By Ugochukwu Alaribe
ABA– Participants at the 2017 World Mother Tongue Day in Aba, Abia State, have called on Igbo parents to communicate with their children and wards in their mother tongue instead of through other mediums to save the language from extinction. The International Mother Tongue’s Day holds every February 21, as declared by the United Nations.
They lamented that although most of Nigeria’s over 500 native languages were fast going extinct as parents prefer to relate with their children through English and foreign languages instead of their mother tongues, Igbo was the worst hit as it was almost extinct.
Acting Executive Director, National Institute for Nigerian Languages, NINLAN, Aba, Prof Obiajulu Emejulu, who spoke on the occasion lamented the inability of parents to teach their kids their native languages adding that the situation was of extreme importance just as he called for sustained actions to improve the situation.
Emejulu’s speech was entitled, “Towards Sustainable Future through Multi Lingual Education.” According to him, “It is estimated that every year the world loses 100 languages. Nigeria for instance, has over 500 languages. Some of them are on the brink of extinction because there are very few speakers; some of these speakers are old and their children no longer speak the language.
“Most of these languages are not documented, they don’t have orthographies, alphabets and they are dying off. The UN said that language is the most important intangible heritages in the world. God blessed humanity with languages, and language is a reservoir of knowledge and native intelligence as well as herbal remedies and other things that are useful to man and society. So, when a language dies, the society loses a lot of wealth of knowledge. This is why the UN decided that there must be a day of celebrating languages and promoting them so that they don’t die off.”
Igbo Language worst hit: Obiajulu further stressed that the Igbo language stood the greatest risk of extinction, as the native speakers have abandoned their mother tongue for foreign languages. Referring the gathering to a UNESCO publication which classified Igbo as an endangered language 10 years ago, he said, “The case of the Igbo language is one of the most pathetic in terms of language decline. The Igbo are one of the most populous linguistic groups, who run into millions of people and are indigenous to Igbo language.
“Therefore, our language should not be in trouble at all. Unfortunately UNESCO as far back as 10 years ago classified Igbo language as an endangered language and they gave a number of reasons. One is that a lot of middle class parents who are educated do not transmit the language to their children, so there is a gap. In the next 15 years, we are going to have a generation of Igbo people who do not speak Igbo language; some do not even understand it. If care is not taken and something drastic is not done, then we are going to face serious atrophy for Igbo language.
“Igbo language is spoken in the core Igbo areas and also in other parts of the world where Igbo people reside. But how much Igbo proverbs and idioms do the Igbo speak? Even for those that speak Igbo today, the one they speak is more prosaic. All the nuances of Igbo proverbs and idioms are gone.
“And you now find families in the Igbo heartlands of Aba, Umuahia, Owerri, Onitsha, and Enugu whose children cannot speak Igbo. When you talk to a child in these families, the parents will tell you they do not understand Igbo. We have nothing to lose by exposing our children to mother tongues and adding English language along the line. But we have a lot to lose when our children grow up not being able to speak Igbo fluently.
while speaking other languages.”
Lack of Igbo teachers: Traditional Ruler of Ehere Autonomous Community in Obingwa Local Government Area, Eze Young Nwangwa, said native speakers have forgotten their mother tongue and Igbo culture due to foreign influences.
Nwangwa blamed the various state governments for the increasing loss of interest in Igbo language as graduates of the language are discriminated against in employment opportunities. “In most primary and secondary schools, there are no Igbo teachers. Those who studied Igbo language do not get jobs. The emphasis is on science; that is why nobody wants to study Igbo language. Governments should do something about the situation,” he said.
Other stakeholders who spoke on the occasion called on the government to make local languages compulsory in public examinations to sustain interest in native languages. They also called for a system where teachers of native languages can be sent to areas where non speakers live to teach the language.
Dr Edmund Chukwudile, who represented Kawuriz and Manillas Publishing Company, decried the absence of government officials and town unions at the event, adding that Ndigbo should not be ashamed of their language and culture.
The event featured drama, cultural dance and naming of household and food items, numerals and Nigerian currencies in various languages such as Igbo, Yoruba, Hausa, Ibibio/Efik, Urhobo and Bwatiye as well as greetings from Mumuye group from Taraba State.