Where is Tunde Adegbola? Our linguistic heritage is dying!

I had my first child in 1999. The little boy was growing up in an English speaking Yoruba family. My elder brother one day said to me: e je ki omo yin gbo Yoruba a. His message was quite clear, but the vogue then in Lagos was (and still is) English language and it was a pride even if your child cannot say a word in Yoruba or any other mother tongue. I did not see anything wrong in that until sometimes back around 2003 (I do not remember precisely), a fine gentleman, Tunde Adegbola, was at the Science Lecture Theatre of our university (of Ilorin) with a campaign for the resurgence of African languages and their integration into modern ICTs. I cannot recall from his talk but have culled from his webpage that the “core objectives of the African Languages Technology Initiative (Alt-i) encompass the need to make modern ICTs relevant to African Languages. As we go further into the information age, more and more human communication will be mediated by machines, and this will raise the demand, not only for humans to communicate through machines but also to communicate with machines. There is no reason whatsoever why we should be made to do this in English. In order to achieve these modes of communication in African languages however, there is a need to supplement the present objectives of the study of linguistics in African universities. Within the contexts of the linguistics of African languages, we need to develop frameworks and theories that can be passed on to and used by practitioners in Human Language Technology (HLT). To this end, Alt-i is involved in developing the relevant human and other intellectual resources to facilitate this process.”
I however recall that Tunde noted that regrettably many African languages are creeping into extinction and are being replaced by the Oyinbo language of the poorest and most disgusting standards. While appreciating Tunde’s efforts and initiatives on the ICT issues, it is the possibility of the African languages going into extinction that is of great concern in this piece. Let me be particular about the Yoruba elites of today. These are a people gradually consigning their language to dustbin of history. Many homes, even at home in Nigeria, no longer know Yoruba as a medium of communication. In fact they do not feel anything wrong with saying “my son does not speak Yoruba”. Some of them will say “he understands but cannot speak it”. They pride not only in speaking English language but in not being able to speak Yoruba. Sad and indeed very sad! Pathetic and too damn shameful! I have patiently studied issues about this unwholesome trend. I have asked questions: why the drift towards English language (and consequent abandonment of the local language even at homes) and what gains there are (if any) in the drift. The objective is not to advocate a change of our lingua franca, but to call attention to issues needing awareness: the fact that our local languages must necessarily be preserved and valued.
I have discovered that the people’s thinking is that since English is our official language as a nation and that it must be passed at credit level at the WASCE/SSCE before admission into any higher institution in the country, then the better if parents begin to speak it to their children right from home, nay right from birth. I do not know and have not found any better justification for the trend. Maybe some others may think speaking English language makes you fashionable, I do not know. But the thinking that speaking a language affords an opportunity for a pass in an examination is too damn shallow, only driven by zeal and never by knowledge. Think about it: a language spoken to a growing child is acquired by the child as indigenous language. He does not understand the technicalities of the language – just like our forefathers speak their various dialects and were unable to even read their “i” if stood before them like the (Nigerian) electric pole. It is for this reason that village school children who never heard English language spoken in their homes but have the rare opportunity of being well trained in its structures, may often do well and better than their city counterparts, whose adopted first language is the Queen’s. And needless to say there is not any good result from this approach to learning our national language. And how can there be? When, unspeakably laughable, the English language being spoken in many Yoruba homes today is not the type that can pass anyone in any examination, not even the school leaving certificate examination as it is evident in our nation’s educational system today.
I remember Tunde seized the audience when he started reeling out versions of English language of his own tribe – the Yoruba people of Nigeria. The large theatre was rent with crackling laughter as he mentioned something like (I do not remember precisely): “go and open the door down”, “don’t play rough play o”, “it is two, two naira”, “be going o” and “go and work your work”. Even the uneducated are convinced they have to try. They are encouraged not to feel shy, to just try and speak English language even if heavens will fall. What about the half-educated? Ha! It is real drama if you have an opportunity to listen. Isn’t it funny how our people think? Should you have a chance to see the written English language of our students in the tertiary institutions, you would definitely wonder if anything has been achieved via this approach to learning, nay if more harm than good has not been done. Many can no longer write formal letters or what used to be known as “application letters”. In fact asking them to write a report is close to asking them to climb up the firmaments. This is in spite of the fact some of them speak the Queen’s language almost naturally, having been nurtured in an elite home.
