Imagine waking up on a regular Saturday morning, stretching groggily from the previous day’s work, only to read in the newspaper delivered to you by your vendor that the last speaker of your so-called native language had passed on. Such scenario is in no way different from what Nigeria seems to be preparing for her not-so-futuristic posterity with regards to her indigenous languages.
Nigerian schools are constantly suppressing the use of indigenous languages, so much so that schools now refer to our native languages as “vernacular” and even punish students for their obduracy in speaking them. Many classroom contexts now consider the use of Nigerian languages a gross flouting of the modus operandi of the context in question. The linguistically over-eurocentric nature of many privately owned educational institutions even seems to have exacerbated the status quo such that it is not so uncommon to ask a regular Nigerian child what language s/he speaks and get the reply “My daddy says I am Igbo”, with the child scratching his temples in uncertainty.
More so, many children for quite a while now have been derailed and dissuaded from acquiring linguistic proficiency in their mother tongue and this, often times is always traced back to the home and unmitigated ignorance on the part of their guardians who give the children the impression that speaking indigenous languages marks one as a being a rustic and archaic person. This situation, agreeably is common with the last and/or penultimate issue of Nigerian families who often end up not acquiring any significant level of competence both in English and in any indigenous language–precisely the caliber of people usually referred to by the Igbos as “Éfùléèfù”, which translates “the lost ones”. We keep killing our languages in these ways, yet, lament about the deteriorating use of same by the younger generation.
Quite unfortunately, even the administrative sphere is not totally vindicated with respect to being key player in the engenderment of this inglorious trend. A number of questions must therefore be asked–What of the impact of governmental policies on the pragmatic pattern of languages in Nigeria? Why has the Nigerian language policy not been fully implemented to accord due prestige and value to indigenous languages and to obliterate the level of contempt and debasement frequently dealt on indigenous languages by its speakers? Why has the government championed “linguistic unitarianism” in governmental and administrative business as well as many other key sectors of the country only to give credence to the idealness of adopting indigenous languages in canvassing for votes? Does this mean that it fully recognizes the importance and paramountcy of native languages in the engenderment of national oneness but is only skeptical as regards the worthwhileness of their development and funding or that it nurtures doubts as regards the practicability of same?
Consequently, the level of neglect being dealt on indigenous languages has become so conspicuous even to the blind. A few months ago, the renowned writer and veteran novelist, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, lamented as regards the fact that many Igbo people in the city of Lagos are ashamed of speaking their native language but many dismissed her claims as being illogical and unfounded when the very axiom as regards same stares us in the face.
Another instance was in 2016, when the linguistic association of Nigeria (LAN) lamented that 50 languages in Nigeria would go into extinction in no distant time if stringent steps are not taken to avert the situation. Well, none was taken. All we end up hearing is that strategies to forestall the menace are being thought up. Similarly, around the second half of the year 2006, the United Nations marked Igbo language among the world languages projected to go into extinction in 50 years from that time. As expected, many dismissed the idea and construed it as a baseless ruse. Is it then a co-incidence now that many Igbo people see the use of their own native tongue as being professionally and educationally disadvantageous or that many Igbo parents no longer speak Igbo language to their children? If a language is not being acquired by the younger generation, is it growing or on its path to extinction? Even among the seemingly unendangered languages are some whose purism are being contorted by English, yet, there are no obvious steps being taken to save the situation.
The importance of speaking one’s native language is something that can never be over-reiterated.
Our native tongue is a reasonto live. It is our very own identity and a means by which we are made known to the world. Language and culture are two national attributes that are frequently found in synergy such that the death of a language also implies the death of a culture and the identity and prominence of its speakers. Language is a symbol of national identity and any meaningfully developing or developed country should have an indigenous language as its official code but in the case of Nigeria, we no more speak of an indigenous official code but revamping the use of the very indigenous languages for which we are supposed to be known.
Are we supposed to sit arms akimbo and watch mouth agape while the havoc-wrecking “fly” of language extinction hovers around our noses when there are uncomplicated steps that can be taken to ameliorate the pathetic trend? Are we going to maintain our frivolous disposition, keep refuting overtly glaring facts regarding the looming death of our languages or actively seek ways of salvaging the situation? Even at that, saving our linguistic assets is not just a solo task with which the government is saddled. All hands must hence be on deck if it is to be ensured that our wealth of languages is not lost to antiquity right under our watch.
Parents, the home have a primary role to play in this respect. They should understand and make it known to their wards that speaking a native language does not in any way deter them or their wards from acquiring laudable level of competence in English and other highly-priced European languages neither does it, in any way, deprive them access to professional opportunities that await them out there. The future of our native languages lies with the younger generation. It should hence be ensured that our languages are being spoken to the children at home.
The school is yet another social force to whose whims and caprices the children are relatively subject. They are to desist from choking our languages with their crude strategies but should rather adopt strategic measures to help students discern between their native tongues and English which is today one of the basic goals of formal education.
Ultimately, the government is not left out. It, in fact, has a major role to play in this respect by virtue of policy making and implementation. Teaching our languages across educational institutions in the country should be encouraged and enforced. Our seemingly moribund language policy should be revamped and measures should be taken to see to it that it remains not just a policy on paper but becomes a reality. With these measures in place, Nigerians would once again come to hold indigenous languages in high esteem and, who knows, perhaps in the nearest future, an indigenous official code might inadvertently present itself.
Stephen C. Kenechukwu is a linguist, a writer, an editor, a media enthusiast with keen interest in Public Relation and empowerment. He loves writing to educate, and unravel unwholesome trends in the public sphere. He is also interested in volunteering and is open to mentorship. He can be reached on +2347012312285 or StephenCharlesKenechukwu@gmail.com.