Language, Technology and Democratic Culture
Language, Technology and Democratic Culture,
at the College of Education, Zuba, FCT Abuja,
October 12-16, 2015
Keynote Address by Dr Bukar Usman
It is easy
to see the link between language and any sphere of human activity. This is because language is the conveyor of meaning, be
it technological or democratic meaning. In its theoretical and practical dimensions, and even in its utilitarian functions,
technology uses the vehicle of language - technical and everyday language. And, of course, technology is created to serve
humanity within given social settings, the most self-governing and accountable of such settings being, in popular opinion,
the democratic setting. Freedom of speech and of the press is a defining characteristic of a democratic setting and this,
recently, has been boosted in many nations by the adoption of freedom of information as a democratic right.
All these rights and even the democratic process itself make sense to the people (for whom the parties and the elections are
ideally organized) through the use of language. Technology and democracy communicate meaning through the vehicle of language.
It is difficult to advance technology and democracy without a corresponding advancement of language. Indeed, without language
there will be no social understanding and, therefore, no stable environment within which technological innovation and democratic
processes can take place. It takes language to aggregate and express group interests, negotiate political stakes and express
political choices. It takes technology to advance these goals by, for example, using technological gadgets to effect biometric
capture of eligible voters and digitalization of the voting and counting processes, among several other technological enhancements.
Such technical balloting system is usually effectively deployed in advanced social settings.
What makes democracy work in such settings: their technology, their democracy or their people? The point we should note is
that what makes such settings advanced is not necessarily their advanced technologies nor their "advanced" democracies
but, essentially, their advanced population. A democracy is as good as the quality of the electorate and the quality of the
electorate is determined by the kind and level of information available to the people. And information is conveyed through
It is the opinion of this speaker that much of the success politicians have recorded
in continually taking the people for a ride has deep roots in the average citizen's ignorance of the realities of his
social environment and the politician's exploitation of this ignorance through manipulative use of language. To put a
stop to this, or at least minimize it, we must as a people make the education of every citizen of this nation a national priority.
We cannot build a sustainable accountable system upon an unenlightened population. Education increases the quality of the
educated, opens him up to wider information, and makes him less susceptible to social manipulation.
While I do not contest Prof. Jack M. Balkin's well-known position that "digital technologies alter the social conditions
of speech,"1 it is my considered opinion that it takes a largely enlightened population, much more than technological
processes, to drive and entrench a democratic culture. For our democracy to deliver peace and prosperity, it must transcend
the current trend where it is merely a four-year event to a possible future where it becomes a culture - our own home-grown
democratic culture. And maybe we should pin down what this democratic culture really amounts to through the words of Prof.
A democratic culture is a culture in which individuals have a fair opportunity to participate in the forms
of meaning-making that constitute them as individuals. Democratic culture is about individual liberty as well as collective
self-governance; it concerns each individual's ability to participate in the production and distribution of culture.
I like this definition because it is individual-oriented and places key emphasis on meaning-making.
Language is about meaning-making. Unless we develop the capacity of the average citizen to make sense out of our currently
elitist approach to technology and democracy, we will continue to face grave challenges in these areas. Currently our indigenous
languages are hardly deployed in meaningful communications that galvanizes our people's potentials for productive participation
in nation-building programmes and processes. Yet, attempts are being made to involve them in technology-driven civic engagements,
such as voter registration and the current nationwide national ID card registration exercise.
I am not against technology. Technology has delivered some very useful inventions, such as the internet and the mobile phone.
The internet in particular has proved very useful in making information available to all in the quickest possible time. Google's
role in this regard is remarkable. But there are negative impacts of this development that indicate that unless we secure
the "nature of man," his capacity for meaning-making and meaning-internalization, he may become a robotic victim
of technology. Jenny Kidd of the University of London thinks that
All this boosterism and herd-like affirmation is
bizarre because the internet is a new mode of convenience, nothing more, nothing less. It has not made society more egalitarian,
it has not made modern democratic politics more ‘transparent', it has not made us happier. Rather, it has made our
appetites more impatient to be satisfied, devised new, speedier ways of satisfying them, and created more sophisticated methods
of monitoring and controlling our private lives. (Siegel 2009)3
To change the
negative impact of the internet, as painted above, what we need to change is not the internet but the meaning-making nature
of the internet-user. Language is a very vital driver of change; the more meaningful the language, the greater change it delivers.
