Picture this; you walk into a restaurant, actually its more than that; it is heavenly. Calling it beautiful feels like a drawback because it is more than that. You always feel underdressed even if it is just a casual outing with the girls to grab a late bite. Then add to the picture, the stunning waitresses that make you act your best around your hubby just to ensure his lingering gaze lingers only on you. A difficult feat indeed. And of course, to add to its many laurels, the restaurant never leaves you wanting, oh no, you are completely satisfied with more than a taste of heaven what it leaves you is heady…that feeling of absolute satisfaction. Very addictive indeed. But wait, I omitted one important fact, the restaurant located just where all other 5 star restaurants are located in this state speaks no other language but English. Do I hear so what? I am sure I did.

Therein lies our greatest problem, how absurd we believe it would be for such a world class restaurant to be characterized for its fluency in Yoruba, Igbo or Hausa. Kate was a beautiful girl, she had a wonderful family; her parents were the best. They ensured she got the best yet instilling the right amount of discipline into her. Kate speaks with a slight British accent, an accent she picked up during her numerous summer holidays spent in England. Kate is a 20, almost perfect in all but one, yes! You guessed right as speaking her indigenous language is an uphill task; an attempt at comedy is the best way to describe it. Kate speaks her native tongue probably as well as a baby speaks its first words.

However, Kate does not stand alone in this as recent studies have shown that about sixty percent of most Nigerian profound dialect speakers are above the age of fifty. Do not stutter in denial, just try it out by asking two or three of your young friends how well they speak their native dialect and the glaring results will make you nod in agreement. Experts have consequently raised an alarm over an emerging trend, which may lead to loss of local languages and dialect. The saddest and truest part is that most of my readers felt no need to be alarmed at my previous statement, it was probably followed by ‘so-s’ and ‘really-s’.

 

The indigenous language used to be a unifying force and a major source of identity, in doubt? Look no farther than the story of Babylon in the bible. God did not send an army to stop them, he did not have to raise more than a finger to cause chaos; all he had to do was divide them and how he did that was simple enough, scatter their languages. They spoke in one tongue, they had one identity, take that away and you have succeeded in taking away their mutual identity.  Without that identity, they see no need for cooperation, unity, and no need to work together to achieve a singular purpose. It is not surprising that our Minister of Culture and Tourism, Edem Duke has urged Nigerian youths to speak their indigenous languages as this could promote unity and patriotism. He is not alone in this as some state houses of assembly have set aside particular days in the week to conduct parliamentary activities in the dominant indigenous languages.

It is unfortunate that the society is now being driven by mechanical solidarity due to infiltration of western culture, which has polarized the society leading to loss of cultural identity with one key element, Language.  Language could be better understood as arbitrary oral symbols by which a social group interacts, communicates and self-expresses encompassing the culture, customs and secrets of the people.

Just for your digestion, you may want to know that the number of languages currently estimated and catalogued in Nigeria is 521. This number includes 510 living languages, two-second languages without native speakers and 9 extinct languages.

Hitting the streets, I sampled the opinions of a cross section of people on the matter of the depreciating usage of our indigenous language. Some were of the view that indigenous languages should be used as a means of communication in schools alongside English language while others believe westernization has eaten too deep into our system for redemption to occur.

Philip, believes that if basic indigenous languages are not treated like taboos in schools but instead encouraged, students would see the importance of improving their knowledge and know -how of theses languages. ‘I can remember my time in secondary school when my teachers made use miss lunch breaks or even scold us just cause we were caught interacting in our native tongue’, he said.

Concurring with Philip is Mr. Ola, a father of two. He says since most of what shapes the knowledge of young adults is gotten during the period they spend in school and with their peers, most stringent steps should be taken to ensure that teachers communicate with their students with the dominant language in the region and this should not be practiced only in public schools.

Amidst providing solutions, some respondents were fast in apportioning blame for the shaky usage of our indigenous languages. Parents and the global age shared part of the blames although the parents more as many believe that if parents put more effort in teaching their indigenous languages to their kids, there would be more youths speaking them now. In their defence, Mrs Osagie, a mother, said that it is common for most parents to want their children not to speak indigenous languages for fear of it affecting their ability to speak English language

Another parent had this to say, “I would want my children to speak good English, not accented English. If they speak native language, it will affect their ability to speak English, which is the Nigeria’s lingua franca. Therefore, it takes nothing out of them even if they do not understand their native language as long as they can effectively communicate in English. Also their ability to speak good English will make them rise quickly in their work places.”

My country might be what I hoped for but it is really all I have. It is what I call home, it is one place I can conveniently be myself and know without a doubt that I can always come back to. So despite its numerous faults, I do not want to lose it – just as guilty in this but no more as I have resolved to put a lot more effort into getting my tongue twisted the right way to pronounce those ancients words right and my brain working hard enough to conjure them. My resolve was strengthen partly by another report from the United Nations estimating that up to 90% of the world’s languages could die this century, with the valuable knowledge, culture and customs embedded in them gone forever.

 

 

Food for thought; could our present unstable state be linked to this problem of language after all it is impossible to appreciate something you do not understand. Flash back- the story of Babylon.

Till I return,

Bunmi 

 

Images from culture.chiamaka.com, dashinfashion.blogspot.com and UN indigenous languages Fact sheet

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