Nigerian Languages, The New Bride

Stories 9/04/2013 by Akaafele

written by Olugboyega Adebanjo,

quoted from the original article, as published by The Guardian Nigeria, Feb 21st 2013, © of the original author Olugboyega Adebanjo

FEBRUARY 21, the International Mother Language Day, provided an opportunity to take a critical look at our languages as Nigerians. Because of the second fiddle nature Nigerian languages have assumed in our own society, it is pertinent to ask: Who is Killing Nigerian languages — foreigners or the language owners?

Incidentally, Nigerian languages have enjoyed a wide range of support from the Occident, the U.S in particular. One such support is from Wycliffe, a US-based organisation — established since 1942 to translate the Bible into every language spoken in the world. Giant strides have been made by the organisation as it has completed 700 translations. Currently, it supports languages spoken in 90 countries, including Nigeria. In keeping with its vision, Wycliffe has deployed human, financial, special-designed software and other resources to build orthographies for hitherto non-written languages, educate native speakers to read and write their languages, build glossaries in these languages while preserving the histories and cultures of language owners, etc. Unknown minority languages spoken by 10,000 and 1,000,000 speakers now have written documents, thus preventing the languages from extinction.

Pertaining to Nigeria, some ongoing and finished bible translations, which are due to the effort of the Wycliffe teams and native speakers of the languages include: Ezaa, Ikwo and Izii languages of the Abakaliki cluster (spoken in Ebonyi State: Abakaliki, Ezza, Ohaozara, and Ishielu LGAs); Benue State: Okpokwu LGA), Alago (a first language spoken in Nassarawa State: Awe and Lafia LGAs), Dadiya (a first language spoken in Gombe State: Balanga LGA; Taraba State: Karim Lamido LGA and Adamawa state: Numan LGA, Huba (a first language spoken in Adamawa state: Hong, Maiha, Gombi, and Mubi LGAs), Hyam (a first language spoken in Kaduna: Kachia and Jema’s LGAs), Ichen or Etkywan (a first language spoken in Taraba State: Takum, Sardauna, Bali, and part of Wukari LGAs).

Other languages are Irigwe (a first language spoken in Plateau state: Bassa and Barakin Ladi LGAs; Kaduna state: Saminaka LGA), Jenjo or Dza (a first language spoken in Taraba state: Karim Lamido LGA, and Adamawa state: some areas in Numan LGA); Lokaa (a first language spoken in Cross River State – Obubra LGA); Maya or Bali (a first language spoken in Adamawa State — some areas in Numan LGA); Mbula or Mbula-bwazza (a first language spoken in Adamawa — Numan, Guyuk, Song, Demsa LGAs); Ninzo (a first language spoken in Kaduna State — Jema’a LGA; Nassarawa State — Akwanga LGA.); Tera (a first language spoken in Gombe State — Yamaltu-Deba LGA and Borno state – Kwayakusar LGA); Tula (a first language spoken in Gombe state, Kaltungo LGA), and Tyap (a first language spoken in Kaduna state — Kachia, Saminaka, and Jema’a LGAs). Through this effort, these native languages, histories, and cultures are thereby given the much-needed identities and distinctions.

United States Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs is another occidental organization that has shown the immense value of (Nigerian) languages and cultures as export commodities through an initiative known as Foreign Language Teaching Assistant (FLTA). Through this initiative, on a yearly basis, Hausa and Yoruba native speakers with English, Language Arts or combined honours background (or undergraduates in any of the disciplines) are recruited as teaching assistants to teach their languages and cultures to American students in U.S universities and colleges. I challenge anyone to tell me what else we can teach Americans but our languages. Indeed, it is doubtful if Nigerians (even as undergraduates) can be recruited to teach Americans in any human endeavour other than our languages. This shows the export commodity power of these languages — Hausa and Yoruba — if only we see them as such. If there are no Nigerian manufactured goods to be exported, and there are no Nigerian innovations to sell to the world, our languages and cultures can be our economic exchange with the Occident and Orient.

Dr. Uwe Seibert of the Department of Languages and Linguistics, University of Jos, in his work Nigerian Languages Listed according to States reports that Holma (a language spoken in north of Sorau of Adamawa State); Bete and Fali of Baissa (languages spoken in Takun LGA and Falinga Pleateau region of Taraba State) are dying out. Lere, Shau and Ziriya (languages spoken in Toro LGA of Bauchi State) and Sheni (a language spoken in Saminaka LGA) are near extinction. Ajawa, Gamo-Ningi, Kubi and Mawa (languages once spoken in Bauchi state) and Jigwa state’s Auyokawa and Teshenawa are now extinct. This would be on a geometric progression as postulated by the Endangered Languages Project.

The joint project, which is overseen by Google and other language-oriented partners projects that “7,000 languages are at risk of disappearing in the next 100 years.” To avert the further loss of a people and their world, history and cultural heritage, their understanding and testimonial of the world and the loss of scientific, botanical and medical knowledge – the direct consequences of language extinction – Endangered Languages Project puts up a website with a list of threatened, near extinction and endangered languages. These include Nigerian languages for native speakers and language savers cum preservers to submit samples of written texts, audio and video files of conversations in these languages to the site as a way of preserving their letters, syllables, words, vocabularies and sentences.

