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Table of Contents
Critical Discourse Analysis
Analysis of Data
Studies over the years have inconclusively examined left hand use. Historical material shows that all over the world left hand use has been treated with disdain and considered evil. This study analysed perceptions about left hand use in Ghana. The study sought data from 62 participants around the country. The study came to the conclusion that indeed Ghanaians perceive the use of the left hand as rude and not acceptable. Thus, the study found out that most Ghanaians apologised for using the left hand, which is if they had no option than to use it. However, respondents showed that although they accept that Ghanaian culture frowns on the use of, he left hand, they felt it was time, left hand usage became accepted or tolerated. The reason for the change though did not stem from a belief that Ghanaian culture discriminated against left-handed people.
Esseybey (2014) particularly begins his work by narrating an experience he encountered while at the university of Ghana. A colleague student refused to eat with him just because he was eating with the left hand. Many a time, left-handed people are forced to switch to the right hand due to parental pressure while growing up. There are a lot of such experiences for some, if not most of left-handed Ghanaians.
Jarry (2021) in his article for Office for Science and Society claims that in 1937, an educational psychologist whose work was later discredited wrote of many left-handers that they squint, they stammer, they shuffle and shamble, they flounder like seals out of water. He makes claims that historically the left hand has been associated with witchcraft and the devil. He estimates that 9.5 percent of humans are left-handed, though other sources claim they are 10 percent.
Jarry writes that studies have shown that most second- and third-trimester fetuses actually suck their right thumb, and that their thumb-sucking preference, left or right, predicts whether they will become left- or right-handed and thus It seems that left-handedness is usually set in stone before birth. Per the literature what actually causes left-handed usage is not fully known. Some studies point to gene formation, though such studies are not conclusive. “Because muscle control is contralateral, meaning that control of your right hand is actually done by the left part of the brain, it was thought that this bit of brain wiring explained why most people were right-handed” (Jarry 2021). The quote above is due to research by Pierre Broca which found out that the left side of the human brain was responsible for language and writing skills. Thus, scientists speculate that left-handed people may have their right side of the brain rather controlling such functions.
Chris McManus is one scholar who has distinguished himself in the study of the left-hand usage. In his 2019 article “Half a century of handedness research: Myths, truths; fictions, facts; backwards, but mostly forwards”, he explores the journey so far in the study of the cause of left handedness. One interesting claim he makes is that false causes have been offered over the years by some scholars. One such cause of left-handed use, which is now debunked, is the claim that brain damage causes left hand use.
From the literature, what causes left-handed use is not fully understood by science, although studies continue today in the investigation of left-hand usage. The focus of this study is not necessarily interested in finding out what causes left hand use. The focus of this study is to examine Ghanaian’s perceptions of left-hand use especially with respect with dealing with others. The study critically analyses set of questions answered by participants so as to see the power and discrimination issues embedded in Ghanaian perceptions about left hand use.
Kita and Essegbey (2001) examined pointing left in Ghana. They came to the conclusion that pointing left is a taboo in Ghanaian culture. However, they also found out that pointing left was not fully suppressed and was allowed in situation when the individual is verbalising a concept and that there are some left-hand gestures that are not seen as taboo. But the study makes it clear that unless the exceptional situations mentioned left hand usage is considered a taboo
Alhassan (2018) investigates left hand usage in in Senegal, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, Ghana, and other African countries, he came to the conclusion that there is stigmatisation of left-handed people in African society. In Ghana, he writes that it is considered rude to point with the left hand especially while dealing with the elderly or superiors at work or school. He also says eating and drinking with the left hand is frowned upon, also in the giving and taking of items.
Amoako- Arthur (2018), writing in for ghananewspage.com, explains what left-handed is and tries to elaborate great skills of the left-handed person like multitasking and being good in sports. She then makes the claim,” In Africa, left-handed is forbidden. No matter the religious observance, the left hand is associated with disrespect and bad manners. It is believed that the left hands are used to perform tasks that are dirty and unclean.” She then expresses her opinion,” The idea scripted in the minds of Africans about being left-handed is barbaric and superstitious is awkward. The stigma of “sinister” dirty lefties has persisted due to societal mores in Africa. Its rather unfortunate that being left-handed is regarded as a taboo in some African society. Unlike the Whites who see south paws as strange people who can do exceedingly what the right-handed person can do. In schools, teachers will tap the hand of a child and say, “you are not supposed to write with your left hand.” At homes, mother’s always wanting to force their wards to use their right hand to eat even when they are left-handed naturally. If each African country can pay heed to the world’s left handers day which is on 13th August and celebrated equally as the other holidays, it will make good impact on all people and change the mindset of some people, especially Africans.”
