So my talkative self I ended up in a conversation (argument) about Nigerian tribal languages and cultural identity – half drunk on Orijin (maybe a bit more than half) – with an older gentleman. In his opinion, we had a moral obligation to make sure our children carried on the legacy of our mother tongue. In my opinion, besides when I run into trouble with the police or try to make sellers come down from Ajebutter price, the Igbo language has been as useful to me as my appendix, a vestigial organ with the inherent possibility of ruining my day. There are places I even silence the Ifeanyi in my name to avoid unfavourable tribal treatment.
I get it; language is a strong cultural heritage and it relates to a huge part of what we associate to be our cultural identity. But on a more functional level, sentiments aside, language is primarily a tool for communication. Studies in linguistics have shown time and time again how the limitations of languages can limit our thinking. For example, in Igbo, there is no word for socialism. In fact, never mind that, there is no word for the colour purple, and more worryingly, there is no word for rape (no, lape doesn’t count…is that too far?)
It is one thing to feel sentimental about our local languages, but let us be honest, in 21st-century communication, have we even developed our tribal languages to meet simple conversational needs without borrowing from other cultures? And how many of you would have come this far if this post was written in Igbo, even if you were fluent in the language?
Like the problem of our languages being under-developed for our communication needs isn’t enough, we now have to consider the emerging metropolitan Nigeria with our over 200 languages. Biko, when exactly would these local languages we fight so much for be useful? These days you can’t even toast an Amaka in Igbo even if she is fluent. It’s almost like we just want to have these languages around just to say we have them.
In my humble opinion, I think we should do our best to document all existing languages in forms that would allow their preservation in history so that they can be relearned at any time by future generations. But if you ask me if I would rather send my child to French lessons or Igbo classes, I will ask you, who Igbo don help? This isn’t a matter of not being proud of one’s culture, or aware of it. I just think the sentiments attached to languages that have almost no practical use in modern living is overplayed and I am sick of people shaming parents because their children cannot converse in their local language. A person is not less Igbo, Edo or whatever, because they cannot speak the language. As long as you have awareness, knowledge and respect for your culture, you don try.
Of course if situations permit, it is never a bad idea to teach children to speak any language. I’m just saying it’s not a sign of bad parenting if you don’t.
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