Dozens of Nigerian languages listed on the site are classified as vulnerable (any language spoken by less than 20,000 speakers), threatened (a language spoken by less than 10,000 speakers), endangered (any language spoken by less than 5,000 speakers) and severely endangered (a language spoken by less than 1,000 speakers). Some of these languages include Dulbu (a language spoken in southeast of Bauchi LGA of Bauchi State); Hasha (a language spoken in Akwanga LGA of Nassarawa state); Kami (a language spoken in Lapai LGA of Niger state); Kulung (a language spoken in Karim Lamido and Wukari LGAs of Taraba state); Labir (a language spoken in Bauchi and Alkaleri LGAs of Bauchi state); Mak (a language spoken in Karim Lamido LGA of Taraba state); and Shiki (a language spoken in Bauchi LGA of Bauchi state). Dulbu is severely endangered as it had just 100 native speakers as at 1993. Hasha, as at 1999 had 3,000 speakers, but the number of native speakers is currently put at 400. Kami had just 5,000 speakers as at 1992. Kulung and Labir had 15,000 and 13,000 native speakers worldwide as at 1973 and 2006 respectively. Mak is being spoken by 5,690, and Shiki by 1,000 native speakers. The onus is on the linguistic world, linguistic-inclined individuals and native speakers of the languages to take advantage of the window of opportunity offered by endangeredlanguages.com to save minority Nigerian languages from the danger of extinction.

Whereas a Nigerian language with just 100 speakers caught the attention of the world — and the world is seeking its survival — authorities in Nigeria through the Federal Ministry of Education have made Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba optional subjects for senior secondary school students. If we juxtapose this policy with the aforementioned support and contribution of the Occident to the development of Nigerian languages, it is best termed as anti-language, anti-people, anti-culture, anti-race, anti-history, anti-wisdom, and Anti-God.

A glimpse into the world of two of these languages would enlighten government authorities on their international value. Today, Hausa is the language used to reach West Africans in the international media on British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) since March 13, 1957; just as on Radio France Internationale, China Radio International, Voice of Russia, Voice of America, Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) and Deutsche Welle, Germany. Live commentary of premiership is aired in Hausa on BBC. About a year ago, as reported on Voice of America, Jimmy Wales, the co-founder of Wikipedia, said Yoruba is the most popular African language on the site with 29,000 pages, followed by Swahili — a dominant language in East Africa — with 23,000 pages.

The least we can do as a nation is to support the new bride status our languages are enjoying in the international arena through adequate learning and teaching all through primary and secondary schools as a necessary foundation for those who will study any of the humanity courses in higher institutions, and more importantly, to prepare them for the international space. It is only wise for government to eat humble pie and reverse its decision on our languages.

It is only in Nigeria that languages are written with outright neglect for their tones and special characters. The loose remark of some government officials that writing Nigerian languages with their tones and special characters impede free-flow reading and understanding is laughable. If this is true, it shows we are miles apart from the reality of our languages. And that is why the three Nigerian languages taught in secondary school at the moment should be made compulsory all through so as to ensure that every Nigerian can read and write one of them. Nonetheless, the remark is a statement of an ignoramus because pronunciations, meanings and understandings are hinged on these inherent features – tones and special characters – of the languages. And if we are Africans and Nigerians, these inherent features are inherent in us.

It is sad that there is hardly any advertiser in Nigeria that takes cognizance of these inherent features, especially in print, when advertising to Nigerians. They (the advertisers) are quick to say the inherent features are not compatible with computer. It is a reality of the dark ages – but not in this century. I have heard of parents who forbid their children from speaking their mother tongues, but restrict them to English. Unfortunately, the inherent features of African language in us (Africans and Nigerians) would not make us pronounce a single word of English with stress.

Nigerians speak in tongues, but not our ‘mother tongues’. They have just one taboo — their languages. They seek knowledge but in another man’s tongue. While they are bread-full, their languages are starving. They are living but with dead languages. They are teachers of another man’s language but brutish and foolish about theirs. They have lost culture and seem to be without history because their languages are secondary. Their languages are a burden to them. Their languages are the languages of the old and ageing. They are alien to their languages. They will dot the i’s and cross the t’s of another man’s language, but are lackadaisical about theirs.

The death of a language is not only the loss of a generation, but a world. All human souls lost since creation cannot equate the loss of a language because it takes a language to tell the story of their death. Nelson Mandela, in my opinion the wisest man in Africa, once said, “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.” Nigerians, speak the language of the heart!

On the International Mother Language Day, more than a bird’s eye view on the number of Nigerian languages might be an interesting thing way to educate Nigerians on their number of languages. In Dr. Uwe Seibert’s work, the total number of Nigerian languages spoken as first languages is 646. Some of these languages, majority of which are minority languages, are enumerated by states as follows:  Abia (Igbo); Adamawa: Bacama/Bata (Bwatiye), Bura-Pabir, Fulfulde, Huba (Kilba), Longuda, Mumuye Samba Daka etc. Anambra: Igala, Igbo and Aduge. Akwa Ibom: Anaang, Ibibio, Ebughu, Efai, Enwang, Ika, Itu mbon uzo, etc. Bauchi: Bole, Bada, Ciwogai, Daza, Fulfulde, Hausa, Geruma, etc. Bayelsa: Biseni, Ekpeye, Ijo, Izon, Kugbo, etc. Benue: Agatu, Basa, Idoma, Igede, Kukele, Tiv, etc. Borno: Afade, Arabic, Dera, Gude, Kanuri, Marghi, Shuwa, etc. Cross River: Abanyom, Bokyi, Doko-Uyanga, Efik Ejagham, Igede, Leyigha, Yala, etc. Delta State: Eruwa, Igbo, Igala, Isekiri, Izon, Urhobo, etc. Ebonyi: Izi-ezaa-ikwo-mgbo, Kukele, Legbo etc. Edo: Ebira, Edo, Esan, Ghotuo, Okpamheri, Yekhee, etc.

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