The fall of the British language

Akeela and the Bee, directed by Doug Atchison must be Miss Khumalo’s favourite film, if she is a student of cinema like me.  She was my English teacher and subjected me to a lot of torture during what she called spelling and dictation.

Try spelling hippopotamus at the tender age of eleven.  I could not tell Ma that she hit my hand with a stick because she would have taken her own stick without knowing the merits of the case.  ”She didn’t punish you enough.”

That was before cellphones.  Just recently Boitumelo forwarded me something she picked up from Sowetan the daily South African newspaper.  The teacher wanted the class to write a sentence with the word fastidious.  This is what one student wrote.  “My father knows the meaning of the word fastidious!” 
It is no laughing matter.

Cellphones and text message have fractured the English language.  I’m sure the French and the Spanish are also in tears.  I’m not ignoring my language isiZulu.  It’s only because friends and family send me messages in real Zulu.  It is just not done.  How do you write Asikhulume kusasa (Let’s talk tomorrow) in text-speak?

Akeela and the Bee, starring Laurence Fishbourne, Angela Bassett and Keke Palmer, is about words, small words, big words and how you use them in sentences.  Spelling bee contests are very common in the United States.  I stand corrected but we don’t have anything similar in South Africa. 

The film is about Akeelah Anderson (Keke Palmer) who is very good with words and their meaning. That is why her school asks Dr. Joshua Laraby (Laurence Fishburne) to tutor her for the provincial competition.  Akeelah doesn’t enjoy the lessons initially because he is a disciplinarian.  He cannot stand sassy kids and being late.

That was then.  Technology has created havoc in the language world.  Cellphones are here and an individual can have two or three.  We have text messages now or send SMS, as we call it in South Africa.  We use them to advertise goods and services, post exam results, confirm dental appointments, to declare love and as evidence in divorce cases.  Text messages are short and sweet and have no allegiance to the Queen of England, Prince Harry and Prince William, spelling and sentence structure.

Therefore, it will be very interesting to have a sequel called Texting Akeelah, where she rips apart all those difficult words she learnt in the film Akeelah and the Bee.  I don’t think financing will be a problem.

In fact, HTC, Apple iPhone, Nokia, Samsung, Sony-Ericsson and even LG will be fighting to finance such a film and give all cast and crew members the latest phones.  Oprah will review Texting Akeelah and give every woman in the audience a phone.  I can imagine all the screaming for joy.


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