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1.1 Background of the study
There are over 520 languages spoken in Nigeria (Chigudu, Theophilus and Tanko, 2017). The official language of Nigeria, English, the former colonial language, was chosen to facilitate the cultural and linguistic unity of the country. Communication in the English language is much more popular in the country’s urban communities than it is in the rural areas (Blench and Roger, 2014). The other major languages are Hausa, Igbo, Yoruba, Urhobo, Ibibio, Edo, Fulfulde and Kanuri. 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. Nigeria also has several as-yet unclassified languages, such as Centúúm, which may represent a relic of an even greater diversity prior to the spread of the current language families (Chigudu, Theophilus and Tanko, 2017).
Local or indigenous language can be construed to mean a language spoken of belonging or connected with a particular place or area which one is talking about or with the place where one lives (Adedeji, 2014). Indigenous languages are the tribal, native or local language spoken. The language would be from a linguistically distinct community that has been settled in the area for many generations (Jibir-Daura, 2014). Language being a potent vehicle of transmitting culture, norms, values and beliefs from generation to generation remains a central factor in determining the overall status of a nation (Yusuf, 2012). Indigenous language refers to the various native languages spoken in Nigerian. They are languages that are aboriginal to the people (Adeniyi & Bello, 2006)
Indigenous languages are not necessarily national languages, and the reverse is also true. Many indigenous peoples worldwide have stopped passing on their ancestral languages to the next generation, and have instead adopted the majority language as part of their acculturation into the majority culture. Furthermore, many indigenous languages have been subject to linguicide (language killing) (Zuckermann, Ghil‘ad, Shakuto-Neoh, Shiori, Quer, Giovanni and Matteo, 2014). Recognizing their vulnerability, Kelechukwu, (2014) disclosed that the Head, Department of Linguistics, Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, Professor Cecilia Eme, has suggested that Nigerian students from pre-primary, primary, post-primary and even the University should be taught in Nigerian indigenous languages, stating that research has shown that students understand and assimilate faster and better when they are taught in the native language, and that realistic development of a country can only occur when people invest in their mother tongue while drawing attention to the critical loss of indigenous languages and the urgent need to preserve, revitalize and promote indigenous languages.
Ene (2007) submits that instead of making a foreign language enjoy the states it is enjoying presently, indigenous language and courses in teacher education institutions should be planned to equip every teacher with the capacity of teaching in both foreign and indigenous languages. As noted by Olafia (2014) many societies are faced with the challenges of language loss, language shift or even language death and this to him, may be linked to the fact that a large percentage of the languages are still not properly documented. Akabogu & Mbah (2013) contends that the government should see the indigenous languages more clearly for what they had been all along viz, a veritable and practical means of communication, some of which could very easily be harnessed for effectively national integration which is a matter of paramount importance for a country still struggling to consolidate its independence. Similarly, Adzer (2012) avers that the government should give more attention to the development and promotion of indigenous languages than it is presently giving to English, French or other foreign languages being imposed on children to whom the mother tongue is alien. As noted by Jibir-Daura (2014), indigenous languages are not argued to be development’s ‘‘saving grace’’, rather they are seen as a tool with which to facilitate positive transformation and advancement by creating not only wider acceptance of existing diversity but also of facilitating a greater number of social opportunities to speakers of minority languages.
Adedeji (2014) citing Salawu (2014) notes that indigenous languages are not highly esteemed just like in Nigeria, where English and western education remain the vehicles of power and progress in life. This neglect for indigenous language must be arrested before it goes into extinction. Balogun (2013) contends that the loss of any language by a people is the loss of their root and the loss of their identity and when a language is lost, such a people who experience the loss continue to live in the shadow of other people’s identity and culture. The survival of the language of a people is very vital to the people’s survival on the whole (Adzer, 2012). Dooga (2012) affirmed that the loss of a language includes the loss of a people’s heritage, their culture, and it takes away an important part of a nation’s history because as the language declines, so do the cultural mores of the people who speak it. As noted by Ogunmodimu (2015:156):
Today, English has grown to become the official national language of Nigerian and continues to play important roles in the nation as the language of education, media, religion (especially the Pentecostal Christian Faith), and the language of politics, governance and law.
The use of indigenous language is central to the holistic development of any nation. It is imperative to take the linguistic features into account in order to ensure full participation all the citizenry in the developmental process (Emeka-Nwobia, 2015). Benson, Okere & Nwauwa (2016) adduced reasons that underscore the need to promote indigenous language in Nigeria. It includes: to stimulate the child’s interest in learning; to avoid loss of identity and to retain our cultural values.
In Nigeria, the educated ones exhibit a love-hate attitude towards the English language. While they seem to admire their children’s high level of proficiency in English, they still complain about adopting the English language as a lingua franca. Adeyanju (2013:16) has described this attitude as resulting from the conflicting sentimental and instrumental attachment to the use of a language. Many educated Nigerians extol the use of the English language because they use it as a vehicle to achieve their own goals. To secure admission into any university, candidates require a credit in English. Juicy appointments and promotions are extended to those who have demonstrable ability in English. On the other hand, this same group of Nigerians dreads to realize their national aspirations in a borrowed tongue, which the English language represents. This is due to the primordial attachment to one’s own language, which makes people feel that their heritage is involved.
According to Omoniyi & Goodith, (2006) attitudes are not actions, and prestige planning is not enough on its own to increase a language’s vitality. Some speakers whose performance in festivals is high in terms of accent and accuracy, lack the confidence to speak it in their everyday life or to transmit it to their own children. But it can be argued that awareness-raising is a prerequisite for the acceptance and success of more concrete measures, as publicly funded measures require the support of the Anglophone majority.
In recent years, scholars have indicated an unusual interest in the use of language by undergraduates. This is understandably linked to the creativity that is embedded in the usage. Undergraduate students see their peculiar language, generally known as slang, as a tool for liberation from the constraints of standard language, especially in its most prescriptive form. They do not want to be hemmed in by the norms of the standardized language use; they want to be in charge of language (Ogunmodimu, 2015).
1.2 Statement of problem
English, initially imposed on Nigeria when it was a British colony, has functioned as the official language of the country. Because of its past and present roles in the administration and social life of the country, some Nigerians now think that English is the greatest heritage bequeathed to the people at the end of British colonialism (Bamgbose, 2007). In fact, English occupies such an important position in the life of the country that some people now advance positive reasons to justify its retention as Nigeria’s national language. The name most commonly associated with the English option is Kebby (2010), who is of the view that “No Nigerian language can serve scientific and technological needs … because none is complete.” Others argue that since English is a neutral language, no ethnic group in Nigeria can claim ownership of it, so it will continue to belong equally to all Nigerians. Besides, English is an international language with widespread use in international trade and communication.
According to Osaji, (2012) the issue of a national language in Nigeria is a sensitive and controversial one. None of the indigenous languages as of now has either the linguistic spread or national acceptability to be accorded the status of a national language. Even the mere political recognition of Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba as major languages is beset with resentment from the speakers of the other languages for fear of being linguistically marginalized. This should be expected because people will normally exhibit linguistic loyalty towards their languages (p.161). However, since every language is ‘indigenous’ to a specific geographical location and/or people and secondly because the purpose of language is communication. Language is the means through which humans communicate their thoughts and express their imaginations. In this context, the only problem a language (whether indigenous to Nigeria or not) can have is that it doesn’t allow it’s speakers to pass clear and understandable information across to an audience or the audience doesn’t understand the information that was passed across by the speaker.