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Published On: Fri, Aug 22nd, 2014

Are Nigeria’s indigenous languages going extinct?

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Question NigeriaLinguists have raised alarm over an emerging trend which might lead to loss of local languages and dialects, if urgent measures are not taken to check it; Jude Melea Moses in this write up examines the issue.

Language is a unique identity to every ethnic group not only in Nigeria but the world at large, the Oxford Advance Learners’ Dictionary defined language as a system of communication in speech and writing that is used by a people of a particular country or area, making languages the most important aspect to the existence of all humans.

Since communication is important, inevitable and necessary, these languages enable us to express inner thoughts and emotions, make sense of complex and abstract thoughts, to interact and communicate with others, to meet our wants and needs, and also for administrative purposes that is, through these languages, we establish rules and regulations to maintain our unique cultures.

Appreciating and learning to speak other languages to your L1 which is also called the mother tongue is the worst sin one can ever commit. God created these languages to aid effective interaction of humans and to ensure administrative conveniences and indigenous development within a group.

Nigeria in the 21th century, is not only battling with political and economic problems but of ultimate importance is the gradual extinction of some of our unique indigenous languages. Nigeria with more than 250 ethnic groups is gradually being faced with such. Prior to the colonial era, our different cultures were so unique and interesting that they did not only encourage development but unity and love for individuals.

In this modern era, how many youths can speak their indigenous languages fluently? That’s even if they can really identify them! The passion for English Language today, is that gun that is killing our distinctive indigenous languages in Nigeria.

Some scholars pose that with the trend of which this passion for the English language is moving, extinction of some of our indigenous languages is nothing but paper throw. It is obvious that the real picture of this is already being felt in the cities, our homes, schools, recreational areas, markets etc. if you don’t relate in the English language, you are seen as an illiterate or a villager. Just like most mothers (the pillars) of the family, will like to speak no language but the English language to their kids, so also do the youth who rather think that the English language is the king of all other indigenous languages. It is a pity seeing people shy away from speaking their indigenous languages and seeing the English language as the latest trend (culture)

This has really gone a long way in influencing our mode of dressing, the way we talk, the way we eat, the way we behave and even in the way we sleep! The danger here is that the society is growing crops of Nigerians without indigenous roots, who are like tents pitched on the sand so that when the western wind blows, they will easily desolve into what is popularly called westernization.

Worthy of note, is the fact that the Indigenous language extinction is more paramount in the northern Nigeria, could that be the reason why most people from the south or west will classify all northerners as Hausa speaking? However, how many Nigerians can identify these languages? For instance, the Ajawa is an extinct Afro-Asiatic language formerly spoken in Bauchi State, Nigeria. Ajawa became extinct between 1920 and 1940 as speakers switched to Hausa, Kubi (also known as Kuba, Kubawa). Members of the ethnic group now speak Hausa. In the same vain Basa-Gumna is an extinct Kainji language of Nigeria.

It was spoken in Chanchaga, Niger state, and Nasarawa, near the Basa homeland. Speakers have shifted to Hausa, Teshenawa is an extinct Afro-Asiatic language formerly spoken in Jigawa State, Nigeria, among others.

The Igbo language is also battling for survival. Scholars have said the Igbo Language may not last 50 years because most of the Igbos have acculturated the English language into the Igbo language said a lecturer of the Department of Mass Communication University of Maiduguri, Dr. Joseph Wilson, leaving little room for pure indigenous Igbo language. A simple example is high-life music which is difficult to stand on its own without mixing some part of English to it. Every indigenous language in Nigeria is a victim of such.

Now that the damage has been done and it is spreading like wild fire, should more time be wasted on who takes the highest chunk of the blame on our dying indigenous languages while the English language continues to satisfy its purpose?

Indigenous Nigerian languages may have received wide range of support from the US in particular. One such support is from Wycliffe — a US-based organisation — established since 1942 to translate the Bible into every language spoken in the world. Giant strides have been made by the organisation as it has completed 700 translations but the question is how many of our youths can read the Bible in their indigenous languages that is, if the translation covers ones indigenous language. You can’t read and comprehend a language you don’t understand.

The very solution to these problems lie in the hands of our parents and the youth, more interest should be shown in learning and teaching of our indigenous languages, we should not see our indigenous languages as inferior to the English language; even if we think the English language is important, we should not treat it like a god because that is not where we belong; it should be seen as second to our indigenous languages.

The government may have done their best to encourage the learning of some indigenous languages, but more needs to be done by them; they should introduce strict policies to encourage the learning and teaching of this indigenous languages in schools and ensure that students participate in it fully; African communication system should be encouraged to help what some scholars call cultural and media imperialism into developing nations like Nigeria or we will continue to be slaves to westernization.

Movies, books, audio programmes should be encouraged in various indigenous languages as it will encourage participatory learning from the people.

A project which is overseen by Google and other language-oriented partners, states the obvious. According to the project, “7,000 languages are at the risk of disappearing in the next 100 years, dozens of Nigerian languages listed on the site are classified as vulnerable, (any language spoken by less than 20,000 speakers); threatened, (a language spoken by less than 10,000 speakers); endangered, (any language spoken by less than 5,000 speakers); and severely endangered, (a language spoken by less than 1,000 speakers).

The problem is clear but the solution is difficult to swallow coupled with the so-called westernization syndrome – the only way Nigeria can achieve original development is to accept our differences and build on our indigenous cultural systems – perhaps the Chinese got it right on this. Hence your little contribution can go a long way in saving your helplessly dying indigenous language!

Jude Melea Moses is a 300 level student of the Department Mass Communication University of Maiduguri, Borno state


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