PART 1: The Importance of Language to Nation Building
(A Case Study of Nigeria)
If we can’t understand each other, all communication leads to misunderstanding and with such conflicts, no nation can be built up. So think now about the proverbial “Tower of Babel”. Was it not by confusing their languages that their common goal failed so woefully? So then again, if you want to build a nation, first determine what the family’s language would be for YES, a nation is a family of people, united by language and vision.
Language is a cultural art of the heart, expressed through acts of hearts, best understood through the heart of acts. We must cease from the temptation to think of language as simply being a symbol of communication for it is the communicator, symbolizing itself. You are your language, it is your heart’s culture put forward in words, moods and acts. If a nation has language barriers, they are deep-rooted cultural and spiritual barriers to life.
Today’s Nigeria has hundreds of languages and it is perhaps humanly impossible that an individual citizen understands all languages. This means that most of our communication will naturally produce misunderstandings no matter how hard we try. Even if we translate or transliterate from one language to another, many meaningful messages are lost. We may find examples of such confusions in today’s religious scriptures! So what is the way forward for Nigeria, how do we take ourselves out of this communication deficiency?
- Teach a unified language to all Nigerians and let them all speak this language alone so that everyone can communicate smoothly. This solution works because it removes the language disparities of today’s Nigeria. It’s challenge will however remain with the cultural characters of the people which only one’s native dialect could properly express. If we ignore this cultural factor, we become robots speaking at each other rather than humans speaking to each other. Language is a living “thing” with feelings that can be experienced.
If you go with Solution One, get ready to do a mass re-education of Nigerians in the newly chosen uniform language. This is what English Language has become to us in Nigeria and because English Language itself is a cocktail of many languages, borrowing new words from across the world, English Language has worked itself to become perhaps, the most updated language on the planet and as such, it may be the most “alive” language. But this aliveness fails when we look at the cultural aspect of language which we may call the soul of language itself. The English Language becomes a soulless “thing” when spoken in certain cultures and within some Nigerian settings. With all due respect, the English Language sounds like crap to many locals/natives who can’t seem to “feel” the spirit of their tribe within the wordings of English Language. One might argue this is why some tribal religions have refused to let go of their tribal languages, keeping their scriptures in their own dialects and mandating themselves to uphold it. A most sensible thing to do.
But for now, let’s assume that you have successfully re-educated all Nigerians to speak one language, the English Language and let’s also assume that somehow you’re able to make everyone “feel” their own tribal spirit within the expressions of English Language, there’d still be one major challenge which is the death and extinction of our local dialects.
Are we to embrace this unified English Language at the expense of our local dialects? Shall we bury our dialects for the sake of being One Nigeria with One Foreign Language? Or should we have English Language and retain our hundreds of native/local dialects?
If you ask us to retain our dialects while adopting English Language as our official language, would it become a crime for us to speak our local dialects in public places such as in market places where sometimes, two natives would use their local dialect to negotiate and arrive at a transaction? For example, Abubakar and Alisha may decide to bargain the price of a yam tuber in Hausa Language at Oshodi Market of Lagos State, what happens to Adekunle who wants the same yam tuber for the same price but lacks the leverage of local dialect to obtain it at the same rate that Abubakar did?
If we do not kill or criminalize every one of those hundreds of local dialect in Nigeria, ill-feelings such as feelings of injustices, unfairness, ethnic sabotaging among other such misunderstandings will continue to arise whenever local dialects are spoken.
This is already happening within Nigeria where hundreds of tribes can’t stop complaining of being sabotaged by other tribes because tribe members favor themselves than non tribe members. Millions of misunderstandings come from this local dialect factor especially in where national issues and issues around nation building are concerned.
We deceive ourselves that we have one Lingual Franca which is the English Language, a language imposed on us by colonial brutality. How can such a language – the memory of which evokes feelings of incompleteness and unworthiness – ever truly represent the aspirations of any portion of our Nigerian life? It is certainly impossible that a prison warder’s language should gain more expressive clarity within your heart than your mother’s tongue for when you jailbreak, your mother’s tongue becomes therapeutic.
With the English Language imposed upon Nigerians, a genetic memory of colonial ill-will and memories of ruthless psychic hypnotism continue to ravage the sub-consciousness of the Nigerian people. These and more are reasons the English Language fails whether in educating us, in expressing our inner truths or in organizing ourselves as One Nigeria.
- Let each Nigerian Language Family stand as a sovereign nation with her member-dialects forming sub-national communities within each of those sovereign nations. This will bring about the emergence of something like a “One Sovereign Yoruba Nation” where the Ijebus, Egbas, Ondos, Ijeshas and Oyos among others are sub-national Yoruba communities or States. The same can be done for other language families such as the Hausa and the Igbo among several others. This is perhaps the surest and the only way to save ourselves from all the ethnic and tribal nuisances that we offer one another and which has so far damaged our neighborly feelings with one another as fellow Nigerians.
If you go with Solution Two, get ready to start discussing issues around which dialects belong to what language family, a challenge that should be fairly easy to tackle. Even if a particular tribe refuses to identify itself as belonging to a certain language family – either due to peculiar ethno-historic reasons or due to an extraordinary population size – such a tribe can still be allowed to become a sovereign nation with its unique native language.
To this extent, the definition of a nation by her language family works well as thatquickly removes most of the communication problems which sit at the heart of all other problems that are bedeviling the projects of nation and community building.
So let’s assume that you have successfully sorted Nigeria into sovereign nations or tribal national communities based on this language family formula, we have other challenges to deal with. They are challenges that surround human interest issues for while SOLUTION ONE leaves us with too many unresolved ethnic, cultural, tribal and communication troubles, SOLUTION TWO brings us to face the more fundamental issues of equity, love, wisdom and the greed-factor. These central human-interest issues will be faced when it comes to land ownership and land distribution, testing the quality of our bilateral and multilateral relationships as sovereign nations while also bringing up citizenship issues especially as regards intermarriages among those who are now members of new nations.
These are issues we can easily resolve through reasonable dialogues as the more discordant cultural issues of pseudo communication ceases to exist among us. If we so decide to preserve the ideological entity named Nigeria, we may continue to address all Sovereign Nations as members of One United Nigerian Nations. This clearly works too.
We have therefore seen that with language and language families, we are closer to achieving a restructuring that removes the most basic cultural dilemma that has confronted all Nigerians, a dilemma forged upon us and our unborn generations by the Englishman’s cultural opinion and mercantilist reality. I therefore wish to conclude by stating that this thesis or paper is released as a suggestion to all nation building minded Nigerians home and abroad to please consider a most natural and excellent way to start rethinking ourselves out of the present national conundrum christened after its geographical location, Nigeria. Your reasonable and honorable thoughts are welcomed.
This paper, article or thesis is by no means conclusive as the author and contributors may very well steer it in line with greater awareness and better reasoned initiatives. This is why I cannot be accused of trying to divide the nation but may be seen as sharing thoughts as is necessary for totally hijacking our people’s destiny from alien realities.
Shepherd Godsbaby Osifeko is a community-conscious individual and a Yoruba human.