Colomental and Mother Language, the Missing Link

Nigeria Languages

When a music legend, Fela Anikulapo Kuti sang Colomental, an acronym for a colonial mentality of the black race 1974, little did our world realise that we ain’t seen nothing yet!

Elder Yinks Salaam is journalist with the Voice of Nigeria (VON)

Elder Yinks Salaam is journalist with the Voice of Nigeria (VON)

One would have thought that the revolutionary stint and fervour of the song, coupled with the radical posture of Fela himself will push Africans into self-consciousness and cultural reawakening, but alas, we simply danced away the lessons under the powerful lyrics of the Kalakuta Republic beat.

If the educational or doctrinal significance of the Afrobeat legend does not move us to act and rediscover our cultural identity, the revelations during the recently observed International Mother Language Day is enough for anyone who hasn’t completely lost his sense of self-worth and the spirit of Pan Africanism to spring into action. Anything to the contrary will be a veritable confirmation of Fela’s position that such person is truly suffering from colonial mentality.

The later generation went further to refer to whoever harbours the colonial hangout as a crazy person who ‘dey colo’ in Nigeria’s local parlance. This was attested to by ‘Kolomental’, the lead singles off Faze’s sophomore album, ‘Independent’, which was released in 2006 and went on to become one of the biggest hits of the following year,  2007.

“As the song title suggests, the banging track had a special frenzy to it and created a particular madness stirred up by the musical instrumentation of the song as well as Faze’s uniquely superb vocals.

Blind followership, colonial mentality and language loss

According to definitions from varying political scientists and sociologists, colonial mentality is the internalised attitude of ethnic or cultural inferiority felt by a people as a result of colonisation. It corresponds with the belief that the cultural values of the coloniser are inherently superior to one’s own.

Postcolonial scholars commonly used the term as an operational concept for framing ideological domination in historical colonial experiences. In psychology, the colonial mentality has been used to explain instances of
collective depression, anxiety, and other widespread mental health issues in populations that have experienced colonisation.

Frantz Fanon perspective

In The Wretched of the Earth (French: Les Damnés de la Terre), published in 1961, Fanon used psychiatry to analyse how French colonization and the carnage of the Algerian War had mentally affected Algerians’ self-identity and mental health.

This means that the native Algerian came to view their own traditional culture and identity through the lens of colonial prejudice. Fanon observed that average Algerians internalised and then openly repeated remarks that were in line with the institutional racist culture of the French colonizers; dismissing their own culture as backward due to the internalization of Western colonial ideologies.

According to Fanon, this results in a destabilizing existential conflict within the colonized culture.

Unfortunately, many Nigerian parents, particularly the semi-literates and the unenlightened educated folks are unaware that they suffer from this imported but debilitating disease which has become intrinsic and somewhat pathological. Many see it as a thing of pride to make their child learn how to speak a foreign language to the detriment of the primary language. They wickedly but Ignorantly deprived the children of their mother tongue and unwittingly rob them the deep appreciation of the mother language –  manifesting cultural defeatism and acute infestation of colonial mentality!

The link between Colomental and language loss

International Mother Language Day which was celebrated on the 21st February to promote the awareness of language and cultural diversity all across the world was first announced by UNESCO on November 17, 1999. Since then, it is being celebrated every year.

Because of its significance, the theme of 2018 International Mother Language Day was ‘linguistic diversity and multilingualism for sustainable development’ enjoin the people of the world, to embrace our language and our culture because it is our pride. It calls us to embrace cultural identity and promote cultural diversity as against cultural defeatism.

But an average African has virtually lost every sense of pride and identity in his language, culture and self-worth because of what the social scientists have come to recognise as inferiority complex oozing from colonial mentality.

Anniversary of International Mother Language Day

This year, UNESCO commemorates the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights with its bold statement that ‘no discrimination can be made on the basis of language’, celebrating its translation into more than 500 languages.

According to UNESCO, “linguistic diversity is increasingly threatened as more and more languages disappear. There are over 7,000 languages in the world, but one language disappears on average, every two weeks, taking with it the entire cultural and intellectual heritage. Hence, the institution of the International Mother Language Day to promote awareness of linguistic and cultural diversity and promote multilingualism.”