On the brighter note in 2015, rfi.fr reported the celebration of the left-hand day by a section of Africans who are calling for perceptions about left hand usage in Africa to change. They claim that left hand students should be encouraged and not discouraged at school when they use their left hand. The literature cannot fully explain what causes people to be left-handed, but the literature clearly shows that in African, especially Ghana, there is a stigma attached to left hand use.
1. Does Ghanaian traditions and norms frown upon left hand usage?
2. If Ghanaian culture is against usage of the left hand, is it time this was changed?
Critical Discourse Analysis
Flowerdew (2013) defines discourse as the language above the sentence and its context of usage. Discourse studies on the other hand is seen as the study of language in context. (Flowerdew 2013). One of several approaches to discourse study is critical discourse analysis. Amossou and Allagbe (2018) define CDA as an approach that can be used to investigate social problems. To them CDA focuses on social problems and especially the role of discourse in the production and reproduction of power abuse and domination.
CDA tries to see how language plays a role in abuse and discrimination. This particular study uses answers generated from respondent to critical analyse the discrimination and power relations that affect left-handed people in Ghana.
The instruments for this study were questionnaires. The questionnaires had 8 questions that participants were supposed to answer. Some of the participants received their questions by social media. Whiles for others, they answered their questionnaires by receiving hard copies. The nature of the research demands that it has a nationwide appeal. This forced the questionnaire delivery to take this route so as to make the work representative. However, the research was not able to get participants from all regions of Ghana. Unfortunately, participants from only 9 regions were involved in this study. However, one participant was outside the country. All participants were Ghanaians. 9 of the participants were from the Ashanti region. The Volta region had 3 participants. The Greater Accra region had 12 participants. 11 of the participants were from the Central region. The Northern region, and Bono region had one participant each. The Eastern region had two participants. The Western region had 20 participants. 2 of the participants were from the Western North region.
The questionnaire first of all asked participants if they were left-handed or right-handed. The study got only three left-handed participants. All other participants were right-handed.
Analysis of Data
The first issue the analysis deals with is the perception Ghanaians hold about left-hand usage. The study found out that an overwhelming majority of Ghanaians perceive left hand usage negatively. This is in line with the literature discussed earlier on.
On the question "Have you ever apologised for using your left hand whilst buying something? " 87.096% of respondents (54 respondents) mentioned that they had apologised for using the left hand. While 8 respondents (12.903%) said they had not done that before. The answers point to a power relation and politeness issues as discussed by Brown and Levinson. Over 80% of respondents utter the words “sorry for left”. This statement reinforces the interlocutor’s belief that it is wrong to use the left hand when dealing with others. Thus, as the study found out, Ghanaians are more likely to use their right hand when buying something. A Ghanaian may use the left hand in extraordinary circumstances where the use of the right hand is not possible. Quickly, the Ghanaian will apologise for using the left hand. This action reinforces the negative perception about the left hand as the literature alludes to. The statement “sorry for left” is purposely for preserving the face of the other interlocutor or in this case, the trader.
On the question " Have you ever apologised for using your left hand to hand something to someone “59 respondents (95.161 %) mentioned that they had apologised for using the left hand to give something to someone. While 3 respondents (4.838 %) said no. Responses given to this question is in line with the responses given to the earlier question. Ghanaians perceive left hand so negatively that for both questions more than 80% of respondents apologised for using the left hand in their actions especially as it related to others and not animals. Saying “sorry for left” reduces the chances of seeming impolite but then it also creates a negative perception that left hand use is bad or evil.
On the question “Have you ever felt offended someone used the left hand to give you something?”
