‘Do you speak African?’

By Comfort Queh

If I could receive a dollar for every time I’ve been approached with the question, “Do you speak African?” my college education would be paid off, with dollars left to splurge however I choose.

Being from a different country, it’s clear to say that topics regarding my nationality are usually the first question people ask me when they hear my thick accent.

The conversation usually starts with, “What part of Africa are you from?” When I respond, “West Africa, Liberia to be specific,” the question that usually follows is, “Do you speak African?”

Somehow this question always tenses me up inside. I want to respond, “No idiot, do you speak American?”

But I take a deep breath, relax, and respond, “No, African is not a language.”

In most cases, when I reply to this question, people usually respond with light laughter and are taken aback, almost as if they are ashamed and recognize the ignorance of the question.

Clearly, we can agree that such a question is ignorant, but it’s still being asked. So, this is for all those individuals that have ever asked the question, and for those who may be thinking of asking it, please allow me to educate you on Africa, so you no longer make the mistake of asking, “Do you speak African?”

Africans are people who are native to or inhabitants of the continent of Africa. So, lesson one: Africa is a continent, the second-largest to be specific. I’m sure I was taught that in school, so were you.

Second lesson: Africa has many countries, each with its own language. In fact, Africa is estimated to have about 1,000 to 2,000 languages, according to the Harvard Department of African and African-American Studies. The languages that Africans speak are extremely diverse and broken into four categories based on their family and the part of the country they are from.

Niger-Congo refers to languages spoken in Western, Central, Eastern, and Southern Africa. Niger-Congo is also the largest out of the four families of languages. The next large group of language is Afro-Asiatic, which includes the Northern region of Africa.

The third group is Nilo-Saharan which includes the Eastern and North Eastern regions of Africa. The last and the least spoken language group is Khoisan, which is mostly found in Southern Africa. This is said to be the oldest language of all.

Now brace yourself for the most important lesson: Some, if not most, Africans speak English. Although my English may not be considered as polished as the English spoken in America, I was still able to communicate with Americans when I moved here.

In Monrovia, Liberia, the country that I’m from, the main language that we speak is English. Some people are surprised when I share this information because they are expecting some other exotic or cultural language. So in an effort to not dash their hopes, I also share with them that depending on which tribe an individual comes from, the dialect may differ.

Listen, I know theoretically, “There are no stupid questions,” but clearly stupidity is a behavior that shows a lack of good judgment.

The good news is you are able to change your behavior. That will include remembering that African is not a language. If you are still confused about this, just remember you’re only two fingers away from your cell-phone to search “Do you speak African?”

It’s better to be embarrassed by Google than to be embarrassed in front of ME.

Contact Comfort Queh at communitarian@mail.dccc.edu