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Rotimi Bello: extinction of the mother tongue among children of middle class parents

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By Rotimi Bello

Nothing amuses me more than watching, observing and seeing the children of middle-class parents – specifically the Hausa/Fulani children – speaking their mother tongue with pride irrespective of the feelings of other speakers who could not speak their native languages fluently or at all.

Whenever they are together in two’s, three’s or more, they communicate and chat with one another freely, unhindered by razzmatazz of others whose exposure and experience are equally at par. The spectacle of watching them chatting, discussing, gesticulating and hobnobbing is a beauty to behold in this generation of predominantly “Ajebo” children.

I am one of the apostles of resuscitation of mother tongue among children of present generation. I envy the Hausa/Fulanis parents and their children for the respect they have for their native language as they speak their language with pride to the admiration of perceptive observers or onlookers. Such could not be said about other tribes with various languages across the country.

The deliberate action and willingness to speak their language anywhere and in all places made others to see and perceive Hausa as a language of ‘power’. There is bonding and unison in the language expression. It unifies these people and creates affection where there is none. It is an identity that creates mutual trust and understanding.

Language is a vehicle for cultural expression. A child that could not speak his/her mother tongue would neither respect nor cherish his/her cultural heritage or even exercise the predisposition to defend it when violated by an intruder or foreigner. Language according to Balogun is the hallmark of any people’s life and culture. It encompasses people’s worldview, custom, ways of life and history in general. The loss of any language by a people is the loss of their cultural root and the loss of their historical identity. When a language is lost, such a people who experience the loss continue to live in the shadow of other people’s identity and culture.

As a perceptive observer, I am compelled to voice out my view on the need for parents and guardian to encourage their children and wards to speak their native language at all times. Go to our private schools; you will be surprised that many Yoruba and Igbo children could not speak their native languages. They find it difficult to express themselves freely in their mother tongue in the midst of their Yoruba or Igbo friends.

This is nothing but total loss of identity. It is not their fault, rather, that of their parents who mostly came from villages and hamlets but have been consumed by the obsession of modernity. I have realized that majority of these parents who came mostly from rural areas tend to belief that modern children should not be speaking primitive language. It is believed in some circles that speaking mother tongue signify crudeness and incivility for growing children. Therefore, the vernacular is totally outlawed in many homes all because we want our children to learn and speak unblemished English.

Recently, I asked a parent whose children cannot speak Yoruba language knowing full well that the mother and father are from Ibadan. The response I received confirmed my suspicion about the family’s deliberate intention not to allow their kids to speak their native language at all. I suggested and encouraged the family to cultivate the habit of watching Africa Magic, a Yoruba Channel on DSTV to encourage children to learn and speak the language gradually. I was shocked, and I shuddered at the naivety, excuses and ignorance of the parent, who claimed to be uncomfortable with some Yoruba cultural movies that depict our tradition of seeking spiritual assistance sometimes from the herbalist and the wicked characters displayed who seek solace in witchcraft and wizardry in spiritual realm.

As a matter of fact, children need to understand the rudiments of their culture and language, as this will form the basis by which they will relate with other members who understand the culture and language very well. Denying them the opportunity to learn their mother language just because of the fear of polluting their religious beliefs is like refusing them tertiary education out of fear of engaging in juvenile delinquencies.

This would be tantamount to mortgaging their future simply because of some unfounded fears and apprehension. Rather as parent and guardian angel, we should teach them the basic things they need to know about our language and culture, and point out the negative aspects they need to ignore.

Few years ago, I went to my son’s school – a private school in Abuja. One of the head teachers approached me and commented that he had great respect for my family for our ability to teach him (my son) how to speak Yoruba fluently. She said that in a class of fourteen pupils, apart from my son and a small Hausa girl who spoke her native language fluently, all other pupils could not speak their mother tongues at all. My observation revealed that my son’s classmates were from Southwest, Southeast, SoutsSouth and Middlebelt regions of Nigeria.

It is rather unfortunate that most parents are missing the concept of “catch them young” which means that the children have the capacity and capability to learn many things at a developmental growing stage more than at adulthood. English is a universal language. It is a commercial language prevalent worldwide. It is not an overstatement to say that some parents deliberately deny their children the opportunity of learning their native language believing that it is of no value to the modern children.

Dear parents of such preposterous belief, you are wrong with your assumption. No matter your proficiency in spoken English, intonation and phonetics, when you find yourself in the midst of native speakers, you will be tagged and addressed as an outsider. Additionally, fluency in English language can be acquired alongside effective communicative ability in the mother tongue.

Language specialists are even of the opinion that the ability to make grammatical distinctions between two languages improve speakers proficiency in both languages. While we are glorifying English language in all ramifications, our native language is facing extinction because our children are not encouraged to learn their mother tongue.

I quite agreed with Balogun submission in his research that when a language is moving gradually towards extinction as a result of the users’ attitude, it is an indication that a culture is going out of existence. It behooves parents and guardians to teach their children and wards their native languages, because Government has done its part by inculcating native languages in school curriculum.

Though the lesson periods dedicated to learning mother tongue in schools are not enough for the children to master the language, and the one already provided should be adequately taken advantage of. Therefore, the parents must compliment the effort of the government and may be better government policies and legislations will be passed to improve on the existing strategy.

Rotimi S. Bello lives in Abuja and wrote via rotimibello_69@yahoo.com