Opinion: The slow death of Nigeria’s endangered languages

Many linguists predict that at least half of the world’s 6,000 or so languages will be dead or dying by the year 2050. Languages are becoming extinct at twice the rate of endangered mammals and four times the rate of endangered birds. If this trend continues, the world of the future could be dominated by a dozen or fewer languages. Of course, not many people really know that a language can “die” in the first place.

Our language is one of the most essential part of our culture and cultural heritage, whats the basis of us as a people if not for our unique language? Hence, if we lose the art of speaking this beautiful language correctly or fluently then we have let go an integral part of our cultural values.

When the British people colonized Nigeria and thought us the English Language, whether we liked it or not. And today, English is our lingua franca, as a matter of fact, if you fail English Language as a subject, you cant get in to the higher institutions. We were slammed with all manners of punishment for speaking our native language in school as it was termed ‘vernacular’.

This can be likened to the case of Mexicans, who their indigenous language has gone with the wind and left with spanish, which their colonial master left for them.

Now, we cant say the same for Minority languages in Nigeria, Currently Nigeria has about 16 endangered languages and 10 extinct languages that can be accounted for. In 2014, Prof. Chinyere Ohiri-Aniche, the President of Linguistic Association of Nigeria (LAN) said more than 400 Nigerian indigenous languages are endangered.

Using Ebira Language as a study case, its not yet endangered but however it is not also free from extinction. How many Ebirans out there can boost of being able to speak atleast two sentences in Ebira without codeswitching with an English word or any other language for that matter.

André Breton, surrealist writer and poet, who spent some time in the United States during World War II. He is said to have refused to speak and write English because he didn’t want his native-language to be affected by it! This goes to show you how europeans value their languages whether they are from the minority or not.

Languages can die gradually, which is probably the most natural way for it to happen, but many times there are outside influences involving the struggles of a minority community against the majority society in which they live. The death of a language can start in the home, or it can start in some area as high up as the government or aristocracy. Probably the most common cause of language death is when a community that previously only spoke one language starts to speak another one.

We are supposed to be that generation who will pass on the pure form of the language to the next generation and yet most of us cant even speak it or speak it correctly.

In our various societies, campuses and work places alike today; there are so many Ebirans who we have no idea they are Ebira, mostly because they barely or almost never speak Ebira for reasons best known to them, they rather start dressing and speaking like a ‘malo chik’ especially those who school in the north, as a matter of fact, they even learn hausa and speak it fluently within few years and yet they refuse to speak their own language. This is cultural inferiority, which most minority ethnic groups suffers from.

There is this Ebira girl in my faculty, i knew her from home (okene) which means she knows how to speak Ebira but each time i see her and talk to her in school, she always reply me in English no matter how long i speak Ebira but then again this is as a result of inferiority. She probably believes there’s more respect to thought of as Hausa girl than Ebira girl.

Another troubling scenario is parents speaking and teaching their children English language before they even start going to school. A child who is going to spend almost his entire life learning and speaking English? Why cant the parents use this little time to teach their children our native languages..

Researches show that on the average, 25 per cent of children below 11 years are unable to speak their parent’s indigenous language. If this trend is not checked, then Nigerian languages will be in extinction in two to three generations, that is in 50 to 75 years time.

The definition of a healthy language is one that acquires new speakers. No matter how many adults use the language, if it isn’t passed to the next generation, its fate is already sealed. Although a language may continue to exist for a long time as a second or ceremonial language, it is moribund as soon as children stop learning it.

This is something you’ll never see the Hausa, Igbo or Yoruba man doing, because they have cultural dignity and self-pride. Yoruba and other languages has infiltrated most part of adulterated Ebira language, even to the point of our culture. You see Ebira wedding these days, couples wearing an igbo or yoruba attire. This is just to show you how inferior we make ourself look.

Sometime ago, there was a call for our Traditional Masquerade to be eradicated, though my faith does not permit such ‘paganism’ but still, i do not wish for it to be scrapped. It is one part our culture which is yet to be adulterated with alienated cultures, and if we let that go too we might be left with nothing.

All these are indications telling us that a generation might come who wont even be able to speak Ebira language at all, just as how Latin has become a dead language. I know the first time I ever heard to a language being referred to as “dead” was when I was in secondary school. I asked someone what it meant, for a language to be dead, and they told me it meant that no one speaks it anymore.

It is then paramount for us to be proud of our Language and cultural heritage, teach them to our young ones, if possible it should also be included in the school curricula and also if we do not desist from such inferiority as a people we may find cultural cringe and language extinction unavoidable in the future.

With the recovering or revitalization of a language comes the recovering and revitalization of a culture and heritage, so it’s wonderful that people are trying to do something to stop or at least slow the death of our endangered language.

Op–ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija

Opinion article written by Isa Eneye Mubarak, who can be reached via [email protected] abd tweets @IsaMubi3

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