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Our local languages are on verge of extinction

When Africa was shared like a birthday cake at the famous Berlin conference between 1884-1885 by the colonial invaders, their blueprints then were to warp…

When Africa was shared like a birthday cake at the famous Berlin conference between 1884-1885 by the colonial invaders, their blueprints then were to warp and shape Africans the way they wished. Not only that, but also to rob them of their rich beautiful cultures and properties and replace it with their own virulent alienation. They want Africans to follow their footprints and have tested their intellectualism and reasoning faculties after years of spying and exploring the continent pretending to be missionaries and traders.

Before we know it, Africans were subdued and subjected deceptively. Until the time African elites and intellectualists wage war against them leading to neo-colonialism and imperialism we termed independence by ourselves. The worst legacy they could ever leave is their languages but unknowingly, we considered it as the best property having helped understanding one another especially, people whose languages are different.

Now, as a linguist, I want to let you know why colonial masters’ languages are harmful to our own unique ones. But here, I will direct you to go and read David Crystal’s book titled: “Language Death”. He discusses a lot in the book. Language also dies like man, the moment you advertently or inadvertently not speak it again, you kill it. Scholars are of the opinion that we have three types of language death. They are; sudden death, gradual death and total death. But the case of indeginous languages in Nigeria can be termed gradual death while total deaths have occurred in some African countries due to the fact that those people who understand the language have died too.  Sudden death can only happen when the whole people speaking a particular language are massacred, especially in a war. 

The only agents who help to embrace local languages are mostly people in rural areas.If not for these people; indigenous languages would have been dusted away so that nobody will remember them again.

It is quite ridiculous that in some schools, especially private ones, the management will instruct students not to speak their local languages. Even teachers are warned to desist from speaking the language to the pupils/students. There is a particular trite they referred to as: “Don’t speak vernacular” in the school rules and regulations. They are trying to tell the tender minds that speaking their local languages is a ‘big sin’ that attracts a fine or lashes in some schools. And parents on the other hand also set the foreign language in motion at home to make their naive children believe that speaking English or French is the best.

Behaviourists like B.F Skinner are of the opinion that children learn language through reinforcement and habit formation. That is how children acquire language when they hear somebody speak to them. Parents do not help the matter at all and this creates a big hurdle for such a child to communicate in his/her local language in the near future. Such a thing takes a retardant process to resolve even with dedication.

This is due to the fact that, most African and Asian countries adopted the languages of their respective colonial masters as their “lingual Franca” in  their language policies and allot those languages a sensitive function. That is why people make it compulsory for themselves to acquire the languages. The problem of losing the local languages for foreign ones arises in a multilingual society like Nigeria where English Language is given priority over local languages. The sensitive functions given English Language here are part of what is making the local languages cry for help.

 Virtually, everybody in Nigeria has the temperament to codemix during informal sessions when they are pleased to speak their indigenous languages while some cannot even speak just a modicum of it again. So, that is the effect. In a particular webinar anchored by the prominent and prolific Kenyan writer; Ngugi wa’ thiong’o lamented on  Africans using foreign languages to the detriment of their own vernacular and described such as  part of the trap set for Africans by the Westerners.

 The recent viral video on social media of Tiago Ishola, a young Portuguese boy ranting Yoruba language, fluently at least, challenges some people who do not see anything good in their own culture. The likes of Barrister Femi Falana (SAN) are part of the people prompting Nigerians to value their local languages.

However, despite the fact that Nigerians are the best promoter of English Language, Britain does not recognise Nigeria as a “Majority English Speaking Country” (MESC). That’s why they make it compulsory for any Nigerian wishing to study in their place to sit for the international English Language testing system (IELTS) exam. This was revealed when the UK home office was replying to a policy sharpers’ petition of people on its official Twitter handle. They doubt whether 50% of Nigerians speak the English Language where there is glaring evidence that more than half of the population speak the language. When it comes to hybridisation and blending of English words, Nigerians are the best. I think the UK deserves a lawsuit from Nigerians because they don’t know that Nigerians are dying of speaking their language and leaving their own innate language.

Jimoh Abdullahi writes from Oyo State

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