No language conveys meaning to our people more than their indigenous languages. We can employ indigenous languages as weapons
of change; we can use it to stimulate our technological and democratic development.
Language and Technology
Given the foregoing, the connection between language and technological development is in general terms self-evident. Technology
is invention through thought. Thinking is done and articulated through language. Therefore, thought, language and technology
are inextricably linked. It is through language that we express feelings, and conceive and impart information - even scientific
and technological information.
Language is a major means for human communication and is
central to training, effective management, and the provision of services. Language could either be a barrier or a facilitator
of economic activities. It can be a barrier even in language-based vocations e.g. translation, interpretation, the media,
tourism and teaching. In fact, there is no domain of economic activity in which language does not play a role. The degree
is only determined by the linguistic character of the community (Webb 2003). It is therefore paramount for every
society to ensure its indigenous language is developed enough to drive technological growth.
To do this successfully, an indigenous language must be fully codified. Linguistic development is partly the attainment of
proper codification of a given language. In addition, the language must be in constant use by its speakers. Unfortunately,
most Nigerian languages are yet to be fully codified. They lack systematic descriptions and are not documented. It is therefore
pertinent for speakers of non-codified languages to note that gone are the days such duties are left solely for government.
It is now the responsibility of speech communities to sponsor the codification of their languages. The codification will facilitate
development on various fronts. It is only fully codified languages that are taught in schools due to availability of orthographies.
By learning to write their indigenous languages, speakers of such languages can put down
their thoughts, including innovative thoughts, on paper and this can be the seed of some technological product. Who knows
how many technological initiatives have died unexpressed because of the non-literate status of the indigenous inventors? That
someone cannot speak a foreign language does not mean he cannot think creatively. We need to develop our indigenous languages
to the point where it can be used in introducing our students to science and technology.
Many scientific and technological ideas did not originate in China; yet, through learning those concepts in their native Mandarin
language, the Chinese have made enviable scientific and technological strides. Their frontline scientists do not speak English,
French or German. Whatever made them successful scientists they learnt and practiced using Mandarin. those concepts scientific
ideas can be studied. For that reason, linguistic development is a necessity for any meaningful and desirable development.
If you think China succeeded because of its huge population, what about Singapore, a country of 5.399 million people that
has successfully employed its national language, Malay, in its technological development. There are many Nigerian languages
that are spoken by over 5 million people. Are there any Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry or Biology textbooks written in those
languages? I am not aware of any.
Scientific or technological development cannot be attained
by a people who had not developed linguistically. Suffice it to say that all technologically developed nations and societies
must have attained linguistic development prior to thier scientific or technological development (Amfani 2012 forthcoming).
You must have realized that the relationship between language and technology differs from
place to place. Relationship in terms of the effect of one on the other also varies from language to language. The differences
correspond to the level of technological sophistication of the society and the level of codification of the language.
The failure of most African governments to develop robustly their local languages for use in generating wealth and technological
development has led such countries to failure and stagnation in many areas.
Sustaining Our Local Languages
For the rest of this address, I will dwell largely on sub-themes related to the need to sustain
our local languages, as it is only when a language is in existence that one could relate it to technology, democratic and
other cultural expressions.
The current state of our indigenous languages is captured by
In spite of the strong emphasis linguists, oral folklorists, writers and experts place on the need for
parents to transmit their mother tongues to their children through active usage at home, many people across the world are
yet to heed this call. In nowhere else is this negligent attitude more glaring than in parts of Africa, especially among small
ethnic groups with minority languages. These minority languages are battling the onslaught of majority languages fostered
on them by a multitude of factors not least is rampaging globalization that is fast assimilating and annihilating secure traditional
lifestyles and modes of living. - Anote Ajeluoron of The Guardian Newspapers
one of the most linguistically diverse parts of Nigeria, I attach great importance to the fortunes and misfortunes of the
indigenous language. Troubled by the fate of minority languages in Nigeria, I recently wrote a book1 drawing attention
to current issues about language disappearance with particular reference to the linguistic groups of Biu, Borno State, North-Eastern
Nigeria. In so doing I thought I could join linguists and other stakeholders to sensitize and urge all concerned to
take urgent steps to save our endangered indigenous languages, especially the many minority languages currently threatened
Among Nigerian linguists, the most worrisome question currently is: how many languages do we have?
