• Monday, July 15, 2024
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What is in a language?


believe that the effort to re-position the Igbo language and other African languages is not receiving the attention it requires primarily because the Igbo people are yet to understand what is in it for them. After all, is language not just about communication? Well, I think it is much more than just communication.

If it were just about communication, the visiting colonialists and missionaries would have done the logical thing on arrival, which is to learn our language so as to communicate with us. Instead, they forced their language on us, using brutal punishments to make us forget our normal and natural way of speaking. They knew that taking away our language and forcing us to speak theirs is a hallmark of success in their quest for dominance.

Getting us to speak a foreign language as our first language has many implications. It is the first step in the process of making us forget who we are. This state of confusion will make it easier for them to turn us into whatever image they choose.

They applied their instruments of mental subjugation steadily until they saw that the ability to speak their language was a major status symbol among us. By the time we started denigrating our kinsmen who could not speak English, they knew they had us where they wanted us. By the time our reward system was skewed to favour those who could speak the language of slavery, they knew the battle was over. But must we remain where we fell?

So, what is in a language?

Well, the acute identity crisis we are facing today comes from the merciless onslaught on our language. When one subdues a people’s language, he has also destroyed their culture because the language carries the culture.

Today, Igbo people are ashamed of their fathers’ names and will not hesitate to drop them the moment an agent of the imperialists suggests that all the problems in their families are caused by the names they bear. So the family that once answered Udunna as surname now goes for Peter or the more funkified version, Peters or Peterson. The result is that we now have full blooded Igbo people answering names like Paul Peterson, James Anderson, Elena Jones, and so on.

What baffles me about this is that these fear-driven people never really pause to ask about the people whose names they are copying. Do these foreigners who answer these names not have serious problems that overwhelm them in spite of the names they bear? That Preacher who said you must change your name to be delivered, does he not have problems in his family (after changing his own names and getting delivered)?

Today, all Igbo ancestors have been branded evil and a lot of prayers have to be offered to rescue all families from the wicked influence of ancestral spirits. This is tragic. Our ancestors were good people who laid good foundations for moral uprightness in our land. They instituted nsoala which ensured that the society was peaceful and productive. If they made some mistakes out of ignorance, they were not the only ones to fall into error. The ancestors of the Jews recorded in the Bible committed terrible atrocities, yet their names are raised in songs of adoration by their descendants.

Where there is no knowledge, the people perish. You will only accept that your ancestors were evil when you have not bothered to know who they were or what kind of life they lived. For instance, I am very proud of my great grandmother Nwiianyanwu Ehirim because she was a great and courageous woman whose life inspired many in her time. No imperial propagandist can convince me that she was an evil person whose remembrance will only bring evil. Never!

Many of our ancestors were great medicine men that performed great feats and solved many health and other problems that defied solution; feats that we should be proud of. Some were great farmers, diochi, hunters and above all incorruptible elders who loved their people and worked for the common good all the days of their lives. The evil ones among them were promptly sanctioned and dealt with.

“Honour your father and your mother” is a universal principle which attracts blessings or curses as the case may be in every part of the world. Crass ignorance has made us to dishonour the memories of our fathers and mothers. Who knows where our intractable woes are coming from?

It is abnormal for a man to be celebrating another man’s ancestors while denigrating his own. A normal Igbo man will not stand for it. Such a person will be branded an efulefu all his days. Unfortunately, that is exactly where we are now. A titled Igbo man now prefers to identify with the ancestors of a people he knows nothing about and accepts that his own ancestors are not worth mentioning. Upon this abomination, such a man is considered worthy of honour among his people, some even becoming eze. This would not have been possible if our language, the chief ingredient of our culture had not been messed up.

There is a whole lot in a language and we must begin to get jealous over our own language. If the UN gathers and various representatives come with their interpreters, any people group whose language is not represented is not relevant to world politics and economy. It is as serious as that. If there is no product that is labelled in Igbo, it means that the Igbo people are not relevant to world commerce and industry.

If there are no football matches that are officiated in Igbo language, we do not exist in that field.  If no Igbo films, songs and books are exported to other countries, it means we are not relevant in the entertainment industry.

The absence of mother tongue in a child’s upbringing plunges the child into an emotional crisis of identity. She sees herself as an English person who is unfortunate to be saddled with black skin. Everything she has ever been exposed to is English- ranging from books to films, radio and television programs, instructional packages, everything, including dressing and eating patterns. This feeling that the black skin is out of place automatically triggers off a desire to assume a fairer skin colour in order to have a sense of completeness. From this perspective, it is possible to understand why a person who has been told how dangerous it is to remove the natural melanin protection from the skin will go ahead to bleach his or her skin just to appear more like an English person.

There is an urgent need for all Africans to wake up from slumber and rise up in mass to reclaim their pride of place in the global village by resuscitating their indigenous languages. The world must be told that Africa has come of age and is willing to dazzle the world with our unique styles of doing virtually everything to reflect the undying spirit of Mother Africa.