There is a growing concern that many Nigerian languages are on the verge of going extinct. And the concern is real essentially because of a pervasive loss of attraction for anything local by young people. And this includes their languages. Not a few young persons can communicate fluently, read or write in their mother tongue. It has been reported that about 80 per cent of children between the ages of two and 25, who were born and raised in Nigerian cities, cannot speak their parents’ dialect.
But can these young people be blamed for what appears to be an unconscious consensus to make these native languages phase out? Many Nigerian parents now prefer to communicate with and teach their children in English Language rather than their native languages. The result of this is the increasing number of younger generations who cannot speak their mother tongues. At the rate at which it is going, it won’t be very long before our languages die an unnatural death.
Those involved in this unplanned linguistic suicide, even though they may not have met to agree on it, it is obvious that they are doing a disservice not just to the present generation but also to posterity because from the South to the Northern part of the country, it has become common to find even grownups who cannot speak their mother tongues. It is more worrisome in our view that some of them take pride in the fact that they cannot speak their own native languages.
Even though three languages, Igbo, Hausa and Yoruba are recognised as the major linguistic groups in the country, some native speakers of three languages may have forgotten the intricacies that make the languages unique.
Before colonialism and the introduction of English as a foreign language, Nigerians communicated and expressed their thoughts in their mother tongues. Indigenous languages were the mediums of instruction in schools and the language of doing business. All that has changed!
We do not think we all as Nigerians should fold our hands and allow this collective tragedy befall us. Our languages are a part of our culture and identity. We will lose our identity if we do not have any language in the near future to call ours. This must not happen.
To check this, it is our view that parents, as the first teachers of their children, must deemphasise communicating with them in English Language and discourage the speaking of English Language at home. This way, as the children grow, they will have a grasp of the local language their parents grew up to speak.
The Federal Government recently said that plans were on to review the country’s basic education curriculum. We agree with the government that the said curriculum is long overdue for a review and we would suggest that when those saddled with the responsibility begin their work, they should consider making the study of indigenous languages compulsory. This, in our opinion, will make it possible for children to learn at least the indigenous language of the places they are schooling even if they can’t speak their own mother tongues. Research has found that children taught in their native languages learn faster.