32 respondents (51.612 %) mentioned that they had felt offended by such actions. However, 30 respondents (48.387 %) said they did not feel offended in such situations. For this question, the data shows that in as much as Ghanaians feel it is rude or threatens the face of someone, to use the left hand while dealing with the person. A number of Ghanaians did not feel offended or did not feel their face had been threatened by others, for using the left hand while dealing with them. The closeness of the results for this question shows that culture indeed is dynamic. Individuals are willing to abide by cultural perceptions that one must use the right hand but are okay if others use the left hand while dealing with them. From a critical point of view, it is refreshing to see respondents understand that circumstances may force a particular Ghanaian to use the left hand sometimes.
On the question, “Do you believe it is okay for people to use left hand in any situation?” 32(51.612) respondents said no; 30(48.387) respondents answered yes. As seen above, there is a general acceptance of the need to accommodate instances where individuals have no option than to use the left hand or perhaps the human right of left-handed people to use their left hand while dealing with others. The literature shows that the traditional Ghanaian is supposed to be annoyed with the someone using left hand, but the responses show that the modern generation is willing to make some changes. Participants involved in this study were not all of the same age. Some were in the twenties while others in their sixties. However, semblance of change is felt in the responses.
On the question, “Do not you think left-handed people are being discriminated against?“ 21 (33.870 %) said yes , while 44 (66.129 %) said no . This question is interesting in that, while some participants are accommodating towards left-handed people, they still believe Ghanaian culture does not discriminate against lefties. After all, it is our culture. Only 33% of respondents believe there is discrimination against lefties in Ghanaian culture as they are obliged to use their right hand than their left hand. This perception is due to socialization. There are stories of children who are forced to use the right hand because the left hand is perceived as not worthy as compared to the right hand. This ideation and socialisation accounts for the answers or responses to this question. Participants are firmly of the view that in this case the culture and traditions of the land are paramount and far important than a supposed human right.
On the question, “Do you believe Ghanaian culture is against the use of the left hand?” 7 respondents (11.290%) said no while 55 of them (88.709%) said yes. This question is fundamental to this research. The literature shows that Ghanaian culture frowns on the use of the left hand. Responses have confirmed that indeed Ghanaian culture frowns on the use of the left hand. The answer to this question shows why the statement, “sorry for left” is rife in Ghanaian discourse and conversation. The young Ghanaian is socialised with the understanding and belief that the left hand represents evil and is inferior compared to the right hand.
On the question “If yes, do you think it is time we changed that narrative or cultural practice?” Only 55 participants could answer this question as they indicated early that it was Ghanaian culture to use right hand. Of the 55 respondents 32 respondents said there was need for change while 23 participants insisted, we stuck to the right-hand usage. This part of the research aligns with the general acceptance or tolerance of respondents when it comes to people using their left hand while interacting with them. Should the 7 participants who believe it is not Ghanaian culture to use right hand always be added to those who said yes, we will have 39 respondents who believe it is time Ghanaian culture does away with the requirement to use the right hand when dealing with people, especially the elderly.
Thus, the results from the study show that most Ghanaians believe left hand use is wrong and thus are willing to apologise should they use it, though a section of Ghanaians are willing to accept or tolerate people using left hand when dealing with them. The statement “sorry for left “shows the socialisation the average Ghanaian has received.
For the first research question, the study found out that it is cultural expected of every Ghanaian to use the right hand especially when dealing with older people.
On the second research question, participants overwhelming expressed their desire for changes in how we interact with left-handed people. While a majority of participants felt left-handed people where not being discriminated against, they still believe Ghanaian culture needed changes with respect to left hand use.
The study has affirmed previous studies that claimed that left hand use in Ghana was taboo. But more importantly, the study has thrown light on the desire for change with respect to left hand use.
Amoussou, F. & Allagbe, A. A. (2018). Principles, Theories and Approaches to
Critical Discourse Analysis. International Journal on
Studies in English Language and Literature (IJSELL)
Esseybey (2014). Gestures in West Africa. Left hand taboo in Ghana. De Gruyter.
Flowerdew, John. (2013). Discourse in English Language Education. Routledge.
Kita, S. & Esseybey, J. (2001). Pointing left in Ghana? How a taboo on the use of the left hand influences gestural practice.
McManus, C. (2019). Half a century of handedness research: Myths, truths; fictions, facts; backwards, but mostly forwards.