I just found this blog, Method is Madness written by a Nigerian named Saratu. I read this post titled “Not Speaking Yoruba” and loved the witty, colorful writing. The detailed description of the difference between English and Yoruba is insightful and echoes a lot of the difficulty I had with learning it. I think it also depicts the sentiments thousands of Yoruba people all over the world have who cannot speak their native language like they want to.
Here is an excerpt from the post. Read the full thing here.
I should be more clear: speaking Yoruba, speaking it well, is not the same as speaking English well. You can do quite well without speaking English idiomatically, each word an island that reveals itself through practice of conjugations and direct meaning, like a street increasingly familiar with returning visits. Words in English take their place like soldiers. Subject, verb, direct object. You can get more complex than that if you wanted to, of course, but it really is enough to convey your meaning the majority of the time.
Yoruba, however, doesn’t work that way. True, you can learn Yoruba in a classroom, like I did in my primary school days, with paperback textbooks the exact thickness as freshly-ironed adire. You could, but why would you, when you could listen to your grandparents talk, read the Yoruba daily newspaper Alaroyin, watch Yoruba movies and laugh at the grammatically-incorrect English captions? No. Yoruba is to be experienced, lived, not – in the academic sense of the word – learned.
And, anyway, the kind of Yoruba you learn is not the kind of Yoruba you want to speak. Where English lines up, Yoruba is a contortionist. I am going to the market. The market, I am going. Both correct. And as you get to more complex situations, this ability to shape and reshape itself gets even thornier, expecting the speaker to move into a thicket of idioms, metaphor. In English, this will only serve to embellish, soften the stark nakedness of one’s words. Not quite so in Yoruba. Individual words in this language can take on so many meanings, depending on where one places emphasis. Ife could be a small, university town some hour or so outside of Ibadan, or it can be love. Oko can mean husband, or perhaps forest, and, maybe, if you really butcher it, penis. This nuance is true not just of Yoruba pronunciation, but of Yoruba itself.