“Language has some intrinsic power to make and unmake. Not only for our sake but also the sake of posterity, for our survival and well-being let us choose the positive side, communicative politeness and throw away or condemn communicative impoliteness”. – Prof. Kofi Agyekum
On Thursday, 01 September 2022, Fellow of the Academy and Professor of Linguistics at the University of Ghana, Prof. Kofi Agyekum delivered what one will describe as a timely lecture to address the impolite languages in our media and political landscape. The topic for the lecture was “Kasahuam-Kasafi”: Polite and Impolite Language in the Ghanaian Media and Political Landscape.
Prof. Agyekum expressed concern over what he described as the rampant use of impolite and intemperate language, hate speech, invectives and denigration of personalities in the media and political space. He said those “negative tendencies” created divisiveness and conflicts and threatened social cohesion, national unity and development.
This lecture emphasized the use of appropriate and polite language based on our Ghanaian cultural norms and values. As we all know, Ghanaian cultural norms and values employ polite language to facilitate peace, social cohesion and stability which are necessary for national development. On the other hand, impolite language deviates from our rich cultural norms and values. Impoliteness is a degradation of standards of civility that underlie our rich cultural norms and values. Consequently, impolite language deprives us of the benefits of our cultural norms and values.
The 4-part presentation had within it the introduction, Politeness in the language (In Akan: Kasapa, Kasahuam and Obuokasa, Anidie Kasa), Impolite language (Akan: Kasafi, kasafo, eburo Kasa) and ended with some recommendations.
Politeness in language ‘Kasapa, Kasahuam and Obuokasa, Anidie kasa’
Prof. Kofi Agyekum suggested that linguistic politeness should be labelled communicative politeness because politeness implies appropriate communication with others. He said the scope of communicative politeness involves, the use of linguistic routines such as greetings, apologies, thanking, compliments, address terms and honorifics as well as values such as respect and diplomacy among others. He cited apologies which represented polite communications from the current and past Presidents, Nana Addo Dankwa Akuffo-Addo and President John Dramani Mahama. He went further to say “One of the most important ingredients of an acceptable apology is sincerity”. He added that an apology is a mechanism that repairs specific conflicts and redeems the person’s image and reputation damaged by impolite language
Communicative Impoliteness ‘Kasafi/Kasafo/ Eburo Kasa/kasahunu’
He defined communicative impoliteness as an act of expressing disrespect through communicative behaviours such as the use of invectives, indecent language, intemperate language, hate speech, incendiary speeches, and taboo offences, among others. He advised the public to correct unpatriotic media and political presenters who use inappropriate language. He said, “We should therefore not allow the few ill-advised, uninformed and unpatriotic political and media practitioners to destroy our cultural norms and values through the abuse and misuse of language for their parochial gains, especially political power and fame”.
He went further to say “the contribution of social media today is enormous, and we cannot stop this modern technology and return to the pre-social media era. Unfortunately, social media is now the major outlet were faceless people and media practitioners slight, humiliate and tarnish people’s reputation”, he said.
He argued that while some say the emergence of multiple social media platforms has caused the proliferation of impolite communication, he believes that the multiple social media platforms have rather exposed the degree to which our cultural norms and values have eroded. He added that it is those who are already uncivil who abuse and misuse social media platforms.
Prof. Kofi Agyekum in his recommendation said condemning individuals, media houses and politicians for using or condoning the use of impolite language may be a good thing, but it is certainly not enough. He said we need more robust, concrete and preventative measures, not just moralizations. He also proposed that In-house or staff development programmes of media houses, political parties, civil society organizations and such other institutions must include courses, workshops or seminars. He believed these programmes will inform, train and educate staff on the interface between culture, public discourse and nation-building.
He also said that Institutes, Schools, and Departments which offer academic programmes in Mass Communication should create courses on communicative politeness, grounded in the positive values of Ghanaian cultures. He suggested that Ghana Tertiary Education Commission (GTEC) could make a course in Communicative Politeness a requirement for accrediting Media and Communication Schools and institutions in Ghana and the Ghana Media Commission could proactively create a Code of Communicative Standards for the guidance of Media houses and practitioners as they have done for Ghanaian language broadcasting.
The chairman for the lecture was the venerable Prof, Kofi Anyidoho. In his closing remarks, he thanked the speaker for his presentation and described it as down-to-earth and timely. Present at the lecture were fellows of the Academy, Professors from the various universities, some media personalities and students from the Accra College of Education, Madina and Accra Wesley Girls.