsible for people using such expressions. The researcher’s choice of participants was discussed (i.e. the education background of most participants was low) hence, and it was argued that the author’s findings might be due to participants’ limited knowledge of English rather than a characteristic of the syntax of Gambian English. 

On whether marked differences exist in ethnic and regional Englishes in The Gambia, some of us clarified that whereas ethnicity-related differences may exist in Gambian English at the phonological level, regional variations are almost non-existent. Yet, it was agreed that where these variations seemingly occur, they are dictated by the high presence of a particular ethnic group whose phonology has influence on that particular community’s spoken English.  

Two other phenomena were discussed. The first (which remains contested) is the ability of people of Fula ethnic extraction being better at learning other languages, English included. Two of the participants supported this view although there has not been any formal conclusion on the claim. The second issue that came up during the meeting was the closeness of Gambian English to Sierra Leonean English. A number of factors were identified for tis closeness. One of these was that the Gambia and Sierra Leone share a common colonial past. In addition, both countries shared civil servants because the colonial governor in Sierra Leone was overseeing both colonies then. The issue of higher education, as many Gambians before and after independence studied in colleges and universities in Sierra Leone, was also evoked. Gambians either continued to work there upon finishing or came home to join the ranks. Another factor was that since the civil war broke out in Sierra Leone, many families from Sierra Leone relocated to The Gambia. The regular employment available to many such people was teaching and this saw the involvement of many Sierra Leoneans teaching various subjects in Gambian schools, hence the smooth integration of Sierra Leonean English into The Gambia’s education system. 

The meeting ended with a reminder that the next meeting will be held on 5th July, 2022 at 17:00hrs GMT (details to be shared later). 

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