Preservation Of The Tiv Language: A Prospective Approach

Culture, Stories, Tradition 11/10/2023 by Agishi Lubem

  1. Language is no doubt one of nature’s finest, amazing, surreal and unique gifts to man. It absolutely expresses man’s supremacy over all the other creatures of nature. Language enhances man’s ability to distinguish pseudo-knowledge from authentic knowledge. Only man has been endowed with the ability to use language to communicate and is duly understood. Language is a unique system or means by which ideas that are mentally formulated are expressed with the sole aim of exposing an idea, a concept or a piece of information. Language is identity. It indicates a particular people who have a peculiar local dialect in which their cultural values are taught and learnt.
  2. In Nigeria of West Africa there are sundry tribes, each known to have a local dialect which is often times referred to as ‘mother tongue’. The mother (though in feminine possessive) has nothing to do with sexuality. It is the language spoken by locals within that particular environment. However, when there is a mixed marriage (that is two parents coming from different ethnic groups), the child who is a product of this marriage, has a high propensity of learning both languages; his father’s and mother’s simultaneously. The child in this way, will be able to understand and interpret better, anything that is outside his mother tongue. We must not forget that, it is only when you are able to dissect what is said, that you are able to comprehend it better. And your local dialect does that for you.
  3. After colonization, we took to adopting the English language as our official language. This was aimed at unifying the multitude of ethnicities within the Nigerian society; to be able to communicate in a single language that all Nigerians would be able to understand. But how can we become so use to that official language that even if it is on issues centring on our local communities, that we still employ it? This has grown from bad to worse and as a matter of fact, is gradually leading to the extinction of many local dialects in Nigeria, as parents who are supposed first educators in linguistics, are misleading the newly born children by communicating to them primarily in English language, and as such, making them to have a lack in both speaking and writing in their local dialects. The situation of the Tiv Central of Nigeria is humiliating; and if nothing is done to arrest the situation, the Tiv language will collapse before the end of 2040.
  4. The Tiv people are undoubtedly the fourth largest ethnic group in Nigeria, with their majority found in Benue State which accommodates also, the Idomas and the Igedes. It also houses the Etulos and the Nyifons. Nassarawa and Taraba States also house a good number of them. The deliberate negligence of the usage of their local dialect is alarming, as majority of Tiv youths can only speak fluently and write excellently in English language, but cannot read, write or speak fluently in their local dialect. What a shame! Chief to blame are parents who seldom speak to their children in the local dialect. They prefer communicating with them in English language. This however, has a gross implication on the children as they are not fully able to conveniently interpret ideas and concepts properly.
  5. Research however has proven that, before any idea is formulated, it is first and best expressed in the local dialect. The initiator, using his proficiency in his local language, is able to gather all that he has been collecting mentally; the bits and pieces force themselves on him and he is at the first stage, able to analyse them best in his local dialect, then with this great aid, is then fit to pen them (ideas) down in a language that even those outside his environment will read and grasp. If this however is certified true as the result has posited, those whose parents have not taken time to educate them in the local dialect, have cheated them grievously.
  6. I was in a conversation with a very good friend of mine; we all are from the Tiv speaking ethnic group and as such it was not out of place, I thought, that we should communicate using our dialect. But each time I spoke in Tiv, she would respond in English. I gathered throughout our conversation that, she was avoiding to speak to me in Tiv language, even when I spoke in Tiv, she would respond in English. It became very important that I asked her to respond in Tiv language any question I asked in the language. She was honest. She was straightforward. She told me she barely could speak Tiv language, but that she was  making efforts to learn at work where most of her colleagues are from the same speaking group with her. At home, she avowed that, there was none to communicate with her in the local dialect. That she was brought up with her parents instructing her only in English language. This is awfully bad. If we continue like this, will the Tiv language live to see another century? 