That everyone is in so much romance with a foreign language (or English, in particular) has its connotations. One, we are losing our native language and, two; we may not be gaining any as a people. Maybe we are inventing a new English language is the best that can be said of us. And there shall be no thanks for that – not from the Queen, whose language is being bastardized by a people ashamed of their identity, nor the identity-conscious people of Yoruba origin. Even if perfection is attained in a foreign language, it shall not suffice for us to reduce our mother tongue to mere figments of history. So where is Tunde Adegbola? Let him speak out loud against this drift. Let him seize every opportunity to tell the people to identify with their own. Let him make use of all media and concerned individuals to carry on the campaign for the renaissance of the Yoruba language. Let the government support this cause. Let individuals also lend their hands in their little ways – speaking the language and encouraging it at least. I have joined in the cause. I talk to people about it. I speak it except when otherwise necessary – maybe officially. I remember particularly mentioning it in a mosque class, emphasizing that there should not be so much preference for a language over the other to the extent of almost strangulating one. The Qur’an mentions that difference in tongues of humankind is a sign from their Lord. So let no one language submerge or consume the other. A people whose language is lost is a people whose identity is lost.
For the sake of information, we must know that the mother-tongue preservation campaign transcends any race. Peoples of the world are becoming conscious of the danger of losing a heritage as important as the tongue. I had a privilege of visiting the Republic of Ireland and found the Irish complaining of losing their Irish language to the English during the colonial era – I never knew the Irish were also colonized by the English. They are also making serious effort at bringing back to life their lost heritage. We must also know that the many nations of the world which pass on knowledge by the medium of the native languages are not made backward by that. Or what can anyone say of China, Germany, Japan, Korea, Russia and others, who do scientific researches and communicate their results in their languages. These nations have not lagged a bit due to their choice of medium of communication. Rather, doing this has facilitated their processes of learning. We can do same if given proper consideration. I had a rare opportunity of seeing that there are scripts (the Japanese for example) that run vertically, top to down, simply because they are not lost. The diversity enables much more appreciation of our make as humans and the nature. I must repeat, however, that changing our national language is not what is being advocated in this article. Rather the advocacy is that, at the least, our local tongues must not be allowed to give way. We must encourage learning them in every way we can. I have however heard people complain about the content of Yoruba language as a discipline in our tertiary institutions – that those fetishes of the Yoruba culture are being taught as part of language training! I have seen students rejecting studies in Yoruba language for this singular reason. I think this should be discouraged to enable more and more individuals to pick interest in learning the language. Our policy makers should leave fetish to the its people and allow our language to be studied by all interested.
The Hausa people of northern Nigeria here deserve a commendation for their tenacity with their linguistic heritage. They demonstrate real affection for their language every place and every time.  How marvelous a people! They go even a step further, extending love and affection to aliens who speak their language. I am not sure, but I am disposed to believing the Hausa people will speak their native tongue, at least, in their homes even in foreign lands. This is an attitude that is commendable and preserving of the Hausa culture and tradition. It is in sharp contrast with the attitude of the Yoruba people to their own. They show grave disdain to tribesman who chooses to communicate with them in Yoruba! Sometimes they bully: “speak in English, please!” Sometimes you don’t need to be told you have to speak English language before them, their countenances tell you straight you have to change your language to English especially when you visit their offices. I remember a school friend said to me he cannot marry a woman whose English is not sound. Why? Everyone in his family speak English, even the grandparents, so could not imagine his woman not being able to communicate with family members (who are Yoruba) in fine English! What a people!
I should mention on the last note that the day Tunde gave his talk, I got home and said to my wife: “kosi oyinbo siso ninu ile yi mo”. She thought I was joking until I told her about Tunde’s campaign and reminded her of her own “don’t play rough play o”. She then surrendered. I made it a point of duty not to speak English language except officially so much so that people ordinarily assume, with my choice of language and cultural appearance, I am not likely to be educated. I am happy with that and I feel fulfilled, rather than wearing the emblem of a different people. Unfortunately, I must confess, I have not fully recovered from the loss of many years (until 2003) as I still struggle to find the choice words in my rich Yoruba language. As for “owe” (proverbs) and “asayan oro”, the creams of the Yoruba language, many would really need deliverance as the Pentecostals would say. This is the extent of the damage to our linguistic heritage! Yoruba ro o nu o.
Luqmaan K. O. Babalola teaches Pure Mathematics at the University of Ilorin, Ilorin, Nigeria.
kobabalola@gmail.com <!– document.write( '‘ ); //–> This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it <!– document.write( '’ ); //–> , babalola.ko@unilorin.edu.ng <!– document.write( '‘ ); //–> This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it <!– document.write( '’ ); //–>
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posted on 01-07-2011, 11:58:39 AM
Prof penkelemess
Re: Where is Tunde Adegbola? Our linguistic heritage is dying!


I hope we get a lively debate going on this.

will try to contribute my little bit later.


gerd meuer

posted on 01-07-2011, 22:38:05 PM
Nigeria on my mind
Re: Where is Tunde Adegbola? Our linguistic heritage is dying!
The fact that English is a mandatory requirement for admission into institutions of higher learning is a travesty in our academic philosophy. I remember a school mate who was an engineering major in my school days decades ago, before the explosion of cultism, before the degradation of scholastic standards, whose inadequate score in English prevented him from securing admission to a University. His situation was noteworthy because he had passed the subjects most pertinent to his major (physics, chemistry and maths) with flying colors. Many other brilliant scholars of the time were equally victimized.

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