Speaking ones indigenous language is important to pass oral traditions, heritage and diversity through generations. So, why exactly are Nigerians shying away from their mother tongue?
It is estimated that over 400 languages are spoken in Nigeria with major languages Hausa, Igbo, Yoruba, Fulfulde, Kanuri and Ibibio.
Language is the key to the heart of the people and if we lose that key, we lose the very essence of the people. Sadly, it seems this generation of young Nigerians are well on their way to losing their command of traditional languages. It is quite common to see young Nigerians who cannot have a simple conversation in their mother tongue.
It may be the overbearing influence of Western culture that has caused us to lose our mother tongue. When the globally understood language is English, is it any wonder that some can't be bothered to learn Fulfide or Igbo language? Whilst we can put some of it down to upbringing, raising children in the diaspora, for some, they simply do not care about preserving their precious language. Our indigenous speakers are dwindling by the day. Persecution, lack of preservation, technology and globalisation are to blame for Nigeria's dwindling language diversity.
Some have argued that since society is not static, people should accept dynamism in culture and language, to embrace change and fraternize easily for the purpose of speedy development. If we should give credence to this argument, it then implies that in the future, small ethnic groups will lose their cultural identities and languages and become lost tribes, relegated to the history books.
Nigeria’s linguistic future is far from rosy. To give you a clearer picture of the current situation, over 27 languages have been listed as close to extinction by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESSCO) while Igbo is currently an endangered language.
Even though some languages are currently being taught as a subject and used as the medium of education in many schools, the main challenge is getting people to actually use the language! Many people ask 'Why should I speak my language if my friend probably doesn’t speak it back to me?' or 'Why should I speak it if it is not cool to do so?'
There are certain factors that cause people to have a negative attitude toward their language. Some of these factors include:
Government Policy on Language
When the government of a country formulates a language policy which recognises one language as the official language of that nation, the given language will attract favourable attitudes from the people. This kind of policy favours one language against the other.
Lack of parental guidance
Parents don’t speak their mother tongue to their children anymore. In fact, some children are banned from speaking their indigenous language in public. How can such a child learn the language if they are not encouraged do so by their own family?
Native speakers are tagged as uncivilised
Many people have a belief that speaking one's mother tongue deems you uncivilised, local and violent. In other to join the bandwagon and be accepted, they ditch Efik for English. This is all in the name of being civilized.
"I believe it has to do with how a person speaks the language conducts himself. I for one don't know how to speak Yoruba but when I hear people speaking it the mannerisms will either make me like the language or drive me away.
I personally feel Yoruba is a violent language. Most people speak it as if they are going to fight.
Spanish is a hot language, French is a sexy language, Yoruba sounds violent, Igbo sounds shady, Hausa sounds sweet." - says Carol.
Fear of persecution
Native speakers are scared of being judged to be 'razz' and loud which makes you think since when did we equate speaking one's mother tongue to being uncouth? How do people form a positive attitude toward a foreign language and negative attitude toward their language? It just shows value placed on such traditions are nonexistent.
The way forward
Nigerian linguists should work hand in hand to preserve languages through the use of modern technology. This can include recordings and mobile phone applications, which may have particular appeal to the younger generation.
Rather than being made to feel ashamed to speak a minority language, fun learning such as summer camps should be introduced to promote fluency in what was once many of these children’s true mother tongue. These types of efforts continue to grow successfully through some of the Western world.
Parents should also be encouraged to share their cultures and traditions with their kids and not shy away from relating to them in their languages as the best way to learn is by being immersed in the culture of the desired language, being able to practice it and hear it constantly.
The lessons learned in the classroom and camps can be put into practice which makes learning the language a necessity to interacting successfully with others.
In conclusion, for Nigerian indigenous languages to make a truly sustained recovery, it will have to be through our current and future generations’ display of dedication and tenacity.
There is much to be gained from the amazing and unique features of a language that continue to fascinate and inspire researchers and linguists from around the world, and still much more to be uncovered about our history.
The real mission is not how it continues to survive today, but how it will grow and thrive well into the future.