  7. The cultural heritage of every ethnic group is preserved  best by language. Language indeed is a powerful tool for culture. For those of you who had had the opportunity to travel outside the Tiv society will testify that, if any cultural ceremony is taking place, for instance in an Igbo environment, you should not be expecting to hear them speak in English language. You would sure be disappointed, because nobody will do that. This is to exhibit how these people have valued their culture and are poised on sustaining it. Why is ours different? Is it that we are more learned? The duty(ies) of parents is enormous. They are the first educators, moralists, instructors and disciplinarians that the child first encounters. Their brain (children) is blank like a tabula rasa, it is what you teach them that gets stuck in that innocent brains of theirs. Because language is an integral tool for human development, parents irrespective of their academic attainments, should not demean local dialect, but learn to communicate with their newly born babies in that language that is primary; that in the future, will aid them to better analyse concepts or ideas in other languages. For linguistics have rightly aver that, a child’s brain is capable of learning and speaking three languages at a time. So parents, should learn to communicate  to their children and wards in Tiv language; guide them to read and write in the local dialect. Parents as a matter of fact, are largely to be blamed because some of them can not even write or speak fluently in Tiv language. So how can they teach what they don’t know?
  8. The schools on the other hand are doing more harm to local dialects. They kill it hastily. They are damaging the preservation of local languages. They prevent the usage of local dialects within its environs and outline punitive measures on any student found speaking in any dialect. But come to think of this, isn’t the school an institution of learning? Why can’t the schools even introduce the study of local languages in their curriculum, to enhance active participation of students in class? Why are schools so mean and harsh to students, who are zealous for a language that is theirs? Some of these teachers punishing for usage of local dialects are even parents, and there is no doubt they speak only in English language to their kids while at home. It is no doubt that, in other parts of the country, the local language is studied even at the highest level of education; this simply is because, the locals themselves possess an unbiased disposition to learn and study. But in the Tiv society, it is different; the local dialect is hated so much so that even parents find it disgusting to communicate with their children using it. They think to speak it portrays them as illiterates. This practice is peculiar to parents in urban settlements who think that communicating with their children in their local dialect will make them less educated. This is absolutely wrong. The local dialect is a primary language that influences intellectual proficiency in kids. Teachers should have known this better, as they perform a dual role of parenting and teaching to the kids.
  9. It is true that a man is measured by the quality of his friends. The sort of people one mingles with, to some extent reflects who he is. It is disheartening that, wherever you find Tiv youths gathered, their principal language of communication would be English. This to some extent is because, they can’t express themselves aptly in Tiv language. At times, it is to show how fluent and proficient they are in English language, using big grammars that yields to nothing.
  10. But in that same gathering when one is trying to be traditional, reflecting where he is coming from by employing the local dialect, such a person is often taunted as ‘local’ and at times such a person is seem as one who cannot speak fluently in English language. But the question is whether this English language you are fond of, is your mother  tongue? This attitude is humiliating and otiose, and because most youths want to be define by situations surrounding them, they feared to be termed ‘local’ and as such are consumed and lost in the crowd, who really can’t fathom why they can not speak their local dialects. We succumb to speaking in an alien language so much so that, we barely can relate with the least of sentences in our local dialect. With this going on, it is sad to prophesy here that, the Tiv language will diminish in a very short possible time, because when the aged pass on to rest eternally, the custodians (youths) of the Tiv heritage will shamefully have no iota of knowledge about what the heritage holds. How can you give something you don’t have? It is high time we are schooled so as to rejuvenate our local dialect and make it an official language when dealing with things that are peculiar to us. Let us have a secret. Let us only be the ones to possess such knowledge, because it is ours and ours alone. But when it is revealed in that alien language, our weakness(es) will be known, and we will for sure, be vulnerable.
  11. There is no guilt in communicating a secret to your own in your dialect not minding the class of visitors you are entertaining. You owe nobody any apology. They do it too when they are holding such ceremonies, so they possibly would not be angry. Since it is nothing of public knowledge, the local dialect should be used. Our traditional institution needs to be mindful of this. The only way we can preserve not only the Tiv language but her culture also, is to take to communicating to us in our own local dialect. Speak to us in Tiv proverbs so that the youths who might be hearing such a proverb for the first time would be seeking a deeper knowledge of it. The usage of Kwagh-hir and the folklores of Kwagh-alom depicts the richness in the cultural heritage of the Tiv people. These possess wisdom hidden that can only be revealed by a deeper reflection. It is sad to say that, our traditional rulers make little or no use of Tiv proverbs these days in their speeches. They are all Western oriented. They speak with such eloquence that in the ears of the old, it is gibberish. Parents in their spree return home to be so tired that they have no time to teach their children Kwagh-alom and the message that is embedded in that story for their moral edification. The festivals that were held for the exposition of Tiv aesthetical values- Kwagh-hir, no longer hold again. Why are we declining? What do we have to show to the next generation? The traditional stool of the Tiv nation needs to reawaken the spirit of culturalism in the Tiv people if truly, there is an intention for the continuity of the Tiv race.
