A recent research by UNESCO showed that 25 per cent of children below the age 11 years are not able to speak their parents’ indigenous language in Nigeria, and noted that if the trend continued unchecked, Nigerian languages would be on the extinction slope in two to three generations. Last week, the Head of Languages of Federal Ministry of Education, Rev Anota Ademola, said that Nigeria may lose 152 local languages that are currently hardly spoken but need some form of preservation.
Speaking in Lagos at the launch of a multimedia product created to teach indigenous languages, he pointed out that if attention was not paid to the estimated 400 languages spoken in Nigeria, many would disappear. He said local languages are not being taught to children in their homes. This was not however the first time concerns would be raised to draw attention to the threat faced by indigenous languages that may lead to their extinction.
The UNESCO said that Nigeria has about 16 endangered languages. Ten others, like Ajawa spoken in the Bauchi area, Auyokawa spoken in the area now covered by Jigawa, and Basa-Gumna, spoken in the Kainji area, are already extinct.
In February this year, Professor Chinyere Ohiri-Aniche, President of Linguistics Association of Nigeria, said that there were in fact 400 endangered Nigerian languages when she addressed a UNESCO International Mother Language Day celebration organised by the Federal Ministry of Education.
“Our greater concern however is that our languages are not being handed over to children in homes and schools”, she said.
Languages die naturally because of movement of people from one place to another. People migrate, making them to mix with other ethnic groups; they engage in inter-ethnic marriages, and the growth of highly cosmopolitan also contributes to diminish the resilience of some of the languages.
In many cases, parents and their children assume the predominant language of their surroundings to the determent of their own.
Because of the adaptability of English and its importance as a medium of communication, many parents more often than not use in speaking with their children.
Perhaps it is to combat the threat of indigenous languages going extinct that the National Policy of Education has sections that require that a child must be taught in his mother tongue in the first two years of school. The concerns being raised now indicate that this requirement is not being strictly implemented, particularly in private schools.
Though in places that three of Nigeria’s major languages of Hausa, Yoruba and Igbo are taught, there are many large ethnic groups that feel left out because none of these represents their mother tongue to them.
A language is very important; it is beyond the mere speaking of it; if it dies a lot dies with it; the history and literature and culture of an entire people are lost. And with it the people’s identity, the characteristics that make them unique as a people.
A lot therefore can be done for the survival, at least the preservation, of most of Nigeria’s indigenous languages. Foremost in this endeavour is that parents should speak their native tongue to their children. They should take some pride in doing this; the preservation of their own indigenous language is as much a challenge for them as it is for the state.
The federal and state governments can also do much in this, by encouraging the use of indigenous languages in schools and the local media, and enforcing the provisions of the National Policy on Education Community associations can also help in the production of literature materials in their languages to encourage the people to take interest in them. -DailyTrust