In Bangladesh, it is in appreciation of this day, Feb. 21, 1952, when several students were killed in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, because of Bengali and Urdu language controversy; that the UN chose the day as International Mother Language Day. Bangladesh thus celebrates this day as Language Martyrs’ Day or Martyrs’ Day to honour the Bengali Language Movement of 1952 in which several students died for defending the Bengali language for themselves and for the future generations. The day is observed as a public holiday since 1953.

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A similar struggle was witnessed in South Africa during the  Soweto uprising of the morning of June 16, 1976, when about 700 school children were massacred in cold blood by the ruthless Apartheid regime for protesting against the imposition of a foreign language.

Black South African high school students in Soweto had protested against the Afrikaans Medium Decree of 1974, which forced all black schools to use Afrikaans and English in a 50–50 mix as language. The law restricted indigenous languages to the teaching of religious instruction, music, and physical education while English would be for the rest subjects.

It is estimated that 20,000 students took part in the protests but were met with fierce police brutality.

According to Census 2001, India alone has about 22 officially recognised languages, 1635 rationalised mother tongues and 234 identifiable mother tongues.

Similarly, Nigeria reportedly has 371 tribes with over 520 languages spoken in Nigeria, but some major languages – Hausa, Yoruba, Igbo, Urhobo, Fulfulde, Ibibio, Edo, and Kanuri have most of the speakers in Nigerian states.

Nigerians and the language conundrum

But as progress is being made in mother tongue-based multilingual education in countries such as India and Bangladesh – with growing understanding of its importance, and with more commitment to its development in public life, particularly in early schooling – the reverse appears the case in a country like Nigeria and other African countries being savagely ravaged by colonial mentality and inferiority complex.

Language significance

In the context of this article, it is important to note that, languages are the most powerful ways to preserve and develop culture and to promote it all across the world. And that is why UNESCO strives to promote mother tongue-based multilingual education.

While the major languages are Hausa, Igbo, Yoruba “Nigeria’s linguistic diversity is a microcosm of much of Africa as a whole, and the country contains languages from the three major African languages families: Afroasiatic, Nilo-Saharan and Niger-Congo.”

Are Nigerian languages going extinct?

Going by the statistics from UNESCO which states that “one language disappears on average, every two weeks, taking with it the entire cultural and intellectual heritage; it is predicted that Nigerian languages may be wiped out in the next 50 years with most of them already placed  “under the dangling axe of extinction!”, except urgent corrective measures are taken.

As early as 2012, UNESCO had warned that the number of speakers of these indigenous languages is reducing daily, overwhelmed by the bulldozing influence of foreign languages, especially English and French.

Olugboyega Adebanjo, a lead translator at XML Language Services Limited (a language translation and preservation firm) said Nigerians still speak in tongues, but no more in their mother tongues.

Effects of globalisation and subtle conditioning

A paper presention posted on a website: on https://lagosmums.com/international-mother-language-day-nigerian-languages-going-into-extinction/  posited that “due to globalisation and its after effects, many Yoruba adults and young ones detest their own language as if it is their common enemy or a dreadful affliction that burdens them.

It further stated that “Most educated Nigerians who are supposed to be the storehouse of their cultural heritage have reduced themselves to aliens in their own land – alien to their language, history and culture.

Is Your Mother Tongue Important To You?

“The attitude of many Yoruba adults towards their culture is poor. As a result, their children cannot utter one word in their mother tongue because they have not learnt to value their language. Nowadays, especially in homes of educated citizens, it is increasingly becoming the norm for children to have their first tongue in English – the language of Nigeria’s former colonisers.

“The trend of sending children to private primary and secondary schools where pupils are not taught in any of Nigeria’s languages, but in English, thus subtly conditioning the children to value foreign language above their mother tongue is another reason why Nigerian Languages are dying slowly.

“It is quite disturbing that in most schools, speaking your mother language during school hours is a punishable offence as it is ignorantly termed as vernacular.

“Like the Yoruba, the number of speakers of Igbo language is fast thinning down. Apart from the pressure imposed by pidgin, which is a popular medium of communication among the teeming masses, the use of English has forced many native speakers of Igbo to water down the essence of the language through code-switching.”

Only Hausa language appears to be winning the war as its speakers speak it with pride and seem to value it above the language of the colonisers or colonial masters.