For many years now, nobody seems to know. (Emenanjo 2003). According to Ethnologue: Languages of the World, 16th edition,
published in 2009, Nigeria has a total number of 527 languages. Out of this number, 514 are living languages; 2 (English and
Pidgin) are second languages without mother tongue speakers while eleven (Ashagana, Auyokawa, Bassa-Kwantagora, Fali of Baissa,
Kpati, Lufu, Shirawa, Taura, Ajanci, Basa-Gumwa and Teshenawa) are languages with no known speakers. It is
also important to note that Nigerian languages vary in terms of numerical strength and social influence. The determination
of the numerical strength of languages in Nigeria presents a peculiar problem under the current National Census Policy.
As I observed in my book:
...so long as the current policy on population census which excludes reference to an individual's
‘ethnic' and other statistical indices subsist, it will be impossible for interest groups to evaluate the ‘growth'
or ‘demise' of any particular language group on the basis of its ‘absolute' population and ‘proportion'
of its speakers in relation to the total population or any given segment of the total population.2
on to argue that while on grounds of overriding public policy:
...the exclusion of ‘ethnicity' may be desirable
and defensible on the basis of the promotion of national unity in diversity; it is an obvious constraint in the evaluation
of the fate of ethnic languages at present and in the future.3
In soliciting a joint endeavour of stakeholders
to highlight the fate of languages generally, therefore, I warmly appreciate the effort of the Local Organising Committee
of the Zuba Journal of Languages in staging this conference. May your efforts be crowned with more successes and
blessed with the wherewithal to sustain the publication of the journal and to stage more regularly similar conferences here,
and elsewhere. It is advisable that you link up with the Linguistic Association of Nigeria (LAN) and other local and international
associations with similar objectives to get more inspiration for greater effect. There is need to further expand and enhance
the scope of advocacy to relevant government agencies and stakeholders. Your members and associates should be encouraged
to publish books in Nigerian languages as currently there are very few publications available for those who want to learn
to read and write in their native languages.
Worthy of emulation is Pa Oladejo Okediji, 85 year-old Yoruba novelist,
writer and author who has blazed the trail in writing in Yoruba language. He has written several books in Yoruba which have
been used at one time or the other as text books in Nigerian Universities. His books have also been serialized in newspapers,
read over the radio and produced as home videos. Some of his titles are Aj Lo leru, Agbalagba Akan, Atoto Arere, Aajo
Aje, Ka rin kapo, Oga ni Bukola, Rere Run, Sango, Opa Agbeleka, Iroyin Ayo, and Binu ti ri. And he is still
Olutayo Irantiola, a Nigerian novelist, biographer and playwright has decided to mount a regular
programme in Lagos where works of Yoruba literature and art, especially the earlier works, will be showcased through sessions
of book-reading, dramatic and poetic performances and cultural parades. He said he was doing so to arrest the current trend
whereby Yoruba speakers tended to give primacy to English over Yoruba language whereas there is a worldwide interest in Yoruba
language by outsiders.5
It is perhaps pertinent at this stage to state briefly
how I initially came about taking interest in language matters. This interest is linked to my literary career which bloomed
after my retirement from the federal public service in 1999. When I embarked on writing A History of Biu, a forthcoming
book centred on my community, I came across a statement by one of the pioneer foreign missionaries who came to my area in
1923. He was an American named Albert D. Helser. He narrated how, within two to three years of their arrival in Biu, he and
his colleagues had proficiently learnt Bura as a working language. At that time, Bura language was not well documented; the
precarious situation of the language made him to express fears regarding its possible disappearance. He words:
far as I could learn, no white man had ever spoken Bura when Mr Kulp and I came into Buraland. The natives were blissfully
ignorant of any such thing as writing. Mr Palmer a government clerk and a native of Sierra Leone, had learned Bura and had
compiled for government uses a brief grammar of Bura done in English. This was now our starter. After three years, St. Marks
Gospel, "first" and "second" readers, an Old Testament story book and life of Christ have been printed
in Bura. A dictionary-grammar, a translation of the Acts of the Apostles, a book on hygiene and sanitation and a song-book
are now (1926) in preparation.6
For that reason, he ominously predicted that
During the next half-century, the Bura language may possibly give way to Hausa or English, but
for present and for some years to come, most of our work must be conducted in Bura tongue,7 (Italicized portions
I must say that that prophetic statement about the possible disappearance of
Bura language initially frightened me, but after barely seven decades it is turning out to be a true prediction - unless something
is urgently done to stop it! I will talk more about Bura language because I believe the case of Bura symbolizes the fate of
many minority languages of Nigeria. All of them, like Bura, are threatened.
