In this presentation, I analyze language practices of taxi inscriptions in Ghana during the mid-20th century. Cars and highlife (a type of African hip hop) are connected in many ways. Highlife music is played in cars; cars render highlife mobile. In Ghana, as in many other regions of Africa, people love cars. The extreme respect given to cars is striking, given the fact that prior to colonialism there was no wheeled transport, including cars/taxis. Shuttling between rural areas and cities, each driver has a unique relationship with his car, giving it a specific name that reflects the conditions under which he acquired it or that reflects his personal conditions. The autobiographical details and orientation towards the discourses and inscriptions on drivers’ cars produces a personal linguistic portfolio which runs counter to the code-based frameworks such as urban language practices, truncated multilingualism, which, even though they seek to depart from the code-based terms inadvertently reinforce exactly the code-based analysis they are seeking to depart from.
The meanings of the taxi inscriptions are vague and enigmatic. In fact, the meanings of some of the inscriptions were difficult to determine unless one asked the driver. Even when the driver was asked, he seemed to vary his responses each time he was asked, and some meanings were contested by other drivers. The indeterminacy is even more striking when one takes into account that some of the inscriptions are common proverbs, whose meanings one expects to be fixed. This implies that, in some cases, the meanings did not exist prior to the social encounter in which the driver was asked.