I am a bit worried here, I know Femi, a nice dude,born and bred in Lagos and as the name implies, he is a Yoruba boy. That is not the gist, the story is that Femi is almost 14 and doesn’t know a word in Yoruba. He can’t communicate in Yoruba language, I also have a couple of relatives that are from Igbo and can’t speak Igbo. This is the problem we are facing today as a country. The little ones that can speak the native language can not speak the dialect choosing the watered down version of their languages. Hausa would speak the Kano version of Hausa, most Yoruba will tilt towards the cosmopolitan Yoruba language of Lagos while the Igbo is okay with Igbo Izugbe. This has made a lot of dialects dead! Few can speak Ilesan,Offa ,Izza, Kataf version of their dialects be it Hausa, Igbo or Yoruba. This has spelt doom for Africa. When a language dies or goes extinct, its culture,story heritage goes with it. A good case study is that of Latin, the language of the Great Roman Empire.
UNESCO, a cultural arm of the United Nations has categorized languages dying in various forms. According to the UNESCO classification system, the system demonstrates and shows how ‘in trouble’ the language is:
- Vulnerable– most children speak the language, but it may be restricted to certain domains (e.g., home)
- Definitely endangered– children no longer learn the language as a ‘mother tongue’ in the home
- Severely endangered– language is spoken by grandparents and older generations; while the parent generation may understand it, they do not speak it to children or among themselves
- Critically endangered– the youngest speakers are grandparents and older, and they speak the language partially and infrequently
- Extinct– there are no speakers left
Though, this might sound as an alarm call or doomsday prophecy, the truth still remains that; our language is dying , we might not notice this .A close observation at any social event will give one a clearer picture of what lies ahead and a lot of factors can be attributed to this.
In the southern Nigeria, a lot of native speakers of the language have difficulty having a fluent conversation in their native language without having some English words and terms embedded in it. For example, we get to hear “Kilo Happen” a lot in Lagos meaning what is happening and “Biko bia here “ meaning please come here in Igbo. A lot of this is happening amongst the major tribes of Nigeria. The minority languages have been swallowed up, heading towards North, a lot of minority tribes like Tiv, Idoma, Nupe, Jos tribes and many of them have are losing them at an alarming to either to Hausa or Arabic whereas down South,English is the norm. This worrying trend made UNESCO to set out a day known as “MOTHER TONGUE DAY” this is a day that non native speakers of most languages like English, French and Spanish set aside to speak and take pride in speaking their native/ indigenous languages apart from those imposed on them by the colonialist,in Nigeria case,English language.
According to UNESCO, International Mother Language Day (IMLD) was celebrated on February 21, 2017 under the theme “Towards Sustainable Futures through Multilingual Education”. To foster sustainable development, learners must have access to education in their mother tongue and in other languages. It is through the mastery of the first language or mother tongue that the basic skills of reading, writing and numeracy are acquired. In local languages, especially minority and indigenous, transmit cultures, values and traditional knowledge, thus playing an important role in promoting sustainable futures.
“Mother Tongue Day is a day set aside by the United Nations to mark the promotion of indigenous languages in homes, schools, churches, markets, media and the society at large. In essence, it has to begin at home,” said the President-General of the group, Kate Ezeofor.
In respect to this day, Irina Bokova, UNESCO Director-General has this to say “On the occasion of this Day, I launch an appeal for the potential of multilingual education to be acknowledged everywhere, in education and administrative systems, in cultural expressions and the media, cyberspace and trade.”
Mistaking intelligence for fluency in speaking “accentless” English
Many parents in major cities in Nigeria like Abuja, Lagos and Port Harcourt erroneously assume that, the ability to speak a flawless English depicts a higher level of intelligence. But, reports hae shown that those who doesn’t have the high proficiency in the language usage, perform better in academics, especially in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) course. It has been advised that teaching should be done and knowledge impacted using a language that is easier for pupils to grasp.
Private school syndrome
A lot of private school facilities have a way of talking down on the use of local languages in their school premises or during school hour. They give it derogatory names like vernacular and other name. Speaking English with an accent has always been scorned, especially in the high brow schools. Students are made to speak like British and think like Americans. This has made a whole lot of the graduates of these schools to speak English in a funny foreign accent with little grasp for local languages, thereby making these students laughing stock in the community.
According to Sayeh Yousefi, she opined that
“Many children lack interest in their education because they’re missing some degree of personal connection to the things they’re learning. By introducing them to their native language and perhaps even instructing them in their native language, these children find a personal connection with their learning. This connection can harness itself to a greater appreciation for one’s culture and education, and foster a positive relationship with the education system, one that may contradict the negative experiences among minority groups and the education system in the past.”
Media and celebrities
A tune at the local FM station r TV station, you will hear a lot of on air personalities (OAP) speaking in such foreign way that whenever they pronounce their native names, you end up wondering what they are saying. According to an online blogger, Thelma Thinks, she said
“It’s really not funny at all. Why do Lagos OAPs confuse having good diction with (a mix of) British and Ghanian accents? It beats me. The fakery and forming in Lagos is sometimes at an unreal level. What’s most grating is hearing someone who has a weak grasp of the English language trying to speak with a foreign accent. I’m like; dude, do you have any idea how ridiculous you sound ”
A lot of Nigerian musicians that sing in local languages and pidgin English, whenever they are being interviewed, they put up some funny accents. The kids watch these celebrities, they imitate them and copy these forms of lifestyles they depicts including language usage and manners.
Parental Inferiority Complex
It is no more news that a lot of Nigerians would love to feel, think and act British or West, it is in Nigeria that folks that that travelled to either China, Germany, Dubai and other non English speaking countries will come back and be speaking “I wanna gonna” these folks assume that it is cool t speak in such ways. Parents encourage their kids to speak English, paying extra monies for diction teachers. They flaunt these kids to visitors that will visit them at their homes. The rural folks feel out of place when they visit these homes, whenever the parents take these kids to the village, they always have a sense of “our kids have arrived” mentality.
Speaking an internationally accepted language is good, but having an in-depth knowledge of the local language gives an individual some sense of belonging, fulfilment and cultural leaning. There are social benefits of speaking many languages or been multilingual and having proficiency in indigenous languages.
“Our native language not only allows us to communicate and connect with one another, but it allows us to understand and appreciate the history of our ancestors and our upbringing. It cultivates an appreciation and understanding that is beyond beneficial for children, especially those from diverse familial backgrounds,” Sayeh Yousefi
Anthony Emeka Nwosu
“It’s really not funny at all. Why do Lagos OAPs confuse having good diction with (a mix of) British and Ghanian accents? It beats me. The fakery and forming in Lagos is sometimes at an unreal level. What’s most grating is hearing someone who has a weak grasp of the English language trying to speak with a foreign accent. I’m like; dude, do you have any idea how ridiculous you sound “