Akinloye Ojo, associate professor of comparative literature and director of the African Studies Institute, wants his students to understand that no language, be it spoken in Europe or Africa, is inherently difficult.
Where did you earn degrees and what are your current responsibilities at UGA?
I received my bachelor’s degree in linguistics from the University of Ibadan in Nigeria, my master’s degree in linguistics from Cornell University and my doctorate in linguistics from UGA. I also hold a graduate certificate in women’s studies from UGA. I am an associate professor in the department of comparative literature in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences. I teach Yoruba language and culture classes, African studies classes and direct the African Studies Institute here at UGA.
When did you come to UGA and what brought you here?
I came to the University of Georgia in 1996 as a graduate student to work on my Ph.D. in linguistics and have been here ever since.
What are your favorite courses and why?
I love teaching the first-year Yoruba language and culture classes (YORB 1010 and 1020) because of the transformation that occurs in students’ language proficiency and cultural awareness. I particularly enjoy watching my students go from worried novice speakers to poised intermediate level speakers of the Yoruba language after just two semesters. In some exceptional cases, you end up with someone with near-native ability. We have had students who went to Nigeria in the summer after their first year in the program and were evaluated as being early advanced speakers by Yoruba language professors in Nigeria.
What interests you about your field?
My primary field is linguistics, and the most interesting thing about the field, I think, is the focus on one of the key capacities that makes us human—language—and its form, structure, acquisition, use, preservation and evolution over time. Growing up, I was always fascinated by language use, especially living in a home with a school teacher (my mother) and an author and broadcaster (my father) who both worked in the two languages that I speak natively—Yoruba and English. It was therefore exciting when the chance came to choose linguistics as a field of study in college.
What are some highlights of your career at UGA?
There are so many treasured highlights in my career at UGA. Some of them include: Getting tenured in the department of comparative literature; Starting the Yoruba language and culture program in 1996 at UGA (even though I did not do most of the administrative heavy lifting); Receiving a three-year grant in 2003 from the U.S. Department of Education to develop online materials for Yoruba language studies (with co-principal investigator professor Lioba Moshi). Receiving the Outstanding Teacher award from the Student Government Association in 2002 and again in 2004; Getting my different works published individually or in collected works; Serving as the summer director of the U.S. Department of Education Fulbright Hays Yoruba Group Project Abroad in Nigeria in 2006 and 2010; Receiving the 2010 PEN Translation Fund Grant from the PEN American Center for the translation into English of Akinwumi Isola’s poetry; and Appointment as the director of the African Studies Institute in 2011.
How does your research or scholarship inspire your teaching, and vice versa?
Most of what I discover and learn in my research directly supports my teaching so much so that my language and culture teaching largely serves as the application of my research work. And inversely, my experiences in the Yoruba language classroom contribute to the descriptive work that I do on the language as a linguist.
What do you hope students gain from their classroom experience with you?
I hope they gain the knowledge that no language, be it spoken in Europe or Africa, is inherently difficult. Every target language is a system that we must work hard to teach and learn in the class. Since we can’t have the full immersion experience here at UGA, we must agree that it is what we (the students and instructor) bring to the language learning situation and how we manage it that are most critical for how well they learn the target language.
Describe your ideal student.
As with many other classes, my ideal Yoruba language student is punctual, inquisitive, hardworking (especially in completing assignments) and participates fully in class work. Additionally, my ideal language student is highly motivated, patient and understands my role as a facilitator (trained native speaker) provided to assist the students in doing their own job of learning the Yoruba language.
Favorite place to be/thing to do on campus is…
I love to be in my office in Joe Brown Hall. Interestingly, I spend a lot of time in my office. It used to be on the third floor of the main library back in the late ’90s.
Beyond the UGA campus, I like to…
Travel, watch TV (particularly sports) and listen to music. I have always participated a lot in sports but in recent years, watching, especially on TV, is what I do the most.
Community/civic involvement includes….
I produce a weekly radio show on WUGA called “African Perspectives.” I also advise several student and international groups, make presentations on African culture to area schools and serve in my church.
Favorite book/movie (and why)?
Unfortunately, I am one of those people with a list rather than one favorite book or movie. However, if I must choose, the book would be Akinwumi Isola’s “O Le Ku” (a Yoruba novel) and the movie would be “Shawshank Redemption.” For me, they both provide credence to my unfaltering belief that life will always go on, no matter what.
(Originally published Sept. 22, 2013)