was the first threat to local languages in Biu area but Hausa has overtaken it as the major threat to all local languages
of the area. Like a catfish eating up smaller fishes, Hausa's dominance in Biu area's linguistic stream seemed unchallenged
but English, for long warming up behind the scene, now poses almost the same threat as Hausa. Right now, most people in Biu
area, including the young and the old, can hardly read and write in any indigenous language or converse fluently without interjecting
Hausa or English. Today, almost all speakers of Bura are bilingual. It is difficult to meet someone who speaks only Bura but
there are many Bura/Hausa, Bura/English and Bura/Kanuri speakers. The few adults who still speak Bura with passable level
of proficiency surprisingly blissfully hope that the Bura language cannot disappear. Yet, the threat of Bura being swallowed
up in the future by any of those three languages is foreseeable.
Even in the educational
sector, Bura is suffering intense neglect. The Bura primers produced by the missionaries are no longer in circulation. I am
not sure Bura literature is taught in any educational institution - primary, secondary or tertiary - in the whole of Borno
State nor am I aware that any informal class in Bura-language resuscitation and sustenance is being conducted. But the reversal
of this trend is possible. Unfortunately, many minority speech communities appear satisfied with the current state of affairs
even when it amounts to their approving the death sentence of their indigenous languages. Urgent action is required to save
Bura language and other threatened minority languages of Nigeria. And this is basically not a programme for government; it
is the primary responsibility of the owners of the indigenous languages. The United Nations and UNESCO have warned that
the rate at which languages are disappearing across the globe is alarming, and that unless the trend is reversed, the loss
in unique cultural values that accompany language disappearance will make the world a culturally poorer place.
It must be mentioned here that one of the major functions of Departments of Languages & Linguistics and the Language Institutes
and Centres of Nigeria should be to facilitate the codification of local languages. Speech communities in Nigeria should therefore
engage such institutions for this valuable service.
Using Nigerian Languages to Drive Technology
According to Pasquali (1997:33)
... people must find their own language to articulate the world in their
own language and to transform reality in search of their own dreams.
This means that technology must be acquired or
domesticated through acceptable integration of Nigerian languages. Such languages especially the 3 big sisters, Hausa, Igbo
and Yoruba have been used by Microsoft in conjunction with African Languages Technology Initiative (Alt-I), Ibadan to produce
a translation of most computer terminologies in them (Amfani Ms). Despite this positive development there are many other languages
with millions of speakers where nothing of this sort exist; even with the big 3 sisters, they still need to be developed for
an all-round technological development. That means an appropriate technology must take root in the language of the soil and
we must see technology as defined by UNCTAD (1977) cited in Adiele (2002:6) that technology:
...involves not merely
the systematic application of scientific or other knowledge to practical tasks, but also the social and economic atmosphere
within which such application has to take place...Even the attitudes and values of people are, in a sense, part of technology
since they affect the capabilities of a nation.
Currently, Information Communication Technology (ICT) has brought
about not only new ways of doing things but also the development of its own language which only the initiated could understand.
Terms such as text, uploading, downloading, online, tweet etc no longer carry their ordinary English meanings. There are other
new terms such as chatting, email, e-commerce, e-banking and some queer expressions such as BRB (be right back), LOL (laugh
Technological dynamics have brought changes in the culture of doing things. Ositadimma
Nebo, Professor of Engineering and former Vice Chancellor, University of Nigeria Nsukka as well as former Minister of Power
(February 2013 to May 2015) recently acknowledged this. Explaining his reluctance to go back to teaching after his ministerial
appointment, he said:
...I have been teaching engineering in the university for a good part of my life, and I think
going back to now to teach students of the i-Generation - people who now use iPhone, i-everything and with engineering so
dynamic - I have to go for a refresher course. Otherwise, I will end up being taught by the students I'm claiming
to teach. So I would rather do other more practical things that I believe I can do.8
Some encouraging technological approachess are making impact outside the classrooms and in remote parts of Nigeria. A Nigeria
Police Officer Mahmood Mohammed Dahuwa was reported to have earned promotion to the rank of an Assistant Superintendent of
Police for using a wide range of technologies to identify and track down perpetrators of crime. Using technology, he has helped
in bringing down the crime rate in Karimlamido local government area of Taraba State.9
The change in vocabulary comes so rapidly nowadays that even compilers of dictionaries could hardly keep pace. Publishers
of English dictionaries are said to wait for about a period of five years for the new words or expressions to firm up before
they could include them in up-dated dictionaries. Hausa language has not been spared the effect of technology in its development
too. For example, Hausa has coined new terms to keep up with the digital world. Hence yanar gizo (spider web) is
the name given to internet while na'ura mai k'wak'walwa means computer. Several other languages might
have crafted such descriptive terms.
