Nigerian Languages Must Not Die

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Before me on my table as I write this article is a letter
from a school in Enugu State, stating that for my nephew who intends to
continue his seminary training  in the
state to be admitted into the Senior Seminary, he must have credit in Igbo
language.

The letter further states that despite the boy’s brilliant
results from a junior seminary in Rivers State, he must sit for an external
examination in Igbo language, and excel, before he can be qualified to continue
his training for the priesthood.

The poor boy has been sad and devastated since he got the
information. He seems confused as to what next to do since he did not study
Igbo or any Nigerian language both in primary and secondary schools.

He sees the seminary’s insistence on credit in Igbo language
as unfair and a setback in his ambition of being a priest. I however, consider
the decision as laudable.

I see it as a measure that will promote the study of
Nigeria’s indigenous languages which is fast going into extinction.

At an event recently, the President of the Institute of
Project Managers of Nigeria, Dr Victoria Okoronkwo, raised alarm over what she
called an emerging trend, which might lead to loss of local languages and
dialects, if urgent measures were not taken to check it.

Okoronkwo disclosed that studies showned that 60% of most
Nigerian profound dialect speakers are above 50. Quoting a United Nations
report, she said the percentage of children that speak local dialects is
thinning down. “This may result in loss of our identity, our culture, our moral
values and heritage. Hence, preserving our dialects is an important national
challenge that requires our urgent and collective responsibility”.

Similarly, other experts had revealed that most Nigerian
indigenous languages would be extinct in the next three decades, while about 90
per cent of them were projected to be replaced by dominant languages.

Observations show that many people no longer speak their
dialects. Many parents, especially the educated ones, do not communicate with
their children in their dialect and really don’t care if their children speak
their language or not. All they want is for their children to speak English and
other foreign languages. Parents of different ethnic groups most times also
decide to speak a neutral language especially to their children,  thereby denying them  the identities of their parents.

Beyond this, is the worrisome attitude of some people making
a person who speaks his or her language feel inferior. A young woman recently
narrated to me how her friends who are all of the same ethnic group with her,
mock her whenever she speaks her native language in their midst. For being
proud of her language they nicknamed her, “bushmo” indicating that she is a
primitive, local girl.

Language is defined as arbitrary oral symbols by which a
social group interacts, communicates and self, expressed. It enshrines the
culture, customs and secrets of the people. So, instead of looking down on
people who speak their language, and making them feel their language is
something to be ashamed of, we should try to instill pride in them and emulate
them.

The truth is that English and other foreign languages we
promote can never be our language. No matter how proficient you are in English
and speak it with the English accent, you are not an English man or woman. You
remain a Nigerian. Many of us spend thousands of naira to hire English and
French teachers for our children, (which is not bad), how much do we spend to
teach them their native languages which is their identity?

Countries like China, India, Brazil, and Japan have used
their indigenous languages to excel, why can’t Nigeria do the same?

A professor of Yoruba, Oluyemisi Adebowale of the Department
of Linguistics and languages, Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba-Akoko, Ondo
State, at a public lecture recently said that for Nigeria to be relevant in the
globalised world, it must emphasie the rejuvenation and sustenance of its
indigenous languages.

The Federal Government’s National Policy on Culture
emphasises the need for conscious and concerted efforts by all levels of
government to promote the teaching of our languages and inclusion of the same
in the school curricular. This policy if fully implemented, will no doubt see
to the revival and promotion of indigenous languages in Nigeria. Schools,
particularly private schools, should be thoroughly monitored to see that they
implement the policy as many of them are very good at promoting foreign
languages, cultures and ideas at  the
expense of our own.

Universities and other higher institutions should tow the
line of the Enugu State Seminary and obtaining of the credit in a Nigerian
language a prerequisite for admission into the institutions. National dialect
essay competitions should be organized regularly to promote the use of our
dialects in the best grammatical way possible . This will ensure sustenance and
preservation of the dialects.

A few days ago, the National Institute for Cultural
Orientation (NICO) commenced a one-month intensive indigenous language
programme in Hausa, Yoruba, Igbo, Efik, Fulfulde, Gbagyi, Izon, Nupe and Tiv.

According to the Executive Secretary of the Institute, Dr
Barclays Ayakoroma, the programme tagged, “Nigerian Indigenous Language
Programme”, was initiated by the institute in response to the disheartening
state of indigenous languages in Nigeria. This move is most commendable and
should be imitated by other relevant government agencies.

We all have to promote and preserve our indigenous languages
as that is our identity and pride. Until we start speaking our languages,
particularly the small dialects, we may not be able to make an impact.

 

Calista Ezeaku