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Mother tongue: go, going...

Posted by JOHN NWOKOCHA on 2005/12/04 | Views: 484 |

Mother tongue: go, going...


The fear of our mother tongues being extinct is real as western influences, a product of neo-colonialism holds strong grip on the local cultures.

The fear of our mother tongues being extinct is real as western influences, a product of neo-colonialism holds strong grip on the local cultures.

PIUS Adejoh said he had observed with some pains the rate at which our mother tongues are being eroded. He maintains “I can assure you that a good number of Nigerians especially those in the urban areas, and most especially those born in the 30, 20 years ago, down the line cannot boast of communicating in their mother tongues.”
In point of fact, Adejoh, who teaches sociology at the University of Lagos is re-echoing the position of a non-governmental organisation (NGO) based in Nigeria, inclined to protect the native tongues or languages. In a recent report by the group, the native tongue is being pushed to the back seat whereas, the English Language and pidgin have become the dominant languages. Although foreign, both English and pidgin have assumed superior status as they are being used in official interactions that is, doing government businesses.

These include official discussions in government circles anywhere in the country. But if anybody is still in doubt about the over-bearing influence of these foreign languages, the mother tongue advocate NGO insists that its report is real, being the outcome of a painstaking research conducted around the country over a period not less than one year.
The real issue is that the native tongue is vanishing with alarming speed. However, this is commonplace in the urban areas. The reason for this is not far-fetched. The urban areas attract people from different ethnic backgrounds, who are most likely unable to understand one another’s language. In circumstances like this, the English Language or pidgin becomes a common denominator and in no time their native tongues are subsumed.

Also the urban areas offer appeals to all classes of people in the society. Other than those who have acquired western education that trooped the urban areas in search of white-collar jobs, the peasants, artisans, traders and even those visiting the urban areas for the first time, from their rural areas co-exist. Of course, in their daily interactions foreign languages are adopted as medium of communication. Such interactions which could be safely described as between strange bed-fellows occur at the market place, office place and social gathering.

Foreign languages

At these places, it is usually a cross cultural interactions, sometimes between persons meeting themselves for the first time. But worrisome is the use of foreign languages especially the English Language as medium of interaction among people of the same ethnicity.
Rather than speak their native language among themselves at any point they are meeting, they would speak the English or pidgin. It’s a different issue if this is done unconsciously. Unarguably some Nigerian families in their various homes speak the English or pidgin, with little or no attention at all to their native languages. It is, in point of fact, a way of life for these ones. But it is a paradox to arrive at a conclusion that the adoption of foreign languages is a habit being cultivated by the elite. Or what may be called the upper class. The truth is that virtually everybody is a culprit in this matter.
The other day at a hospital/clinic located at Ikotun, in Ejigbo local development council, a non high profile area of Lagos, parents presumably of average background were observed interacting in English language with their children, majority of whom are toddlers.

Right in the children ward, some children on admission with their mothers, obviously to look after them spoke the English language throughout their stay, with no effort by their mothers to speak their native language to these kids. On the contrary, the only effort made by these women was to correct their kids who spoke their mother tongues. It was indeed funny that among these women few who are not fluent in English language literally forced themselves to be part of it. They spoke to their kids in English language even though not quite sound. But with this the native tongue is vanishing with alacrity.
There is no doubt that many people are still in doubt about this trend. However, the pertinent question for the doubting Thomases is: which language do you speak to your children? Or let’s couch it this way: in what medium do you communicate at home with people of your own ethnic origin?

As observed by the university teacher, this is a fundamental issue. He described the emerging trend as: grave erosion of the mother tongues. It’s a thing of pride among the young generation to say that they can’t speak the mother tongue. Even parents who understand the mother tongue don’t take time to raise their children in these languages”. He was quick to explain however, that cross cultural marriages is promoting foreign languages at the expense of native ones.
Adejoh notes: this is an era of cross cultural marriages, inter-group marriages, this is understandable why children could not communicate in their mother tongues.” He added that the cosmopolitan nature of most urban areas is responsible for backstage that the native tongue has taken. Unfortunately, this limits our expression of who we are.

This conclusion is drawn from the premise that “in terms of our ability to communicate our inability and inner beliefs it is not everything that you can speak in your mother tongue has English equivalent and because you don’t speak your mother tongue these things are lost entirely” he argues. Furthermore, the vanishing mother tongue limits our interpretation of social realities.
He insists, “if a child does not understand his mother’s tongue, he’s definitely going to have a crisis of identity.” To buttress this position he said, “I know of friends who longed to belong to their people, but because they’ve language problem they constantly avoid them.” Dr. Hope Eghagha, an author, who is also a lecturer at the English department of University of Lagos, does not agree less on the identity crisis implication of erosion of mother tongue. He agrees also that there’s a threat posed to the indigenous languages. Reason: “because of the overwhelming presence of international culture. There is a sense in which this can be linked to developmental problem. It’s the problem of under-development.”

He continues: “Once your language is threatened it’s because you don’t have economic power. When you have economic power you will tend to have political ascendency then your language is of importance in the national scheme of things. Whereas we can say this about the minorities, we can’t say that about the Igbos, Hausas and the Yorubas because these are dominant ethnic group in Nigeria. Language is viewed as a tool of domination.” Comparatively, he holds that “our local languages are under threat of extinction, since the world has become a global community and we really don’t need our language to emphasise our local languages, to defend our identity.”

According to him unless this trend is arrested “we will be swallowed up and we’ll not have a definition of ourselves.” As if to blame the elite group for this craze he cited some examples: “in the Niger Delta the elite speak not only the English but also Pidgin, they see it as a tool to reach out beyond their immediate geographical environment, they also see it as a way belonging which is the reason, those who went to school are crazy about bringing up their children in queens English.”
Both analysts agreed that this is a big problem. Adejoh maintains “that it is a serious problem that requires serious attention.” However, he argues that problem transcends languages. He points out that western influences have eroded the African cultures. These were carefully listed as: dress code, respect for old people, mannerism.

As a way out of the problem, Eghagha challenges the National Assembly members to raise motions in their local languages while an interpreter would explain this in English language. For Adejoh, the first step towards arresting the trend is to re-orientate Nigerians on the importance of mother tongues and cultural values.
“Any society that’s prepared to preserve the past must start now, cut down western influences. But it will take a responsible leadership to achieve this,” he said. At the level of individuals, the question is: what language do you speak outside official businesses?



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Fay(Katy, Texas, US)says...

Actually translates to bravehearted.