Below, I would like to briefly situate culture in terms
of specific relationship to technology, language and human rights.
Culture and Technology
and transmission of science and technology is one of the ways of ascertaining the realization of human potential. In the transfer
process, we often ignore the fact that science and technology are cultural phenomena. They are the superstructure culture
while language is the base. This is precisely why the transfer of science and technology in Nigeria often achieves peripheral
results. Bamgbose (1994) aptly submitted that "unless there is technology culture, the seed of transferred technology
will fall on barren ground and it will not germinate" (Obafemi 2012).
As expressed above, there has always been
a connection between technology and culture with one having an influence over the other. This influence has been more significant
since the advent of the 19th century. Technological development has changed culture positively and in some ways
negatively. Positively, culture drives technological development for higher achievement.11 There is no gainsaying
the fact that undeveloped traditional societies have limited capacity to develop technologically. The negative aspects of
technology on culture can be seen in the breakdown of family values in the lives of rural dwellers that flock to the urban
centers to work in industries and other establishments using current technologies.
Culture and Language
It is said that there are up to two to three hundred and even more definitions of culture which embraces the totality of
inherited and innate ideas, attitudes, beliefs, values, and knowledge, comprising or forming the shared foundations of social
actions.12 The numerous nature of the definition of culture suggests that there is no single all-embracing definition.
To me, culture is simply the totality of the way of life of a community or society developed over time.
often seen as the flip side of culture or being like the two sides of a coin. Viewed in another sense, language is a vehicle
of culture. To vividly drive home the relationship, those familiar with temperate climate compare culture to the iceberg while
language is the tip of the iceberg. Remarkably, so intimate is the relationship between language and culture that in the event
of the death of a language, culture and nearly all that are associated with it also vanish. What may be spared are the more
permanent features (materials) of a culture such as the more enduring artefacts (nowadays preserved in museums). Fortunate
to survive also may be societal practices (including non materials) that are preserved in writing or by digital means.
Quite significantly, another vivid example of the relationship of language and culture can be seen in expressions of different
languages. For example, the expressions of native Hausa speaker will convey Hausa culture while the expressions of Yoruba
and Igbo speakers will invariably convey the cultures of the speakers of those languages.
It is also noteworthy that
though a society may speak the same language e.g. Yoruba, the speakers may not necessarily share identical cultures as they
may be living in different environments. This explains the slight differences that are easily noticeable among Hausa in Nigeria
and Hausa of Mali or even our close neighbour Niger Republic. As is often the case a person who grows up away from place of
birth and does not speak the mother tongue is said to have lost touch with the original culture. This is particularly the
case with a child. If one takes away a child from its place of birth, the child easily forgets the mother tongue and learns
the language of the new environment. It is only when a person relocates as an adult that the person tends to resist new cultural
influences having already been formed in character and other cultural practices of the original place.
and Human Rights
The reference to democratic culture in the theme introduces ideological connotation in some
societies in the sense of the freedom of individuals to freely express themselves in their languages. In this sense, human
right issues bordering on democracy are embedded in the topic. Human rights, including democratic freedoms, are not absolute.
