Language is a unique identity to every ethnic group. This makes language the most important aspect of communication to all humans.
Local language, also known as native language, local dialect and mother tongue, is a medium of communication, either spoken or written, consisting of the use of words in a structured and conventional way.
Therefore, learning to speak in the mother tongue is very important for a child’s overall development.
Being fluent in the mother tongue is said to benefit the child in many ways; one of which is to connect the child to its culture, ensure better cognitive development and aid in the learning of other languages.
Since communication is important, inevitable and necessary, local language enables us to express inner thoughts and emotions, makes sense of complex and abstract thoughts to interact and communicate to meet our wants and needs.
Local language is also very important for administrative purposes; that is, through it, we establish rules and regulations to maintain our unique cultures.
With over 500 languages spoken in Nigeria across over 250 tribes, the use of English as a general language of communication both in schools and homes is endangering local dialects as most parents see it as part of civilisation for their children to be fluent in English rather than their native languages.
Although in most schools, especially in the urban areas, education is impacted in English, the three major native tongues: Yoruba, Igbo and Hausa, are offered as subjects in schools. And because of this, a report has it that some Nigerian languages have become extinct.
Sometime back, the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, said indigenous languages could go into extinction soon if immediate action was not taken.
Mohammed said, ”There is a remarkable decline in the usage of our indigenous languages by our children and youths; many of them cannot read or write in their mother tongues.”
He said this at the 2017 Annual Round Table on Cultural Orientation in May, 2017.
Mohammed said it was very sad that some youths in Nigeria could not express compliments in their local dialects because they were used to foreign languages, a trend that was gradually becoming another international colonisation force.
One of the factors pushing local dialects into extinction is also inter-marriage; which is very common in Nigeria, and in most cases, it is wiping out tribes as children with parents from different tribes hardly understand their languages, and when they do, it is no longer in-depth like children whose parents are from the same tribe.
Ten-year old Blessing Okoro, whose father is Igbo and mother Idoma, said she did not understand Igbo but could speak and understand Idoma as her mother spoke Idoma to her at home unlike her father who only communicated with her in English.
Blessing’s mother said even though she spoke her local dialect with the children, they replied in English, especially when their father was around.
The mother said, “I don’t understand Igbo but I’m fluent in my native language; that is why I encourage my children. My husband speaks his local dialect but is more comfortable speaking English with the children.”
Mrs. Bola John, who is Yoruba and married to an Igala man, said it was important to her that her children understood her language and that she was trying to make them understand that of their father too.
Mrs. John said, “We send them to their grandparents during long vacation in turns and there is positive result as they are gradually understanding both Yoruba and Igala.
“My husband and I also speak our dialects to them and they are improving by the day, though they speak Yoruba more because they spend more hours with me than their father because of his work.”
14-year-old Abubakar Hassan said he did not understand his local language because his parents only communicated with the children in English.
Hassan said, “My mother is from Kaduna State. Our parents speak English, and sometimes Hausa, but not our dialect. I feel bad because I can neither speak nor understand my local language. I will love to learn if possible.”
However, six-year-old Muhammed Umar, a banker’s son, speaks Hausa fluently and one wonders how a little child has such good command of his native dialect.
Umar’s father confirmened that, “We speak our dialect at home, so the children learn it without stress. That was how we were brought up and we have to inculcate it in our children too. There is nothing wrong in speaking English with your children, but when you are doing that at the detriment of your local language, it is wrong. We should all encourage these young ones to learn, understand and speak our local languages so that they can also project them to the world.”
A secondary school teacher, Mrs. Grace Olabode, said language was a way of bonding with others, adding that that was why when you heard someone speaking your local dialect you were naturally attracted to the person.
Mrs. Olabode said most people felt it was archaic speaking local dialects to their children, especially in the cities.
She said, “Speaking of native language will help preserve it and prevent it from going into extinction. Language is an important part of any society because it enables people to communicate and express themselves. When a language dies out, future generations lose a vital part of the culture that is necessary.”