  12. On the other hand, our religious leaders too are aiding in the destruction of Tiv language. They stand in churches during functions that are organized for the Tiv people, and communicate in English. This is wrong as the majority of the audience are people who are less skilled in the English language. An experience stunned me. I was opportune to attend a function in one of the churches in the Eastern part of the country. The pastor being in the know that the service he was conducting that day was quite different from the usual ones, because of the visitors from other ethnic groups who saturated the church and who had travelled virtually from every part of the country for that occasion, spoke entirely in Igbo language. As a matter of fact, from the beginning to the end, the whole occasion was conducted in Igbo language. This marvelled me. I wondered how a people can be so very traditional even in this so-called ‘golden age’, meticulously adhering to traditional norms and as such preserving their cultural heritage. This, in no small measure, stunned me greatly and made me think of home and how we have completely lost the value of Tiv language. How all is different here. Even with our grandfathers and mothers in attendance, we still speak in English language.  How on earth do you want them to grasp what you are saying? Do you intend someone to interpret what you are saying to them? Do you think what you said will aptly be conveyed to them in that local dialect? God! Here again, I’m confronted with this problem of apt interpretation without losing the meaning.
  13. During my undergraduate days in the university as a philosophy student, I fell in love with African Philosophy. Though great a philosophy Africans have, the primary problem it has faced till today, is that of language. Can an African Philosophy be communicated in an authentic language? Can my Tiv philosophies be read and understood by an Ethiopian philosopher? If one attempts to dredge it, will he conveniently be able to translate all in English language so as to be read by all? And if a phrase is interpreted in error for want of exactness in meaning to the language used for translation, would it still be meaningful? And if we are still using the language of the West to communicate our philosophies for general acceptance, can we really be saying to be communicating in an African language? I’m just drawing these instances to prove that, it is not all that is said in an alien language that can aptly be interpreted; and once a major part is not correctly interpreted, then the whole meaning is lost. So, why must you seek an interpreter when you know that you can communicate and all will understand you? Again, how can you have your grandfathers and grandmothers in an occasion and turn to speak in a language that they will be looking for someone to say to them what you said? What you are saying, is it not intended for their digestion? How the Tiv language has lost its value.
  14. Conclusively, it will suffice to posit here that, we all are watching this debacle happen, and if we can not work to revitalize our local dialect now, we all will be indicted for the complete lost of the importance of Tiv language. For if we team up together on the preservation of our language, it will not be insurmountable for us to reclaim its worth. So, for the preservation of Tiv language to be efficacious, parents must learn to teach and educate their children on how to speak, read and write in Tiv language. If the parents themselves have no good idea of the language, they should employ the services of those who have. They should be conscious of this and make a great deal out of it. The study of Tiv language should seriously be emphasized in all spheres of learning, and punitive measures drawn out by schools to victimize those speaking local dialects during school hours should be lifted up, so that students will mentally stabilize themselves to freely formulate and birth ideas. Youths, as future custodians of Tiv heritage, should cease in glorying in their abilities to speak big grammars in that alien language called English, but should learn to develop their abilities so as to speak in Tiv language, metaphorically.
  15. It is an appeal that our traditional stool should take to the usage of our local dialect to communicating with us. The Tiv language should be the one and only  language employed during traditional and cultural ceremonies. Usage of Tiv proverbs should be a unique, systematic means of communicating to us, as this will cause the thoughtful youths to reflect deeply on the underlying truths embedded in such speeches. The folklores of Kwagh-alom should be encouraged to continue. Parents should endeavor to read out this folklores to their children so as to edify them morally. The festival of kwagh-hir should be rejuvenated to bring out the aesthetic values enshrined in such displays. Our religious leaders should admit to communicating in Tiv language at occasions organized for the benefit of the Tiv people. For it is only in this way that, the Tiv language will endure as long as humanity lives to communicate in it; but otherwise, the Ayatutu heritage, will forever be lost.

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