Often, many societies consider it needful to impose some restrictions, be they administrative, judicial or technological restrictions,
to limit certain excesses in order to protect the overall health of the society.13 It should be clear that this
democratic slant does not in any way mean that people living in non-democratic societies have no culture or rights of their
Current thinking in democratic Europe on preservation and promotion of "individual"
and "collective" rights, some of which are already contained in the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR),
centres around five inalienable "personal rights" pertaining to languages. These rights include: right to be recognised
as a member of a language community; right to have the freedom to use one's own language both in private and in public;
right to use one's own name; right to interrelate and associate freely with other members of one's language community
of origin; and right to maintain and develop one's own culture. The "collective rights" of language groups are
four. They include: right of groups to have their own language and culture taught; right of access to cultural services;
right of equitable presence of their language and culture in the communications media; and right to receive attention in their
own language from government bodies and in socio-economic relations.14
the rights as outlined, or the ingredients of them, exist in varying degrees in nearly every society. Only that some nations
that embrace and raise these ideals to a higher level, to the point of making it part of their culture, go all out to
propagate them as an ideology and that, arguably, is the cause of disagreements in many troubled spots of the world today.
Indeed, over the last two decades such propagators have introduced issues of human rights into almost all facets of human
Language and Learning
There is a growing realism amongst scholars,
especially language experts that linguistic attributes can influence learning. Language is looked at as human capital and
the language skills of an individual are interpreted as a source of educational and economic advantage.
of a review of my book narrated his experience to me by an email thus:
....I understand that the
more languages one speaks the bigger ones brain. This is largely because one would have access to more words and therefore
a richer vocabulary. If this is combined with an art of communication it is an extreme wealth.
I recall reading somewhere
that the best diplomats are great linguists and communicators. Today code and logarithm writers are predominantly white Caucasians,
male and western. There is a good percentage of Asian-Chinese, Japanese. And these are the people that control global trade.15
Individuals and nations who are not able to use their languages for all main transactions of their daily lives, are
doomed to life of dependency in the shadow of the languages of the colonizer, Djite (1993) and Prah (1996). What this means
in reality is that the enforced use of the foreign (European) languages bring about, among other things, a deadly decrease
and even total loss of creativity.
This, perhaps, is one of the reasons Nigeria has documented
its language policy and policy directions. These largeky positive official positions can be found in
- The Constitution
of the Federal Public of Nigeria (1979, revised 1989 and 1999).
- The National Policy on Education (1977, revised
1981, 1998 and 2004).
- The Cultural Policy for Nigeria (1988)
- The Nigerian Broadcasting Code (1993,
revised 2006), and
- 2014 -9 Year Basic Education Curriculum
Unfortunately, the language policy
pronouncements contained in these documents, especially those relating to local languages, have remained largely unimplemented
due to the stakeholders' lack of interest.
Language Education Policy
As a result of
Nigeria's diversity and the need to foster national unity, Nigeria's language education policy was anchored on the
foundation laid during the colonial period. That policy states that:
....medium of instruction at the lower primary
(the first three years) should be in the indigenous language of the child or the language of his/her immediate environment
while at the upper primary school, English should be the medium of teaching and the major indigenous languages of Hausa, Igbo
and Yoruba, should be taught as school subjects.16
The above policy must have stemmed from the report of
the Phelps-Stokes Commission to Africa (1920-1921).17 that, inter alia, recommended that the "tribal language"
be used in the lower primary classes while the "language of the European nation in control" should be used in the
upper classes. The colonial governments, including the one in Nigeria, started implementing this as a policy. This policy
was further reinforced by the UNESCO Meeting of Specialists18 that recommended that "pupils should begin their
schooling through the medium of the mother tongue" and that "the use of the mother tongue be extended to as late
a stage in education as possible."
This policy has been implemented mostly in breach.
That policy was there before I was enrolled into primary school in the early 1950s. I was taught in Hausa (a language of the
wider community) during my first two years of schooling in Biu rather than in Babur/Bura (my mother tongue and the language
of the immediate community). When I moved on to King's College, Lagos, for my higher school education in the mid 1960s,
the college rule discouraged students from speaking local languages. Anyone caught doing so was liable to punishment. With
over 500 languages, Nigeria presents peculiar difficulties for educational authorities who are faced with the dilemma of choosing
one language of instruction out of several options.
For long there was
no authentic educational policy to guide these authorities. It was only 38 years after independence that a National Policy
on Education (1977, revised 1981, and henceforth NPE) of the Federal Republic of Nigeria was promulgated and a National Education
Implementation Task Force set up to ensure compliance with the NPE's objectives. For the purpose of unification of the
various ethnic groups in the country, the language section of the NPE clearly required that each child should be encouraged
to learn one of the three major languages (Hausa, Ibo and Yoruba) other than his own mother tongue (NPE 1981:19).
