• Thursday, May 23, 2024
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BusinessDay

The silent extinction of Nigerian languages: Can Yoruba, Igbo, and Hausa survive globalization?

Varsity don stresses need for lecturers, students to venture into effective mode of communication

“During a recent enlightening encounter, I was both embarrassed and contemplative when a friend’s children spoke to me fluently in Yoruba, their intonation rich and authentic. This experience stood in stark contrast to my own children, who, despite understanding Yoruba, treat it more as a secondary language. This is not an isolated phenomenon but a trend prevalent among many Nigerian families, where English dominance has overshadowed our native languages and culture. This issue isn’t unique to Nigeria but resonates across many African nations, where English proficiency is often considered a benchmark for intelligence and competence, overshadowing native linguistic skills.

The Importance of Local Languages in Development

Our local languages, such as Hausa, Igbo, Fulani, Ibibio, Benin, and many others, embodying our culture, history, and values as Nigerians, are crucial to national identity and development. The decline of languages like Yoruba not only erodes cultural heritage but also affects national development. Nations like China and India, which emphasize their native languages, have demonstrated significant progress in various sectors. This success highlights the critical role local languages play in fostering innovation, unity, and a unique national identity. I recall how difficult it was for me to assimilate when I read and tried to make meaning out of it in English, but when I first interpreted it to Yoruba, my mother tongue, it stuck and remained in my memory forever. I’m sure this is the case for many up till today. Our language and culture should be our pride, and we need to make a frantic effort to ensure we pass it on to future generations.

Global Appreciation and Influence of Yoruba Culture

What we don’t appreciate at home is sought after internationally. Yoruba culture has gained significant recognition. In the Americas, Yoruba descendants in the Dominican Republic, Brazil, and Cuba have intricately woven Yoruba traditions into their cultural tapestry. Oyotunji Village in the United States, a stronghold of Yoruba culture, and the widespread practice of religions like Santería in Cuba, which combines Yoruba deity worship with other traditions, exemplify this global appreciation. This external fascination with Yoruba culture, juxtaposed with its diminishing prominence in Nigeria, underscores the urgent need for cultural reclamation.

The Prominence of Yoruba in Western Culture

The influence of Yoruba culture extends beyond traditional practices and has significantly impacted Western culture. The popularity of Yoruba-inspired music, art, and religion in the Western world demonstrates a growing global interest in and respect for Yoruba heritage. This cultural exchange not only enriches Western societies but also offers a powerful mirror for Nigerians to view the value of their own heritage.

Examples from the Americas

In North America, particularly in the United States, the Oyotunji African Village in South Carolina stands as a vibrant center for Yoruba culture, where traditional religion, language, and customs are practiced. This unique community reflects the resilience and adaptability of Yoruba culture in the diaspora. In South America, countries like Brazil and Cuba showcase the integration of Yoruba traditions into their societies through religions such as Candomblé and Santería, demonstrating how diasporic connections can foster cultural preservation.

Recommendations to Revitalize Yoruba Culture

1. Education Policy Reforms: Integrating Nigerian languages as a compulsory subject in Nigerian educational institutions, from primary to secondary levels, is essential. This approach can mirror the success seen with the Welsh language in Wales. For instance, incorporating Local Language into the national curriculum and ensuring that teacher training colleges prepare educators to teach Local Languages effectively will enhance proficiency and cultural awareness among young Nigerians. Additionally, incorporating our folklore, history, and literature into the curriculum will deepen students’ connection to their heritage.

2. Media and Entertainment: Leveraging Nollywood, Nigeria’s booming film industry, to promote local culture and language can be highly effective. Just as Bollywood has played a crucial role in popularizing Hindi globally, Nollywood can produce films and television shows in Yoruba, Igbo, Hausa, etc showcasing the richness of our culture, traditions, and values. Additionally, promoting our music and arts on mainstream and social media platforms can attract a younger audience, much like the Afrobeats movement has gained international recognition.

3. Technology and Innovation: Embracing digital innovation to revitalize Yoruba, Igbo, Hausa, Bini similar to the Irish language’s digital revitalization, is crucial. This could involve developing mobile apps for learning Yoruba, Igbo, Hausa, online dictionaries, and interactive e-books featuring local stories and folklore. Collaborations with tech companies to integrate Yoruba, Hausa and Igbo into voice recognition and translation software can also enhance its usage in the digital sphere.

4. Community Engagement: Organizing local cultural festivals, workshops, and seminars, akin to the efforts for the Maori in New Zealand, will promote Nigeria’s local languages and traditions. These events can include traditional music and dance performances, storytelling sessions, and art exhibitions. Engaging local community leaders and elders to pass down oral histories and traditions can further strengthen communal bonds and cultural continuity.

5. Diaspora Involvement: The Nigerian diaspora, mirroring the role of the Jewish diaspora in preserving Hebrew, can play a vital role in maintaining and spreading our local culture globally. Encouraging diaspora communities to establish local language schools, cultural associations, and regularly organize cultural events will keep the languages alive among Nigerians living abroad. These efforts can also facilitate cultural exchange programmes between Nigeria and countries with significant Nigerian populations.

6. Government Support: The Nigerian government should implement policies that protect and promote indigenous languages, inspired by Canadian initiatives for indigenous languages. This can include funding for cultural preservation projects, research in Yoruba, Igbo and Hausa languages and literature, and support for local language media. Furthermore, recognizing Yoruba, Igbo and Hausa languages speakers in official capacities and events can elevate the language’s status and encourage its use in formal settings.

7. Public Awareness Campaigns: Launching nationwide campaigns, similar to those for French in Canada, to raise awareness about the importance of our cultural preservation and development is essential. These campaigns could highlight the role of Yoruba, Igbo and Hausa in national identity, their economic potential in tourism and entertainment, and relevance in global cultural exchanges. Collaboration with influencers, celebrities, and public figures who can advocate for Yoruba and other Nigerian culture will amplify the impact of these campaigns.

Conclusion
The erosion of Yoruba and other local languages in Nigeria is a significant concern impacting our cultural identity and national development. The global embrace of our language and culture offers a source of inspiration and a blueprint for revitalization. By adopting strategic measures and learning from international examples, we can ensure that Yoruba, Igbo, Hausa, and other local languages not only survive but thrive, contributing significantly to our collective progress.