Sunday, November 15, 2009

Is The Igbo Language Becoming Extinct?

The Guardian [Letters]

SIR: The language of a people is their identity. We are gradually watching the Igbo language decline. In the West, the scenario is a different ball game altogether because the Yorubas are doing a lot to preserve their heritage and it is quite commendable. Children of Yoruba descent born and bred beyond these shores speak the language with so much gusto whereas their Ibo counterparts residing in Nigeria cannot speak passable Igbo language.

Parents are culpable because they are not concerned whether their children speak it or not. If this trend continues, the language will definitely become extinct with the passage of this generation. According to Michael Omolewa, 'no greater injustice can be committed against a people than to deprive them of their own language'.

Everybody comes from somewhere and the ability to identify with your people should be a mark of honour and source of pride. The English language is neither our mother tongue nor our first language. It is a borrowed language, a legacy of our colonial masters. It is the language of commerce, governance, education, etc. English undoubtedly today is Nigeria's Lingua Franca. The neglect of the Igbo language has become so bad that even moviemakers nowadays hardly produce Igbo films.

The number of Igbo films in the market has drastically reduced. As a matter of fact you hardly find them. Time was when I tried getting some for a friend abroad only to meet with disappointment at the film market. Even blockbusters such as Living in bondage, Ikuku, Taboo and Circle of Doom are no longer available. This calls for a reawakening and positive action.

Professor S. O. Unoh of blessed memory in his book 'Topical Issues in Communication Arts' posited that "Language is part of the cultural heritage that is handed down from generation to generation and it is one of the major vehicles of cultural expression. He went further to say that, 'a culture is a totality of a people's experience and language is part of culture'. The responsibility of jealously guarding and preserving our heritage is a collective venture and a task worth achieving.

The customs and traditions of a people distinguish them from others. Gone are the days when children were instructed or reprimanded before strangers in the local language. Everybody, even those with minimal education who otherwise would be more comfortable and better off speaking Igbo often make caricature of the English language in order to impress their peers. This is not necessary if we understand who we really are. We should be proud of our various dialects and languages.

Government should make it compulsory for local languages to be taught not only in government-owned schools but also in the private schools. This way, a child would have a basic knowledge of their language which will eventually evoke interest as time goes on. If those abroad who haven't set their feet on our soil could so well speak their native language, no excuse is tenable enough not to achieve the same feat here.

Ozioma Ebirim (Mrs.),

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