Thursday, 21 February 2013

Mother Tongue

Languages are the most powerful instruments of preserving and developing our tangible and intangible heritage. All moves to promote the dissemination of mother tongues will serve not only to encourage linguistic diversity and multilingual education but also to develop fuller awareness of linguistic and cultural traditions throughout the world and to inspire solidarity based on understanding, tolerance and dialogue.
—from the United Nations International Mother Language Day

For all of us that have looked down on people as being unsophisticated for daring to speak their mother tongue in private or public, there is a day for us; it is called International Mother Language Day. Announced by UNESCO on 17 November 1999 and marked every year since 2000 February, is observed annually on 21 February worldwide to promote awareness of linguistic and cultural diversity, and multilingualism.

If there is a nation that needs to “promote awareness of linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism”, it is Nigeria. This country is blessed with over 500 languages and 250 ethnic groups. Unfortunately, we have found a way to relegate them to the background while we celebrate other languages.  
When you see a person speaking their mother tongue with the correct phonological pronunciations, what initially comes to you mind? “See this local person”. Abi? Many people have this similar feeling, yet most of us cannot speak English that well, yet the one we should really know how to, we stigmatize and ridicule.
If you think I am making this up, look at how many Super Eagles players come back, speaking “phoné”, irrespective of where they play or their educational background. How can you explain Ahmed Musa when no too sabi oyinbo for Naija and playing in Ukraine where them no dey speak English, speaking “phoné”? It comes from the notion that speaking like this shows your sophistication and achievement.
It is so bad that there are homes where children are banned from speaking their mother tongue in favor of English, they want to look posh and polished and at times they succeed in creating this façade; only for a short while though. It usually comes back to bite them hard when the children need to be accepted by their ethnic or tribal groups and they end up being outsiders or partial members because of their inability to communicate properly with other members in the mother tongue.
Very few families teach their children their mother tongue; even if you exist in an inter-ethnic marriage the effort should still be made to teach the young ones any of the languages.
The mother tongue is the primary way through which we transmit our culture, heritage, and identity to the next generation; tossing this away reduces our ability to aptly do this. I shudder to think what will become of my children’s cultural identity if they grow up without being able to speak my mother tongue.
Moreover, there are jokes and stories that lose their spunk the moment there are translated to English. I do not think Psy’s Gangnam Style would have garnered over 1.3 Million views on YouTube if it was in English. You feel me? I knew you would.
Let’s celebrate our mother tongues. It is our identity, it makes us unique. It is our own! Celebrate the day, turn to you neighbor now and say a word in your mother tongue, even if you are not understood.
Ágbá. Nágo!!! (Igala for you).
God bless Nigeria.