Advantages of Mother Tongue

Speaking on the advantages of Mother Tongue, it was advised that, “African parents have to start speaking in their mother tongue to their children at home and ensure that they start learning right from when they are born.

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“It is not just in a bid to preserve culture, and promote it all over the world, research has shown that children who speak their local languages very well are known to be more proficient in other foreign languages. And they can communicate better. This has been proved to be true over the years.”

Commenting on this development, a social commentator, Adejare Ibrahim wrote: Possessing the ability to write, prolifically, in the Yoruba language does not hinder you in writing in English. Rather, it enhances your versatility in it and other languages. If you are the type that feels your mother tongue, Yoruba, is inferior to other languages, you need to change your mindset.

“Teach yourself. Teach your children. Teach your household. Language is an integral part of our cultural heritage that needs to be jealously preserved,” he said.

Omotosho Akeem Akinwumi observed that People are even shy to speak in their local accent, saying while it is pardonable if one can’t speak fluent English, it is criminal if it has to do with one’s dialect.

He continued, “I remember a 14-year-old girl whose mum brought to my clinic. She attends a school where you pay extra on your child to acquire British accent. Unfortunately, her mum thought that would impress me but I disappointed her by asking the innocent girl to tell me five (5) Yoruba proverbs and meaning to win #5k. She struggled to tell me some wishy-washy ones and I encouraged her with 1k. We struck a deal that each time we meet we shall communicate in our ‘prestigious’ Yoruba language,” said Akinwunmi

As stated above, language promotes intercultural connections, the reason UNESCO also uses the day to focus on linguistic diversity and multilingualism as an integral part of sustainable development, and in particular to realize targets 4.6 and 4.7 of Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG4) on education.

The SDGs depend on linguistic diversity and multilingualism as a vital contribution to global citizenship education as they promote intercultural connections and better ways of living together.

UNESCO further recommends that to achieve these SDG targets, our children must be encouraged to use their mother languages to communicate about their families and culture.

The global body enjoins schoolteachers to encourage children to use their mother languages to introduce themselves and talk about their families and culture. To celebrate culture by having them read poetry, tell a story or sing a song in their mother tongues. It also suggested that paintings and drawings with captions in mother languages can be displayed.

“Students are also enjoined to see how many mother languages fellow students speak, make a survey of the languages by interviewing them and publish the results on the internet. They should also organize cultural activities such as films, plays and music that celebrate different languages.

“They should be told a story or sing songs in their mother tongues, in addition, to encourage them to watch movies in their mother language, by this, our children’s love of their mother tongue will be sustained right from when they are young.”

Social Media Use

The use of social media should also be encouraged. For instance, Kerry Washington, an African-American Hollywood actress, made headlines in Nigeria a few months ago when she tweeted in Igbo language, one of Nigeria’s three dominant languages. The tweet, reported by the News Agency of Nigeria, was a birthday message to another Hollywood actress, Uzo Aduba.

“Ncheta Ubochi omumu gi. Ekele diri Chineke.” Washington tweeted to Uzo, meaning “Happy Birthday. Thanks to God.” Uzo then replied in Igbo, “Heh Nwannem Nwanyi, Ina asu Igbo??!!. Maka odi mma! Nwanne daalu maka ubochi Omumu m.” That is: “My sister, so you speak Igbo? It is good. Thank you for wishing me a happy birthday.” Washington’s tweet became an instant sensation and was one of the most searched items on the social media in Nigeria.

The celebrities’ written communication in Igbo impressed Twitter users because few young Igbo, even if educated, are literate in their own language.

Governmental efforts to preserve languages

UNESCO boss, Ms Andrey Azoulay called for greater efforts to preserve and promote mother languages and indigenous languages, to bolster inclusion, diversity and ultimately, sustainable development.

“A language is far more than a means of communication; it is the very condition of our humanity. Our values, our beliefs and our identity are embedded within it.

“It is through language that we transmit our experiences, our traditions and our knowledge. The diversity of languages reflects the incontestable wealth of our imaginations and ways of life,” she added.

Azoulay therefore urged linguists, communicators, Information and Communication Technology (ICT) professionals and software developers to seek innovative solutions to the problem of languages going into extinction, by not just raising awareness on the fate of languages, but also “to develop packages and software that will help younger people to develop interest in and opt to learn their mother tongues with friendly tools and methods.”

