#IMLD 2018: A Need For Neo-Dimensional Shift Towards Native Languages

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By: Rahaman Abiola Toheeb

[Analyses]–There is an irreversible stance I always maintain whenever there is a broad discussion on our collective language attitude in Nigeria. I do tell people that of the three major languages we look up to, Hausa seems to be the only language that cannot be swayed away by the threatening presence of extinction. And if tomorrow there is a need of necessity to adopt a single national language it will definitely be Hausa language.

The position of my argument is clear. Putting ethnic identity and bias somewhere, when you take a critical look at the language preservation system in this country Hausa dons prominent regalia of grace sitting in the front aisle far away from the rest.  In terms of number of speakers and consistent practical use, Hausa always proves the big bicep of total linguistic acceptance. If you go to the north, you will be marveled at the rate of linguistic conservativeness in every Hausa man you see. From a Mai ruwa Hausa man in Sabon gari to an average northern elite at Kwari market in Kano state there is this high conviction that the language is part of his daily life—his cultural identity and pride.

The mournful reverse case in other indigenous languages is that while a Hausa professor sees no other language supersede his language, speakers of other languages are always eager to take a shameful queue behind the illusory fantasy of his language not acceptable in the gathering of the intelligentsia. A near-fetched instance is a day a Yoruba professor told me that my Yoruba was “too much for him” in the course of our discussion and I should “speak English.” Apparently, this deluge of often proudly projected inferiority complex has put a backward rod in the fulcrum of the progress of other tribes, even from the first day of our modern history.

We cannot dispute the fact BBC Hausa has been in existence for years. With a transistor radio in his arm a local Hausa man is fully kept abreast of what and what in the world. Similarly in modern media and communication the story has not changed. In what we can easily access, giant online media networks like Premium Times and Naij have a section for reports in Hausa language on their sites. In Print media, there is Amuniya–the Hausa version of Daily Trust newspaper widely read among the northerners irrespective of class.

But on the other side—while I’ve not seen a newspaper with a commendable presence in Igbo language—an attempt to have a media coverage in Yoruba through the Aláròyé Oòduà has been met with failure. Despite being a weekly paper the patronage is nothing to write home about. Recently a brother who’s a Ph.D. Fellow (Linguistics) at Tulane University was lamenting how he visited Alaroye’s website but what he saw was crestfallen. The website is down—a clear signpost that the indigenous newspaper is inching towards a complete moribund mute if care is not taken.

Taking the language attitude by statistics we need to commend our Hausa brethren for this. They demonstrate a grander quality of submission to their culture through their language, because they believe that the first step towards oblivion is encouraging other people’s language at the detriment of one’s.

I had the privilege to serve my Fatherland in Kano. As a corps member at the Kano Municipal Secretariat, Emir Palace, the learning process of Hausa came to me naturally because that was the language everybody was speaking even right from camp among the top NYSC officials who are not Hausas. Apart from the interaction progress, I quickly adapted to the monetary number value because that was what I would use at the market to bargain with a Hausa man who didn’t care about the freak called “kopa” or repertoire of idiocy in English you claim to have at your disposal.

At my workplace, the pressure was on me to quickly learn the language as fast as I could because I was interested in what they were saying about me, especially the issue of my protest against the inadequate facility and absence of drug at NYSC clinic in Karaye camp. With consistency, in a short time I’d gained some confidence in the language. I would however realize that it was a shame on me if I could know one thousand naira to be dubu-daya in a language that’s not mine while I didn’t know what it’s in my mother’s tongue. This sudden wave of self-consciousness is what ignites a linguistic burden that makes me come into conclusion that there is no way one can understand other languages without high proficiency in one’s mother tongue. And perhaps, this is the reason there is a day marked for the celebration world native language.

As the world celebrates the 2018 World Indigenous Language Day, there should be an introspection on how our languages are being handled in government ministries and institutions, schools and home. At every home especially, there should be a moral checking on how we’re encouraging our wards to bring the language to life through consistent speaking. We need to know that every language symbolizes a culture; that a language that dies signifies the end of the native speakers.

The English that we speak today, historically, is the language of native speakers called Anglos. Ancient literature like the book Beowulf told us how war invasion and conquest led to the death of languages which English was also a victim. But it got to a time–an Era of Renaissance and Moral Consciousness– the English people saw their language going into extinction. This collective consciousness to native English language welcomed a movement that saw the end Latin and Greek.

As history stands today, the impact of writers like Shakespeare who was said to have introduced more than two thousand words and Spencer who introduced over one thousand five hundred words into English cannot be overlooked in the same way we cannot forget to overemphasize great writers like Samuel Johnson, Daniel Defoe, Alexander Pope who are gave their breath in bringing a resurgence to the language we all proudly associate ourselves with at the detriment of our native languages.

If we can all direct the enthusiasm we put in English into Yorùbá, Igbo,Hausa (though Hausa is doing so well) and other indigenous languages the way the English people do, we will not only stop sending ours cultures into early grave, but also send a signal of freedom from an age long mental slavery to the imperialists who gifted us their language.

Rahaman Abiola Toheeb is a team member at ÀTẸ́LẸWỌ́, a cultural group dedicated to the promotion and advanement of the Yoruba culture and language.


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