By Jesupemi Are On 26 July 2020.
It’s no news that we currently face a language problem. Nigerian languages seem to be fading into the sunset with each generation. We are quick to blame this on parents not speaking their local dialect to their children. No one can really fault the children, but what about the people who can actually speak their Nigerian dialect but at some point in their lives decided to stop?
English as we know it a vital means of communication here in Nigeria but so are our Nigerian languages.
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Here are some reasons for this language decline in Nigeria:
People Think It Makes Them More Civilized
Nigerians have come to idolize the entire idea of looking elite and classy and it appears that in Nigeria, speaking only English language a criterium for achieving that. You can easily find a Nigerian who is proud to say they are fluent in English and French than to say they are fluent in English and a Nigerian language. Also, it is not difficult to find people who refuse to speak their dialect even when being spoken to in that dialect, not because they cannot, but because it makes them feel more superior.
This begs the questions: When did speaking only English as a Nigerian became so tied to being civilized? Why should speaking your mother tongue make you “local”?
I have seen some Nigerians say “oh, I can’t speak my language” with a look of pride on their faces. When did that become something to be proud of?
If you speak all the English in the world, and still litter, pee by the roadside or jump queues, I hate to break it to you, but you still have a long way to go to attain your “civilization” status. The whole idea of civilization relies greatly on behaviour than language. In fact, language has nothing to do with it! With more than five hundred languages spoken in Nigeria, it is understandable that the English language becomes a default means of communication amongst Nigerians but it does not have to be the only language used for communication. You are Nigerian after all.
Glorification Of All Things Foreign
From clothes to films and even food, many Nigerians would prefer foreign things than to buy Nigerian. This has also automatically translated to our choice of language for communication. Arguably, a major factor that has affected the use of Nigerian languages is that a lot of us believe that English (which is foreign) is better than our Nigerian languages. I was once asked by a friend why my parents never gave me an English name and decided to ask my parents about it. My father replied saying, “we are not English people”. I didn’t think about it at the time but it does make a lot of sense.
Now, there is nothing wrong with giving a child an English name, but this just goes to prove that Nigerians love things western. A good number of Nigerians would rather go by their English name than their tribal name, even if the former is their first name. This is sad. This mentality needs to change.
People who refuse to speak their Nigerian dialects ultimately end up becoming parents who raise their kids without the knowledge of their Nigerian language.
Language is first, a means of communication and doesn’t determine how civilized and literate a person is. Countries like Korea and China are perfect examples of this. It is extremely possible to be a highly educated person and be fluent in your Nigerian language. In fact, being able to master more than one language is a sign of intelligence. There are currently over twenty languages extinct in Nigeria and I fear that with time, this number might come to a quick rise. We have to understand that embracing all that makes us Nigerian; our culture, attire and of course our many languages, is a good thing and do not make us less than the rest of the world. As much as the English language is a big part of our lives, we also need to hold on tight to our Nigerian languages, for the sake of generations yet to come.