23 Feb 2015

Nigerian Languages, Professionals And Government - by Olugboyega Adebanjo

I have read a number of articles on Nigerian languages. The central message is always on the development of the languages. This would remain an ongoing discussion in the spate of neglect of the languages. In spite of the abandonment, there is a remnant of professionals who live on the languages; and the languages live on them. The International Mother Language Day held on Saturday, February 21 sought to celebrate the professionals and position them for a better professionalism.

Nigerian language teachers in our public and private schools deserve a special mention as instructors and preservers of our languages and cultures. But due to no fault of theirs, Nigerian languages have assumed a foreign or second language status among young Nigerians. If instructions and knowledge must be passed across in the teaching of the languages, language curriculum in schools (primary and secondary) must be redesigned in line with the current reality.



The reality demands that curriculum and recommended texts must be tailored to young people’s interests on basic technology, music, modern-day sports, fashion, etc., and other current societal trends. Across all classes, simple sentence and basic vocabulary should be recommended to authors if we are keen on imparting knowledge. Most of the language used in recommended texts today is way off the comprehension of an average student; this makes the learning of Nigerian language rather cumbersome. More so, at different levels, teaching should be aimed at speaking, reading or writing skill. And this is what should guide the recommendation of a text(s).

Newscasters in Nigerian languages, who are best described as news translators, are other professionals of interest in the Nigerian language project. Via the symbiotic relationship between our people and the “invisible” radio (seldom, TV) news translators, the symbionts (our people), are informed about happenings in their immediate society and the world at large. As knowledge enthusiasts, our people, are glued to the “invisible” voices and have their ears on their radios from dawn to dusk every day. As beautiful as these “invisible” voices are, majority of them lack some basic language understanding required to function in the field. Today, news casting in Nigerian language is characterised by misleading terms, use of vague terms, borrowed words etc. Where a media house does not have a newscaster who studied the language s/he is broadcasting, it is advisable that someone who studied the language should be the news translator, script writer and editor. News casting in Nigerian languages is largely done by unprofessional and listless readers. There is the need for professionalism and energetic reading in order to command educated listening audience; and rightly informed our people.

Actors and actresses, especially in the Yoruba and Hausa genres of the Nigerian movie industry, are integral parts of the Nigerian language fraternity. Their works as well as music in the languages are the first contact of foreigners interested in the languages. In the recent past, I know Hausa news and movies, and Yoruba news have been used to test the proficiency of Americans learning the languages. For the practitioners, especially the Yoruba genre, the frequent code-mixing or code-switching of Yoruba with English in films is amateurish. And the exclusive use of Yoruba language in a local/village setting is terrible as Yoruba is the language of the alakowes – the elites. If such scenarios are based on current reality, the gladiators of the field are well positioned to correct such a societal ill, and not to exacerbate the situation. The distortion of Yoruba proverbs and apothegm in the name of comedy, especially by Baba Suwe, negates the messages and values of the sayings.

Irrespective of the roles government and its institutions have played in the development of Nigerian languages, it is quite obvious that more is being expected of them. The non-implementation or inconsistency in language policy is rather worrisome. Making the hitherto compulsory three major Nigerian languages – Hausa, Yoruba and Igbo – in secondary school optional in senior secondary schools by the Federal Ministry of Education is one of the inconsistencies in the language policy in Nigeria. New subjects have since been introduced, and are now made compulsory. Since the introduction of the new policy, the enrolment climate of the languages in senior secondary school examinations has plummeted. The enrolment has so nosedived that in a recent senior school examinations registration in a particular school in the South-West, from 309 students, only nine and one would be writing Yoruba and Igbo respectively this year. The economics is indeed a bad one for authors who used to supply texts to the school in hundreds as the market has dropped to less than 10. Some educationists and linguists have attributed the politics of minority to the policy. They are of the opinion that the policy sailed through because the minority currently controls the affairs of the state.

Based on what I termed “economics of language”, I do not in any way agree with the policy. My strong view is encapsulated in a piece titled, 12 Things You Didn’t Know About Nigeria – Know Them Now. As published by kinwap.com, the first thing reads thus: “Nigeria is home to seven per cent of the total languages spoken on earth. Taraba State alone has more languages than 30 African countries. The importance of this fact is appreciated when one understands that language is the “soul of culture” (as Ngugi wa Thiongo famously said). It is language that births the proverbs, riddles, stories and other aspects of culture that give us identity. UNESCO puts forward that the world’s languages represent an extraordinary wealth of creativity. Linguistic diversity correlates with cultural diversity. This means Nigeria can look inwards and drive itself to become the greatest hub for cultural tourism on earth, and consequently empower its citizens tremendously in the process.’ (Emphasis added)

This is an aspect of our national life we should give a life of its own in order for the professionals to maximally benefit from it; and as a job springboard for others.

Olugboyega Adebanjo is a lead translator at XML Language Services Limited, Lagos

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