“DECLINE OF MOTHER TONGUE IN AFRICA”-FROM SUNNEWSONLINE.COM,NIGERIA

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from sunnewsonline.com

Decline of mother tongue in Africa
By Karen C. Aboiralor Lagos
Monday, February 18, 2008 Editorial Index

One of the most significant aspects of any culture is language. This is a combination of sounds and gestures in the facilitation of communication and tells who we are and where we come from. It is a very unique tool for identification and marks a tidy reflection of the multi-cultural dimension which different civilizations have passed through.

Sometimes, one may correctly tell another’s descent from his accent even when he is not speaking in his mother tongue because his phonetic habits inadvertently spill into his use of that language. This highlights the outstanding pedestal which language occupies in our culture. It is our heritage and a mark of our existence. We therefore must do everything we can to make sure that it is eternally preserved for we would be showing gross irreverence to our forebears and offering a great disservice to generations yet unborn if we failed to do so.

In most African homes where both parents hail from different ethnic groups, the common language spoken is a foreign one. Here, the children ought to be taught to speak both tongues which should in fact be an advantage but they rarely ever learn any. As the years go by, it gets more difficult as they receive further education in a foreign language. If at the point of starting their own families they get married to their like or to those who though understand their language come from elsewhere, the situation becomes even more complex.

It will not happen in ten years. Maybe not even fifty. But in another hundred years some tongues may become extinct in Africa. It is easy for someone to whisper somewhere that in that time, none of us would be here to witness it but let us remember that those before us sustained it and that was why we met it. We owe it a duty to our forebears to preserve a good thing we met from birth otherwise our selfish ingratitude may even consume us before our time.

This is not what western civilization taught. Much as it tried to impinge, it still taught us to uphold the tenets of our culture. For example, while the killing of babies in multiple births and such other fetish practices as sacrificing human blood for deities were abolished; our artefacts, seasons, languages and herbs were upheld. A school of thought has tried to blame it

on western civilization but I disagree. This is the collective result of our ineptitude and lack of social consciousness. The blame is entirely ours and we must accept our guilt.
I am an African living in Canada. When I say hello to Canadians on the street, they reply respectfully with a friendly hello and even a smile sometimes. I have never been shunned by any Canadian I greeted on the street. That is because they have been taught to preserve their culture which among other things preaches mutual respect. But what happens when I say hello to fellow Africans on the street? Many a time, they size me up first. Ostensibly to find out whether I belong to the same social stratum or whether I am a parasite.

The women want to be sure that I don’t intend it as a yardstick to get familiar. Some would only reply if they were comfortable with my physical appearance.
It is also not a secret that some of us are ashamed of our ancestry. Another consequence of our inability to preserve our mother tongue is this spiritless life we lead where there is no true bonding because we do not appreciate one another. If we cannot respect our language, it will be impossible to forge mutual respect and cohesion among ourselves. A future consequence will be the loss of our heritage and in effect our dignity as a people.

This thus calls for concerted effort. I agree that some tenets of our culture should be confined to the history books but language is not one of them. I also agree that people do have a right to their own choices. But the option of consuming our mother tongue will be selfish, ungrateful, bitter, unfortunate and expensive. We must all come together to save the situation. I implore that going forward; children are taught at least one traditional African language. Let those who can speak make it a point of duty to teach others while those who cannot, make it a point of duty to learn. A head start in this manner will go a long way in changing the tide in our favour.

One thing to cheer about though; Africans hardly ever show disrespect by speaking in their traditional language while in the company of anyone who does not understand that language. This conduct is exemplary and highly commendable. But I wish they’d transmit that respect to one another.

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