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The recent alarm by the Culture and Tourism minister, Chief Kayode Olatokunbo that some Nigerian languages are fading away because they are no longer being spoken by their people, has added to the growing fear that the nation is under the threat of cultural extinction.
One of the indicators of Nigeria¢s uniqueness is the multiplicity of the languages spoken by its people. Nigeria is reputed to have over 450 languages and dialects, but it is an embodiment of its culture. Noting that a people¢s culture is its identity, the loss of a language is symptomatic of the loss of the very culture of a people.
To lose a language is tantamount to the loss of not only cultural identity but also cultural heritage.
Over the years, Nigerians have been experiencing gradual, often ignored cultural imperialism which has seen the massive erosion of our traditional values and precepts. No doubt, the effect of the West on our society is strong, especially among the younger generation. In terms of dress codes and patterns, Nigerian youths have largely embraced the West at the expense of our traditional outfits, yet it is worse that even our languages will be lost too.
Unconsciously, the seed for the mortification of the languages were sown early in the day. Pupils, especially in the rural settings were forbidden from speaking their local languages--derogatorily branded as vernacular while in the class rooms. Ability to speak the Queen¢s English thus became a social status-indicator.
It is even worse in the urban areas, where the major means of communication is the English Language. Those who are able to speak their mother tongues, do so with multiple code-switching. Indeed, even some parents have become so used to speaking the English language that they can barely converse in their local languages. Consequently, the language their children pick up first is the English Language or the pidgin version of it as the case may be.
As at today, several Nigerian children, especially in urban centres are only able to speak the English Language. What that means is that with a generation of Nigerians barely able to speak their mother tongue, such languages face strong threat of generational transfer. This is the basis of the alarm raised by the Culture and Tourism minister.
It is in an attempt to sustain and deepen the speaking of the languages that the nation¢s education policy has stipulated that students must be exposed to at least one major Nigerian language at the junior and secondary school examinations.
But not only is the number of languages so chosen most unrepresentative of the array, it is even more ironic that in some cases, teachers even use English as a medium of teaching the local languages.
Former minister of Education, Prof Babatunde Fafunwa, had launched a campaign for instructions to be delivered in local languages. But it was a campaign that could not fly, essentially because of the shallow and restricted orthography of most Nigerian languages.
Indeed, if the local languages will be preserved, parents must begin to bring up their children speaking the local languages. Domestic communication should be done in the mother tongues, while the English Langauge is reserved as the language of business and officialdom. This will deepen the acquisition and promotion of the local languages.
Curriculum developers must also begin to broaden research into developing the languages of even smaller ethnic groups with a view to making them study-friendly, since they are far more prone to quicker extinction. The media must also deliberately design programmes that can encourage local language culture.
All said, Nigerian languages must not be allowed to die. We all have a key role in preserving this important aspect of our cultural heritage.
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