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Mother Tongue Day: Experts task parents, teachers on Igbo language



As the world mark International Mother Tongue Day, language experts have called on parents to use mother tongue in communicating to their children at home while urging teachers in schools to also teach in vernacular to enhance all-encompassing impartation of knowledge.

Celebrated every February 21st, the United Nations proclaimed this day in 1999 “to promote the preservation and protection of all languages used by peoples of the world.”

In 2022, the federal government through the federal executive council approved a policy for education that made it compulsory to teach pupils from primary 1-6 in the indigenous languages (mother tongue) of the community of their schools, not necessarily the child’s own mother tongue.

This policy was predicated on the need to preserve endangered minority languages in Nigeria because out of 658 indigenous Nigerian languages, 29 minority languages have gone extinct over the period of years, leaving 625 languages.

But speaking on the importance of Mother Tongue in Awka, a professor of Igbo Language at Nnamdi Azikiwe University Awka, Professor Nkechinyere Nwokoye urged parents to always communicate to their children in Igbo language to ensure sustenance of their mother tongue and display their cultural identify.

Professor Nwokoye who recently delivered a public lecture in Igbo Language, believes that Igbo language will never go into extinction, unless the owners of the language chooses to do so, stressing the need for indigenous language to be used in teaching and learning as obtained in China, Germany and other developed countries of the world.

“For us at the Department of Igbo, African and Asian Studies, Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, we held a big event on Tuesday Feb 21, to promote and sustain Igbo Language.

“Anybody who speaks Igbo very well, can speak English fluently. It is our cultural identify. Therefore, let us not mix Igbo language with English. This is because Igbo Language has a complete lexical structure to enable one make a complete sentence, sustain conversation, hold argument, trade and teach.

“It pains me that in Igboland, Igbos become more European than the whites, despite the fact that they don’t speak English correctly. When you get to Nursery school where children had to be trained in Igbo language, they use half-baked English to train them. In China at any level of education, Chinese is the language of education from Nursery to tertiary level.

Prof Nwokoye, who spoke to our Correspondent in Igbo Language, however observed that different languages in the world can help to advance education when used in teaching and learning.

Speaking on negative impact of English language on the mother tongue usage of children in rural areas, a Professor of French Language and Translation at Nnamdi Azikiwe University Awka, Professor Enoch Ajunwa said it imposes itself on the users of the mother tongue as a superior language thereby bringing about some kind of linguistic inferiority complex on the children especially when they meet other children from the cities who speak only English.

“They see themselves as inferior so far as the use of English language is concerned. Secondly, the phenomenon of language interference on the mother tongue can also arise. Thirdly, English language corrupts the mother tongue resulting to Engli-Igbo (mixing English with Igbo in sentence construction).

“The teachers have the ability to communicate effectively in English, the pupils have the ability to understand and finally, the pedagogical policy prevalent in that school. Some schools prohibit the use of vernacular, therefore the lessons are given in English language.

“I recommend Pidgin English as official indigenous Lingua Franca because it cuts across all ethnicities in the country. Two, it is used by the greater number of Nigerians than any other language including English and other mother tongues. Above all, Pidgin English serves as a unifier among Nigerians nationawide. Hence, I strongly recommend it for study in our schools.”

On why Languages go extinct, Prof Ajunwa said languages go extinct when the native speakers prefer to use a more prestigious language thereby ignoring their own mother tongue.

“With time, they tend to forget their mother tongue in preference to the prestigious language. Two, a situation where there is a military conquest or political domination for which a particular language of a defeated people is prohibited as inferior or a taboo, with time such a language is largely forgotten. Finally, if all the native speakers die off as a result of influenza or are killed off as a result of war or any other type of sickness and diseases that ravages the area and destroys the people, they die off with their language. And that is the end of that language. It goes extinct.”

On his part, Mr Gabriel Alonta, an Education Correspondent, described Mother Tongue as the first language the child speaks, or perhaps, the parent’s language.

On whether Pidgin English should be official lingua franca since it cuts across all ethnicities in Nigeria, Alonta kicked against it because it’s not a standard English language and can make ardent speakers unable to express themselves in good English officially both in writing and in speaking.

“It can be used among peer groups not on official grounds, otherwise it may have a negative impact of the child in the future.

“There is need for parents to pass their mother tongue to their children so that it can flow from generation to generation. This will make Igbo language not go into extinction. The theme for this year’s International Mother Tongue Day is apt as it is geared towards promoting indigenous language so that they won’t go muribond,” the seasoned journalist concludes.

For Ogugua Onyiba, a senior researcher with National Root Crops Research Institute, the most important thing in language is the ability to communicate effectively in such a way that people will understand. While maintaining that he uses Igbo to communicate to his children at home, Mr Onyiba preferred multi-lingualism in circular society as it exposes ones mental horizon and propels him to wider opportunities across the globe, where mono-lingualism fails.

The theme for this year’s International Mother Tongue Day is “Multi-lingual education–a necessity to transform education”.

By Ifeizu Joe

Ifeizu is a seasoned journalist and Managing Editor of TheRazor. He has wide knowledge of Anambra State and has reported the state objectively for over a decade.

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