Language is an essential part of existence in any nation; it is a means of communication that enhances and deepens social contacts, as it promotes understanding amongst individuals. Little wonder former South Africa President, Nelson Mandela notes that “if you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head, if you talk to him in his own language that goes to his heart,” because language denotes an identification of a people, through which communal relationships are built.
Mother tongue or native language is the first language one learns as a child, the language one grows up knowing and speaking. A child first gets intimate with his/her environment through the language he/she hears the people speak and this to a large extent shapes the thinking and emotions of the child. Thus, the importance of language at the tutelage of a child cannot be overemphasized, as it builds its intellectual skills positively or negatively.
There are over 650 languages in Nigeria; Igbo, Hausa and Yoruba as predominant. This does not mean other indigenous languages are less important, but the wider range of these three languages makes them distinct which is the reason educational materials are written in these languages. It is on this premise that major examinations bodies like West African Examination Council (WAEC) and National Examination Council (NECO) consider it a priority to set questions in these languages; as a way to foster understanding and aid proper learning among natives and encourage students learn their indigenous languages alongside others.
More so, some higher institutions of learning also have these predominant Nigeria languages as major courses of learning, all in the bid to promote and create awareness of the use of mother tongue. Interestingly, radio and television stations also see the need of translating their programs and news in the native dialects as a way to uphold the indigenous languages and promote unity.
However, as a result of colonization, English language has become an official means of communication over the ages and that is fast becoming a threat to the native languages. Most parents find it interesting to speak English language with their children, instead of their native language and children on the other hand, see speaking English language as prestigious. Hence, the relegation of mother tongue causes trickle effects of its extinction, culminating in the decline of one’s identity, culture and heritage and the resultant effects include borrowed modes of dressings, foods, marriages, worship systems and so forth. These emerging challenges are the reason for the celebration of mother language day, so as to remind people of its importance.
Celebrating International Mother Language day on 21st February annually, creates awareness about the importance of mother tongue and reasons of preserving it. It encourages individuals to be proud of their roots, cultures, traditions and values and the need for their usage in a multilingual world to promote identity, linguistic and cultural diversity.
In Bayelsa State for instance, it is important to note that measures are put in place to encourage the use of mother tongue in schools across the state. Notable to mention is late Prof. Kay Williamson, a British and linguist who specialised in the study of African Languages, particularly those of the Niger Delta. She received her PhD Linguistics on the submission of her thesis on the grammar of the Kolokuma dialect using Noam Chiomsky’s Traditional theory of Grammar and this feat enhances the pronunciation, speaking, writing and teaching of some Ijaw languages.
Also worthy of mention is Prof. Ebiegberi Joe Alagoa, late Dr. Gabriel Okara, late Prof. John Pepper Clark-Bekederemo and others whose literary works are rich in cultural nuances that preserve and promote the language and cultural heritage of the Ijaw people.
In addition, the State owned television station, Niger Delta Television, (NDTV) and Radio Bayelsa (Glory FM) translate news in the four major dialects (Kolokuma, Epie, Nembe and Ogbia), to promote the use of mother tongue and encourage its learning.
To crown it all, the Bayelsa State government has made the teaching of Kolokuma language compulsory in schools, alongside other subjects. This is in addition to the adoption of Kolokuma language in the State Executive Councils, as the Governor, Senator Douye Diri opines that language is not only critical in education but also in establishing one’s identity and conscious efforts must be made to ensure the language do not vanish into thin air.
It is therefore paramount that government should ensure that the language is not only taught in schools, but students should also be made to write and speak the local dialect fluently as much as English language. Thus, school syllabus and curriculum should accommodate quiz sessions and competitions in the native languages, and outstanding participants could be encouraged and motivated.
In the same vein, children should be effectively informed that speaking their local dialects does not make them any lesser or inferior to their English speaking counterparts. Rather, it portrays a sense of identity, uniqueness, preserves cultural heritage and a means of discussing private matters even in public domain. Parents should therefore endeavor to communicate with their mother tongue, not just at home, but should be encouraged in schools and social gatherings. Writers as well, should adopt more of the native languages and cultural nuances into their works; this way mother tongue is preserved and it promotes personal, social and cultural identity.
Min. of Information, Orientation and Strategy