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Mother tongue
File photo of a traditional play.

By Ganiu Abisoye Bamgbose(Ph.D.), in commemoration of Mother Tongue Day

English has become the language of the home among many Nigerians. It is even a taboo in some homes to speak an indigenous language. In the end, we have hybrids who neither speak their indigenous languages with pride nor speak the borrowed language with finesse. This results in a situation where we negotiate the much revered English through the linguistic peculiarities of the indigenous languages we do not cherish.

For instance, daddy says, “Junior, go and finish your assignment now now.” And Junior replies, “Daddy, I want to be doing it small small, so that I will not make mistakes.” Our dear Yoruba and Ibo fathers would rather translate their “nisinsiyin” and “kitakita,” respectively, into English, than make their children speak their native languages. In marked contrast, English people do not lay emphasis by repeating words, as it obtains in Nigerian languages.

With that in mind, the father should have said, “Junior, go and finish your assignment right away/immediately.” In furtherance of this, Junior could have replied thus: “Daddy, I want to do it in bits/gradually, so that I will not make mistakes.”

What is more, the Nigerian man wants Junior to “make haste while the sun shines,” whereas the English “make hay while the sun shines.” Notably, too, Junior is advised to “buckle up” so that he can “scale through” his exam, but the English buckle down so they could sail through in their exam. Daddy complains that Junior is “indisciplined,” whereas one can only be undisciplined in English or suffer from indiscipline.

…of stationaries, still yet and second rounds

Well, according to daddy, he buys all the “stationaries” that Junior needs; “still yet” he does not work hard. Comparatively, an Englishman will say that he buys all the stationery (an uncount noun that shouldn’t be pluralised) that Junior needs; yet/still (yet or still; not “still yet”) he does not work hard. English people talk to their children several times, but the Nigerian dad has talked to Junior “severally,” when severally has no connection to the number of times an action or event happened.

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Mother tongue: We can be bilinguals yet fluent

In other intriguing narratives, Junior’s dad complains that he gets “second round” every time he eats, whereas you can only get seconds in English. Dad thinks Junior is “a talkative,” but one can only be “talkative” or “a talkative person” in English.

On the one hand, stubborn Junior uses slang or slangy expressions always. His dad, on the other hand, would always say his young boy uses “slangs” (another uncount noun which does not attract the plural marker “s”). Always, the innocent father laments: “Jokes apart,” I am tired. “Funny enough,” Junior used to be a good boy. Well, someone should tell Papa Junior that he ought to say: Joking apart, I am tired. Funnily enough, Junior used to be a good boy.

In conclusion, could these linguistic confusions be the rationale for Junior’s obstinacy? Maybe the young man needs to master his mother tongue and his culture first, so that he does not perpetually murder the Queen’s language. We can be bilinguals yet fluent. As such, do not make your native languages go into extinction, while simultaneously murdering a foreign tongue.

Dr. Ganiu Abisoye Bamgbose (Dr. GAB) is a lecturer in the Department of Mass Media and Writing, Pan-Atlantic University, Lagos.


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