Neglect Of Yoruba Language And The International Mother Language Day

By Adedeji Tarnner

Yoruba nation is a blessed race that does not value its sanctity when it comes to our language and culture. We are like a horse that leaves its pony and decides to back other children, a dog that has its own excreta in its stomach but decides to eat others.

When it comes to language, I make bold to say it that our own ranks among the best in the world because of its uniqueness. Ironically, the language is fast fading away because of its neglect. While we the Yorubas are cleverly and foolishly jettisoning our own language, other nations of the world are wisely polishing theirs thereby relegating Yoruba language to the background even in Yoruba land. Sad.

Children, both at home and in school are no more showing interest in their own language because the elders who are supposed to teach them are yawning in their slumber. The Bible says teach your child the way to follow, when he grows, he will not depart from it. At home the children are banned from speaking Yoruba. In school, “Speaking of Vernacular is not allowed” is always the slogan. Much emphasis is laid on English language being referred to as the internationally acceptable language. Nothing is wrong with that, but the government has failed to know that charity begins at home. Don’t forget also that the majority of our population are illiterate. They can neither write nor read. But because of the notion that every person wants to belong, no one wants to be left out of the fast train of civilization. They now adopt cosmetic approach to language. Some of our parents speak very bad English language to the young ones and the children build on this bad foundation. And what do you get in School’s examinations? Mass failure in English language. The social media are not helping matters too where students write answers as if they are sending text messages to their friends. So the result is that they are not faring well in English language and they are not passing Yoruba language which means they are neither here nor there.

Chinese nation is ranked among the technologically advanced countries of the world because they lay much emphasis on their indigenous language. Children under the age of 10 years are not allowed to be taught other languages than their own. They lay solid foundation for their children in the area of language. They understand issues better when explained in mother tongue than the foreign, borrowed language.

I stand to be corrected, there are some of our languages in Yoruba that are very difficult to be translated into English language or other languages. For instance, when it comes to our local herbs, there are some leaves and roots that are not known by other nations because they don’t have it over there. You cannot give what you don’t have. Our language goes along with culture. There is no way you can separate the two. Our children have lost the cultural and moral values the way they are losing our language. Hardly can you see a male child that will prostrate or a female child that will kneel down to greet elders these days. We have all imbibed foreign culture of shaking hands and even kissing. Yoruba male children are now plaiting their hair like Sango (god of thunder) worshippers. They adorn the ears with ear-rings; they have tattoos all over their bodies. They also draw their trousers down (sagging) like runaway fugitives. The young female are also into this competition when it comes to these bad habits. And we, the Yoruba parents, are looking the other way instead of chastising these innocent, ignorant children. All these character traits are alien to our cultures and customs.

That is why we are no more getting it right. Moral decadence is very rampant, we’ve almost lost our values. I suggest, we the Yorubas should organise a national conference on the way of tackling our fading language.

Based on what is happening worldwide concerning the usage of indigenous  languages, UNESCO (United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization) declared 2008 International Year of Languages and on 17 November, 1999 International Mother Language Day was announced by UNESCO which is an observance held annually on 21 February worldwide to promote awareness of linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism . International Mother Language Day originated as the international recognition of Language Movement Day, which has been commemorated in Bangladesh since 1952, when a number of students including the students of the University of Dhaka were brutally killed by the Pakistan Police during the protest over the imposition of a particular language on the entire nation.

The observance of international Mother Language Day has a theme each year it is celebrated. This year’s theme is ‘The Book’. Therefore the proposal for this year is: Read texts, poems, dramas etc. in local language or lesser resourced language “somewhere in public” if possible to make people aware of the status of many lesser resourced languages. The goal is to reach people, even if only a few. We should then keep this way of communicating International Mother Language Day to people for coming years and extend the network of places where a reading takes place step by step.

We at the Yoruba Languages and Ethnics Initiative (NGO) are using this medium to appeal to the Yoruba nation to stand up now and face reality that we don’t have any other language than our own. Our own is our own. We should encourage the usage at home and in schools especially the schools in Yoruba speaking states of Lagos, Oyo, Ogun, Osun, Ekiti, Ondo and Edo. We are applauding Lagos State House of Assembly for doing their deliberations and other works in Yoruba language every Thursday of the week. This is worth emulating by other Yoruba speaking states of the federation. It is a welcome development to further encourage the speaking of Yoruba Language.  Our own slogan is “SO YORUBA”——SPEAK YORUBA).

Our organization’s research had shown that students who know their onions when it comes to indigenous language perform well in examinations set up in English language. This research took us about 10 years to complete and we are very much convinced by our assertion. We are hereby pleading passionately with parents at home and teachers in school to encourage the usage of Yoruba language among their children and students. In Europe alone there are well over 70 universities and tertiary institutions that are studying Yoruba language which means that what we are throwing away with our left hand, they are grasping with their right hand. What this means is that, in the next 50 years when Yoruba language might have become extinct, the Europeans we are teaching now may come to us to resuscitate the language for us the owners. To prevent this from happening, now is the right time to stand up to this great challenge.

•Tarnner is president, Yoruba Languages and Ethnics Initiative (NGO)

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