Again, experts have identified the neglect of Nigerian languages and culture as the bane of its crippled development. This was the submission of scholars, who spoke during the 2016 Authors’ Forum organised by the famous publishers, University Press Plc, at the ancient city of Ibadan, Oyo State.
This year, the forum, which is a yearly opportunity for authors to celebrate themselves and reflect on their roles as nation builders, focused on ways of sustaining local languages, particularly by transmitting it to the young generation.
The event was graced by notable scholars like Emeritus Professor Ayo Banjo; Eze Prof. Chukwuemeka Ike; Chairman, University Press Plc, Dr. Lalekan Are; MD, UP Plc, Mr. Samuel Kolawole, who also chaired the event, and guest lecturer, Emeritus Professor Ayo Bamgbose. Others present were Eze Prof. Chukwuemeka Ike, Professors Akachi Ezeigbo, Akinwunmi Ishola, Niyi Osundare, Duro Adeleke, and many others.
In his opening remarks, Dr. Are said: “This year’s Author’s Forum will be discussing the neglect of Nigerian languages and culture. Language is more than just a means of communication. It influences our culture and even our thought processes. On a deeper level, language is an expression of who we are as individuals, communities and nations. Culture refers to dynamic social systems and shared patterns of behaviours, beliefs, knowledge, attitudes and values”.
He then lambasted parents, especially younger ones, who are in the habit of speaking to children in borrowed languages. “I am ashamed of our young people of child bearing age. They are the people responsible for the disappearance of our local languages, when they have kids, they don’t speak our local languages to them.
“Remember that you can only learn fast and think deeply in your own mother tongue. Being able to communicate in your mother tongue and at the same time proficient in English are not mutually exclusive. It is believed that if primary education were in the people’s mother tongue it would be much easier to learn English as a second language and be truly bilingual. In our days, the only language of instruction in school the first two years, irrespective of your ethnic background, was in the mother tongue. You must learn in the language of your immediate environment.
“Therefore, we must all cultivate the habit of speaking to our children in our mother tongue at home and facilitate the learning of indigenous language in schools”.
In his presentation, the guest lecturer, Emeritus Professor Ayo Bamgbose, who spoke on the topic, “Neglect of Nigerian Languages and Culture: Counting the Cost”, stated that, “Nigerian languages and culture are losing their status under English dominance in such places as the home, school, and social events. Neglect of Nigerian languages and culture underlies many of the ills plaguing Nigeria”.
He added that, the rationalizations for the neglect included the fact that the country has no local common language of communication, inadequate terminology for most modern expressions, and the need for modernization and globalization. He, cited examples of countries like Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Japan and China who use their languages fully without the excuses and are technologically advanced.
According to him, in the past mother tongue served the educational needs of pupils in the first three or four years in primary schools before English was introduced as a subject in later years. This makes the pupils to be thoroughly grounded in mother tongue before receiving instruction in English and that result to proper understanding of concepts taught in various subjects.
Citing the example of the 1930’s Church Missionary Society’s Iwe Kika readers that covered various subjects, Bamgbose, debunked the usual argument that African languages lacked adequate terms for modern concepts.
Continuing, Bamgbose pointed out that the gains of the past have been eroded and blamed the federal government for the introduction of Universal Free Education of the Western Region that reduced primary school from eight years to six, thereby cutting off the first few years when mother tongue was used as medium of instruction.
He also stated that failure to teach pupils in the language of the environment affects the performance of pupils as they find it difficult to grasp concepts in English, an action that leads to high failure rate in English and Mathematics.
As a way out, he then proposed, “As an alternative to the current practice, a mother tongue or a language that a child already knows well could be the medium of instruction throughout primary education, with English only taught as a subject.
“This has been tried out in 1970-80 at the now Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, in a project, known as, the Six-Year Primary Project (SYPP) by a former Minister of Education, Prof. Babs Fafunwa, and the results have been impressive”.
Apart from its effects on the pupils, Bamgbose said that the deteriorating use of English to the neglect of mother tongue has also affected the social and political space where it cuts the flow of information. As he put it, “An official language, such as English in Nigeria, puts many people at a disadvantage owing to lack of school education.”
On governance, he noted that the use of English leaves many behind, as they cannot participate fully during sitting as debates, bills, laws and electoral processes are conducted in an unfamiliar language. He then advocated for measures to empower Nigerian languages which include, “Implementation of language provisions of the Constitution, use of Nigerian languages in more situations such as a governor or a chairman of local council addressing a local community, commissioning of language experts for terminology creation, translation of more official documents into local languages.”