Preservation of Nigerian languages


Every social and human entity speaks a language or languages. Language is well-defined in Longman Encyclopedia as “a methodical communication with vocal sound symbols” (591). Language is a feature which distinguishes the most decisive human beings from all other creatures on earth (Gibson & Trask, 2004). Much research has suggested that the language is the strongest way to project the ethnic identity (Masaki, 2010). Giles in 2007, note that the language is not only an instrument for the exchange of messages, but also serves as a way to distinguish a group from other groups. The depth of the projection of identity through language is eloquently developed by Johnson in 2009 which states that ethnic identity is a double skin to linguistic identity, indexing and a symbiosis between language and ethnic identity. According to Adeyanju, (2013), this distinction is evident among minority and immigrant groups within a dominant culture in which the use of bilingual language is often analyzed as having two parts: the “we” against the code “they”. In this discrepancy, the code “we” is the word that connotes group intimacy and solidarity while the code “they” is associated with the state and used with off-dominant group (Adeyanju, 2013).

It is thought that 95% of the world’s languages have less than 1 million native speakers/signers, with an average of approximately 6000 users per language. Again, this is only an estimate based on the pattern found in documented languages, but the number of speakers of major languages is relatively easy to ascertain, and any undiscovered languages are likely to only have a relatively small number of speakers. Linguists are becoming increasingly alarmed at the rate at which languages are going out of use (Hale, 2009). However, one of the major consequences of the language contact situation in Nigeria is the emergence of English as the language of wider communication. The predominance of English in the Nigerian linguistic environment has remained a strong determinant of many national issues including education, language planning and language policy as well as the dynamics of culture and socialization across the country. This supremacy has been described as the English linguistic imperialism, a situation which has been described as a sub-type of linguicism (PhillIpson, 2011).

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). Nwogu, (2017) has called for the preservation of Nigerian languages. Nwogu stated that while Nigerian youths and children should be encouraged to learn French, English and other foreign languages, to become global citizens, it was also important to preserve Nigerian culture and encourage pupils to understand and appreciate such. Masaki, (2010) noted that better understanding of indigenous cultures by Nigerians would promote national cohesion and unity. Nwogu opined that understanding Nigerian cultures is very important because Nigeria is a federation and the better we could understand one another’s culture, the more united Nigeria will be.

Adeyanju, (2013) concluded that it is sad that teachers in many parts of the world are poorly remunerated. According to Adeyanju, teachers would be encouraged for greater productivity and efficiency if they are well paid.