A National Consultative Forum on Nigerian Endangered Languages on the theme, “Creating Strategies for Preventing Endangered Languages,” organized by the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture, took place recently at the Galaxy Hall of the Reiz Continental Hotel, Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory.

In an address at the occasion, the Honourable Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, said, “it is no longer news that nearly 80% of Nigerian youths, especially those between the age bracket (2-18) years, find it difficult to speak their mother tongue fluently or do not speak them at all and that language as a means of communication holds the key to the processes that lead to national and global integration and harmony among peoples.”

The Honourable Minister, who was represented by the Director, Admin and Human Resources in the Ministry, Mr. Adebola Kayode, stated further that, “language as a communication tool embodies the norms, values, traditions, ethos and artistic creations of the people thus shaping their cultures and civilizations; and that language imperialism which causes the abandonment of cultures and traditions should be discouraged.”

Welcoming guest at the event, the Director of Cultural Industries and Heritage, Mr. Seyi Womiloju, stated that more than 400 Nigerian indigenous languages are endangered; and that, if care is not taken, these languages will go extinct in next 50 years.

According to him, in order to prevent this negative development, the Ministry had earlier on conducted a mapping and documentation of these endangered languages across the six geo-political zones and arrived at a publication, entitled, Pilot Survey on Endangered Languages and Cultures of Nigeria, adding that he was optimistic that the outcome of the forum will facilitate the second publication on the “Preservation and Safeguarding of our Endangered Languages.”

While presenting a paper, entitled, “Mapping and Documentation of Endangered Languages and Cultures of Nigeria,” Professor Andrew Haruna of the Department of Linguistics and Nigerian Languages, University of Jos, advocated that the recipe for language survival is for the language to be actively spoken.

He said Nigerians need to keep indigenous languages alive by speaking them, cautioning that if adequate steps were not taken before the end of the 21st century, some languages in Nigeria will die; stating further that our indigenous languages carry our cultures – ceremonies, prayers, songs, historical narratives, folktales and specialized vocabularies unique to culture – and so, research on endangered Nigeria languages is aimed at helping members of a linguistic community discover and preserve what is unique about its linguistic heritage.

Professor Haruna averred that the extinction of a language is a distressing matter, since the cultural tradition connected to it and the socio-cultural or even ethnic independence of the group that speaks it very often perish with the social identity of such groups, adding that every language expresses the identity of the people and everyone cares about identity.

He reiterated that the disappearance of languages and linguistic diversity is a major loss to linguistic scholars, just as the disappearance of languages is a major loss to science and humanity and that many Nigerian languages are insufficiently documented and have no written documents.

According to him, in Africa as a whole, most of the countries have their languages counted and have data and that Nigeria has over 500 languages and that only about 200 are documented, stressing that, the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture needs serious rebranding of Nigerians on the need to speak their languages in order to avoid their extinction.

On her part, the President of the Linguistic Association of Nigeria (LAN), Professor Chinyere Ohiri-Aniche  said, “we don’t want our languages to die,” informing that in a survey carried out in 2011, 25%  of children under 11 years do not speak any Nigerian Language and that LAN is going to translate the National Anthem and National Pledge into Nigerian Languages.

Also contributing, the Director, Language Development Centre, NERDC,  Dr. Chinyere Wanbara strongly advocated that children should not only learn the indigenous languages at school, but must also be encouraged to speak such languages at home.

The Executive Secretary of the National Institute for Cultural Orientation, Prof. Barclays Foubiri Ayakoroma was represented at the event by the Director, Orientation and Cultural Affairs, Mr. Alex Omijie; and a communiqué is expected at the end of the forum.

Jackson Onobun

Orientation & Cultural Affairs