Saving Our Local Languages

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During an event at a pri
vate school in Lagos last week, the proprietress of the school, Mrs Tokunbo Johnson, reportedly  warned that Nigeria was in danger of losing its identify if cultural values are not instilled in the children.
She advised that indigenous languages and traditions should not be sacrificed for foreign cultures and admonished that in as much as it is good to teach children how to speak good English language, parents should equally teach them their local languages and cultures as these are the heritage they would pass unto next generations.
Indeed, there is no better way of drawing peoples’ attention to the need to promote indigenous languages in Nigeria which are fast going into extinction than this. Experts have 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.
Language is a very powerful instrument of preserving and developing the people’s tangible and intangible heritage. That explains why the United Nations set aside February 21, every year as International Mother Language Day? The UN encourages all moves to promote the dissemination of mother tongues as that will serve not only to encourage linguistic diversity and multi language education, but also help to develop further awareness of linguistic and cultural traditions throughout the world and inspire solidarity based on understanding, tolerance and dialogue.
Incidentally, observations show that many Nigerians no longer speak their dialects. Many parents, especially the educated ones, do not communicate with their children in their dialects and really don’t care if their children speak their language or not. Meanwhile they do everything possible to ensure that their children are fluent in English and other foreign languages. Parents of different ethnic groups most times decide to speak a neutral language especially to their children, thereby denying them the identities of their parents. Time was when parents residing in urban areas took their children to their villages during holidays for them to learn their languages and cultures. Today, that can hardly be achieved as most people in the villages now communicate in English language or Pidgin English.
Beyond this is the worrisome attitude of some people who make a person that speaks his or her language feel inferior. A young woman recently narrated how her friends who are of the same ethnic group with her, mocked her whenever she spoke their 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 is 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 best English accent, 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 Nigerians do same?
A professor of Yoruba, Oluyemisis Adebowale of the Department of Linguistics and Languages, Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba-Akoko, Ondo State, at a recent public lecture said that for Nigeria to be relevant in the globalised world, it must emphasis the rejuvenation and sustenance of its indigenous languages.
The Federal Government’s National Policy on Culture emphasizes 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 curriculum. This policy if fully implemented, will no doubt see to the revival and promotion of indigenous  languages in Nigerian 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 in the country should tow the line of seminaries in Enugu State which demand a credit in a Nigerian language as a prerequisite for admission into the institution. National dialect essay competitions should be organised regularly to promote the use of our dialects in the best grammatical way possible. This will ensure sustenance and preservation of the dialects.
We all have to promote and preserve our indigenous languages as that is our identity and pride. Until we start speaking our local languages, particularly the small dialects, we may not be able to make an impact.

 

Calista Ezeaku