Efforts of Nigerian governments

Language begins to die when people stop reading and writing it. The process begins with children. As the children grow up, they lose their indigenous languages along with the cultures they transmit.

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Kudos, therefore, must be given to the Nigerian government, particularly states like Osun and Lagos. Of recent, the government of the urban state of Lagos took drastic measures to rescue Mother Tongue. Apart from the State House of Assembly members using the Yoruba language at the plenary on Thursdays, it promulgated a law to ensure pupils are thought in their mother tongue. It has also recommended passing the Yoruba language at the high school level as a criterion for admission into the Lagos State University, (LASU).

But Gov. Rauf Aregbesola of Osun State went a step further. For over seven years, besides what is now obtained in Lagos, National Pledge, National Anthem and State Anthem that clearly defines the Yoruba race are recited in the Yoruba language on state radio and television stations as well as in schools and at official functions.

Research findings

A special report by the International Center for Investigative Reporting, ICIR, showed that this emphasis on English has disrupted education for Nigerian children and denied them head-start in learning. Many pupils graduate from primary school without learning how to read in the mother tongue.

Research has consistently shown that children do better if they are taught in their home languages in their early years of schooling – that mother-tongue instruction may go beyond improving academic performance and learning achievement.  Some argue that making local languages a bigger part of the educational curriculum would instil pride in children about their culture, and thus encourage them to preserve it.

Nigeria’s Minister of State for Education, Prof Anthony Anwukah observed that Nigeria’s indigenous languages could become extinct due to decline in their usage by the children and the youths. He added that “language is the most potent instrument for preserving and developing a people’s cultural heritage.

“I believe that the best way to give our children good knowledge of history, values, and tradition is to ensure that they read and write in their own local languages,” Anwukah said.

A research report presented by a seasoned educator late Prof. Babs Fafunwa entitled: “Education in the Mother-Tongue: A Nigerian Experiment – the Six-Year (Yoruba Medium) Primary Education Project at the University of Ife, Nigeria” lay credence to Anwukah’s assertion.

This project, launched as a medium of instruction throughout the six-year primary course, affirmed virtually all its assumptions/hypotheses that the child benefits culturally, socially, linguistically and cognitively through native language instruction; and that his command of English will be improved if it is taught as a separate subject by a specially trained teacher. (LBH)

A book ‘Education in Mother Tongue’ which is a product of the Ife Primary Education Research Project states a lucid case for the use of the child’s mother tongue as the medium of education for at least the first twelve years of his life. In this period which is considered the most formative stage of a child’s development, education in mother tongue should be an inalienable right.

The book shows how a mother tongue education was successfully planned, organized and implemented in a section of the country and how the various problems that emerged were solved.

“If you lose your language, you lose your culture,” Scholastica Tiguryera, a professional development specialist with the Research Triangle Institute, RTI International in Uganda told the ICIR. “We dream in our local languages, and most eloquent speakers are those who were educated in their local languages.”

Language experts suggest that the implementation of the policy on the medium of instruction in early years remains the best means to stem the tide of losing Nigerian’s indigenous languages. This view was echoed by Peter Okwoche, the Nigeria Editorial Lead for the Igbo and Yoruba Services of BBC.

“But it cannot just be the BBC,” Okwoche said. “The government has to get involved.”

He suggested that government should review the school curriculum, and predicted that the BBC’s new digital services for Igbo and Yoruba would galvanise the young people to engage with the languages.

According to Kọ́lá Túbọ̀sún, a Nigerian writer and linguist, the consequence of losing indigenous languages, is worse than any other form of poverty.

“There are different kinds of poverty, all of them damaging to the dignity of man, but the deprivation of language is one that is more pernicious than the rest because it deprives not just the body, but also the mind.”

Conclusively, linguists warn that globalisation poses a threat to the survival of indigenous languages but also presents an opportunity for language revival. And as somebody observed, simple gesture like Kerry Washington and Uzo Aduba tweeting in Igbo, on the occasion of the International Mother Language Day, can make young people realise that communicating in their mother tongue is as cool as, and more rewarding than, any other languages.

By Elder Yinka Salaam, Voice of Nigeria (VON)

 yinkasalaam62@gmail.com

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