THS year’s International Mother Language Day, which fell on Sunday, February 21. 2016, served as a reminder that many Nigerian languages and dialects are among the hundreds of mother tongues on the verge of extinction.
The grave concern over the rapidly shrinking wealth of local languages and dialects in the world prompted the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) to dedicate a special day for their preservation. In fact, UNESCO has factored the use of indigenous mother languages into the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The idea is to ensure the use of local languages in the teaching of children to enable them gain a solid grounding in vernacular before embracing the orthodox lanugages of instruction at higher levels.
UNESCO’s Director General, Irina Bukova, emphasises that mother languages “are essential components of quality education which is, itself the foundation for empowering women and men and their soceities”.
Languages go extinct when they fall out of use and there are few people alive who can speak them. This takes place when the act of transferring these languages from one generation to another weakens or no longer takes place because the people have turned to the use of a foreign or non-native language.
The modern phenomena of migration, urbanisation, westernisation and globalisation have wreaked great havoc on local languages, dialects and values in Nigeria. Few young people in urban areas, especially those of minority cultures, can speak their local languages and dialects.
Even the three majority languages – Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba – are getting endangered to varying degrees. This is especially true for the Igbo language and dialects, maybe because of the excessive migratory patterns of Igbo speaking people.
Parents are very fond of communicating with their children in English but when discussing among themselves they do so in their local dialects, thus unwittingly shutting their children away from imbibing their natural, mother tongue. This is bad.
We must, as a nation, wake up to the dangers of losing our local languages and dialects. Every great nation on earth socialises the populace to communicate effectively in their local languages. They do not speak English or French In China, Russia or any part of the Arab world. They speak their local languages. South Africa now has nine official languages, and most South Africans speak more than one of these languages. It is a product of deliberate government policy.
The Federal Government must lead in the struggle to save our languages, dialects and values from total loss. We should teach kindergarten and junior primary children in local languages of their choice or locality. We should encourage Nigerians to speak their languages and dialects and learn to speak other Nigerian languages.
This will further our integration and strengthen our national identity.