Great Benin Bronze

EDE N'ERHENA VBE EDO

RAPID DECLINE OF THE MOTHER TONGUE IN AFRICA

By TEMPLE CHIMA UBOCHI

One of the most significant aspects of any culture is

language. This is a combination of sounds and gestures

in the facilitation of communication and tells who we

are and where we come from. It is a very unique tool

for identification and marks a tidy reflection of the

multi cultural dimension which different civilizations

have passed through.

Sometimes, one may correctly tell another's descent

from his accent even when he is not speaking in his

mother tongue because his phonetic habits

inadvertently spill into his use of that language.

This highlights the outstanding pedestal which

language occupies in our culture. It is our heritage

and a mark of our existence. We therefore must do

everything we can to make sure that it is eternally

preserved for we would be showing gross irreverence to

our forebears and offering a great disservice to

generations yet unborn if we failed to do so.

Important as it is however, it faces the danger of

extinction in many parts of Africa. Some may argue

that this will never come to pass but that is only

looking at it from a very myopic perspective. Anyone

who has cared to give some serious thought to the

trend of events concerning the use of the mother

tongue in African communities will agree that the

situation today has woefully degenerated as compared

with the last fifty years. It is not enough to argue

that there would always be a few people capable of

speaking a dialect at any given point. I shudder to

think of an African community that communicated in a

foreign language on account of an extinct mother

tongue.

In most African homes where both parents hail from

different ethnic groups, the common language spoken is

a foreign one. Here the children ought to be taught to

speak both tongues which should in fact be an

advantage but they rarely ever learn any. As the years

go by, it gets more difficult as they receive further

education in a foreign language. If at the point of

starting their own families they get married to their

like or to those who though understand their language

come from elsewhere, the situation becomes even more

complex. Their offspring will follow the same

sequence. A supposedly marvellous thing whose strength

ought to be embellished in our way of life is slowly

being reduced to a threat.

It will not happen in ten years. Maybe not even fifty.

But in another hundred years some tongues may become

extinct in Africa. It is easy for someone to whisper

somewhere that in that time, none of us would be here

to witness it but let us remember that those before us

sustained it and that was why we met it. We owe it a

duty to our forebears to preserve a good thing we met

from birth otherwise our selfish ingratitude may even

consume us before our time.

This is not what western civilization taught. Much as

it tried to impinge, it still taught us to uphold the

tenets of our culture. For example, while the killing

of babies in multiple births and such other fetish

practices as sacrificing human blood for deities were

abolished; our artefacts, seasons, languages and herbs

were upheld. A school of thought has tried to blame it

on western civilization but I disagree. This is the

collective result of our ineptitude and lack of social

consciousness. The blame is entirely ours and we must

accept our guilt.

I am an African living in Canada. When I say hello to

Canadians on the street, they reply respectfully with

a friendly hello and even a smile sometimes. I have

never been shunned by any Canadian I greeted on the

street. That is because they have been taught to

preserve their culture which among other things

preaches mutual respect. But what happens when I say

hello to fellow Africans on the street? Many a time,

they size me up first. Ostensibly to find out whether

I belong to the same social stratum or whether I am a

parasite. The women want to be sure that I don't

intend it as a yardstick to get familiar. Some would

only reply if they were comfortable with my physical

appearance. Many times they would not bother.

Reflecting on this with some people revealed that I am

not alone. But our culture equally preaches respect.

It is also not a secret that some of us are ashamed of

our ancestry. Such people, when in the company of

Canadians, pretend not to notice you because they feel

they will receive some higher rating in the eyes of

Canadians when they pretend not to be who they are.

How awfully wrong and ignorant these small minds are.

Some would travel home and refuse to speak in their

mother tongue. They must show off their new status of

having been to. If they spoke in their mother tongue,

they would neither be able to display a borrowed

tongue, accent nor gesture.

It is not only Africans in the Diaspora who are

guilty. This is a typical fundamental African problem

and the ones in the Diaspora who exhibit it are merely

displaying an attitude they developed from home. The

way one returning from abroad will behave is exactly

how the one arriving a rural setting from an urban one

within Africa will also behave. Another consequence of

our inability to preserve our mother tongue is this

spiritless life we lead where there is no true bonding

because we do not appreciate one another. If we cannot

respect our language, it will be impossible to forge

mutual respect and cohesion among ourselves. A future

consequence will be the loss of our heritage and in

effect our dignity as a people.

This thus calls for concerted effort. I agree that

some tenets of our culture should be confined to the

history books but language is not one of them. I also

agree that people do have a right to their own

choices. But the option of consuming our mother tongue

will be selfish, ungrateful, bitter, unfortunate and

expensive. We must all come together to save the

situation. I implore that going forward; children are

taught at least one traditional African language. Let

those who can speak make it a point of duty to teach

others while those who cannot, make it a point of duty

to learn. A head start in this manner will go a long

way in changing the tide to our favour.

One thing to cheer about though; Africans hardly ever

show disrespect by speaking in their traditional

language while in the company of anyone who does not

understand that language. This conduct is exemplary

and highly commendable. But I wish they'd transmit

that respect to one another.

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