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Ayo Bamgbose at 90: He taught us how to teach by learning, By Niyi Osundare

Ayo Bamgbose at 90: He taught us how to teach by learning, By Niyi Osundare

Pioneer, pathfinder, scholar, teacher, administrator, relentless researcher, and organiser “par excellence”, Ayo Bamgbose has shown us how to teach by learning and how to learn by teaching. Hardly any of us in the linguistic and literary fields can deny being touched, one way or another, in the past six decades by the scholarly output of this giant, as well as his total, infectious dedication to the cultivation of the faculty of the mind.

When I called him the “doyen of African linguistics” in my valedictory lecture at the University of Ibadan in July 2005 (a celebratory oriki which, to my greatest delight, has caught on since then), I did so with not the slightest fear of exaggeration or effusive adulation. Pioneer, pathfinder, scholar, teacher, administrator, relentless researcher, and organiser par excellence, Ayo Bamgbose has shown us how to teach by learning and how to learn by teaching. Hardly any of us in the linguistic and literary fields can deny being touched, one way or another, in the past six decades by the scholarly output of this giant, as well as his total, infectious dedication to the cultivation of the faculty of the mind. A thorough teacher and demanding supervisor, Bamgbose is also endowed with a robust sense of humour and capacity for that kind of witty laughter that is capable of lighting up the darkest mood. He possesses a curious combination of the gravity of the sage and insatiable inquisitiveness of the aspiring learner.

An agent of innovation and also its ardent practitioner, Bamgbose is always in the forefront of current trends in language studies and the scholarly enterprise. If he hears of the publication of a new book in faraway Bora Bora or Outer Mongolia relating to these fields, he will spare no effort until he has that book securely on his shelf. In this and other ways, Bamgbose has enriched our intellectual culture with a single-mindedness and profound, unwavering commitment lamentably rare today. His life and legacy have taught us how to pursue the intellectual vocation with dignity, pride, total commitment, and supreme sense of purpose.

In Bamgbose’s legacy, we have the antidote to mediocrity and opportunistic careerism whose current spread has reduced Nigeria’s Academe to a House of Hollow Rituals. Bamgbose-ism is both a rebuke of our present state and a vision of our positive possibilities. For this Agbedegbeyo, this scholar-teacher who upholds the beauty of our tongue and the grammar of our values; this Olukoni Agba who makes learning so desirable by making teaching so purposeful, here is a song from many seasons ago, whose content, tone, and circumstance are still as true as the day it came into being.

FOR  AYO  BAMGBOSE

(Ojogbon, Agbedegbeyo)

In the Beginning was the Void
And the Void was Silence
And Silence spawned Seven Intimations
And Seven Mists, and the form-
Less Inarticulacies of errant Winds
The Sun knew not yet its sky
Earth was flat fare and liquid riddle

And the Universe quaked into Chaos;
From the liquid loins of the Wind
The Vowel was born
And the Vowel was all flesh, all flair
From the silent bone of the Mist
The Consonant erupted into being,
All hard, intemperately mute

And the Consonant quaked into the Vowel
And the Vowel melted into the Consonant

And the Syllable was born

* * *

And the Syllable begat the Word
And the Word begat the Phrase
And the Phase begat the Clause
And the Clause begat the Sentence
And the Sentence begat the Paragraph
And the Paragraph begat the Discourse
And the Discourse begat Meaning
And Meaning begat the Universe. . . .

Behold, the Vowel wed the Consonant
And Chaos quaked into Cosmos
And Language was born

* * *

And Language begat its own pupils
And the pupils matured into pundits
And the pundits blossomed into scholars:
Between pragmatic Firth and mathematical Chomsky
From the systemic ‘statement of meaning’
To the generative calculus of ‘deep structure’
Bamgbose pitched the African tongue
In the centre of the global fair
His vision delicately clear
His method assiduously indigenous;
This doyen who doctored our silence,
And gave us the language
For talking about our tongue
To this man of primal flair
Ninety Consonants & Ninety Vowels!

Niyi Osundare, one of Africa’s foremost poets and academics, is Emeritus Distinguished Professor of English, University of New Orleans.

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