Not all languages are verbal (spoken through the mouth). There are nearly 300 sign languages in the world. However, UNESCO has warned that some of these are also in danger of extinction. The list of endangered sign languages includes ones in Africa, such as EthSL (Ethiopian Sign Language).

After a week my brain felt as if new words were bouncing around, crowding out other thoughts. It was disrupting my sleep so badly I was in danger of perconation (basically meaning, walking about all night, because you can’t sleep).

The only good thing was that my friends were being supportive. Even some of my teachers got into the game. The other day in English class, after I had worked another word into conversation, Mrs Abrahams said, “Mavi, do you think this project your father set is going to cause you to nestorize?”

I won’t lie, I had to look that one up. When I found out what the word meant, I had a good chuckle. Nestorize basically means to stroke somebody’s ego and tell them they’re smart, so they believe they’re really wise, when they probably are not.

But these words, I am telling you, they don’t leave me alone. Nor am I certain what Tata is trying to accomplish with all of this. I don’t think he is trying to nestorize me. In fact, I suspect he is trying to make me understand what I do not know. The problem is, how do you know what you do not know, unless they help you understand what is missing?

“Tata,” I said that night, at dinner. “These words you are having me use are very interesting.”

“Good, good,” he said. “I am pleased, my son, that you are taking this seriously.”

“I am, Tata, taking this very seriously,” I said, as Nomfundo snickered behind her glass. “But I don’t see why you are having me do this. Wouldn’t it make more sense to have me do something like this for isiXhosa?”

“But, my son, you do not like isiXhosa in the same way that you enjoy English.”

I shook my head. “That’s not true, Tata. IsiXhosa is the language of my roots, of my family, and I am proud to have it as my home language. But we live in a society where languages evolve and merge with other languages. We use ‘braai’ all the time with our friends and neighbours, yet that is not English or isiXhosa. Or take ‘yebo.’ Everybody uses it, even you.”

“Not at the table, my son, when it is just me and my wife and children. When we have guests, when we are out of our home, we are, as you say, in society. But at home, what I ask, you see, is that you take pride in the language of our people and use it.”

“But I do.”

Nomfundo shook her head, saying, “You are going to get into so much trouble.”

Mama gave her the look. “My daughter, perhaps you should join Mavi in the task your father has given.”

“No, Mama,” she said. “I apologise for being rude at our table.”

Tata turned back to me. “My son, the issue I have is that you only use the isiXhosa words you find easy and convenient. What I am trying to show you is that there is value in doing things properly; seeing that they are done right. You gain appreciation by not cutting corners, even in the more difficult details.”

That did sound wise. It was stuff like that which earned my father’s nickname, Professor. But I failed to understand what he meant by it all, and how it applied to my learning English words that everyone else had either forgotten, or never heard of in the first place.


Tell us: Do you understand what Mavi’s father is trying to teach his son? Or are you as confused as Mavi?