Incidentally, NPE contains the directive on language use in education which states that at the pre-primary level "the
medium of instruction will principally be the mother-tongue or the language of the immediate community" (NPE 1981:10,
section 2:11(3)). At the Primary level...the medium...is initially the mother-tongue or the language of the immediate community,
and at a later stage, English" (NPE 1981:13, section 3:15(4).
The latest revision of
the NPE on Nigerian languages as produced by the NERDC is contained in the 2014 9-Year Basic Education Curriculum. The document
states that from primaries 1-6 to JSS 1-3, only one Nigerian language is recommended to be taught. The innovation here is
that each school was allowed to freely choose which language to teach. By implication in all the villages and communities,
the language of the area has a chance to be taught. However, the choice of any particular language is not an easy one in a
multilingual-community and cosmopolitan society.
Looking at it closely, the NPE recognizes
five categories of languages, namely:
- The mother tongue (i.e. a child's first language).
- A language
of the immediate community (i.e. a language spoken by a wider community, and generally learnt and used as a second
language by those whose mother tongue is a minor language).
- A major Nigerian language (Hausa, Igbo or Yoruba).
- the official language.
- A foreign language (i.e. French and Arabic), (Bamgbose 2000:70).
country's language policy, thus, favours multilingual learning, and every Nigerian language is a possible candidate for
use as a medium of instruction. However, we must also take into account that both pre-primary and primary schools are not
all under the direct control of government. Pre-primary schools are in the hands of private institutions and non-governmental
organizations. Parents send their children to these schools to have them introduced to English quite early.
Maryam Adenike Abimbola, a linguist and Dean, School of Languages, Federal College of Education (Special), Oyo, had identified
among the problems threatening Nigerian languages to be that of parents being "...complicit in hindering the propagation
of our indigenous languages by preferring to speak foreign languages, especially English, even in the homes."19
With respect to role of families, there is an obvious dilemma of fostering language among
children of cross-cultural marriages. The experience of a couple illustrates this: the man, whose mother is from another ethnic
group in Plateau State, is married to a woman whose parents are from distinct ethnic groups (her father is from Nasarawa State
while her mother is from Kaduna State). The man is too busy to teach his children his own indigenous language though the can
"pick" some words.20 As an ostensible bail-out from this linguistic complexity, this family's children
speak mostly English. But come to think of it, the man has the option of letting his wife teach their children her own language.
After all, that is their mother tongue. So, even in linguistically mixed families, no excuse should hinder intergenerational
transmission of mother tongues to children.
Another couple narrated a similar experience:
We have a challenging problem. Personally I am part of the problem because my son does not speak Idoma-my dialect
nor Esan-my wife's dialect. He speaks only English.
Now, if he spoke the three languages-English, Idoma and Esan
(and pigin English) and assuming he becomes a computer code writer the power at his disposal would be enormous.
point...if our languages become extinct a major chunk of our existence would have died too...you may have discussed only Biu,
but you are raising a very fundamental issue about our future as a people-Nigerians and Africans, and not as Euro-composed.21
The promotion of Nigerian languages in the educational system can only be a recommendation and individual families take
the final decision on how to implement the recommendations for using the local languages as a medium of instruction in nursery
and primary schools (Elugbe 1997).
National Language Policy
Although Nigeria has a National
Language Education Policy, there is no national language policy. This is quite understandable. Given Nigeria's diversity
and the need to promote national unity, government appears to be wary of giving preferential promotion of one language over
the other. This perhaps explains the non-adoption of the 1976 Constitution Drafting Committee's recommendation to the
effect that English or any other language may be used in legislative deliberations as the National or State Assembly may by
resolution decide.22 It thus appears that Nigerian languages are left to themselves to survive or die.
However on July 13, 2012, a technical committee made up of representatives from relevant ministries, language
institutes, French and Arabic Language Villages, departments of languages and linguistics of tertiary institutions, parastatals,
the six geo-political zones, experts and other critical stakeholders, was inaugurated under the chairmanship of Professor
Ahmed Haliru Amfani the former President of the Linguistic Association of Nigeria and a former member of the Governing
Board of the Nigerian Educational Research and Documentation Centre, Abuja. One of the committee's terms of reference
was to produce a blueprint of a new National Language Policy for Nigeria. The committee is yet to finish its job.
Perhaps it will not be out of place to present to you an overview of some of the principal
players that are obtainable in the field in terms of language development and promotion, which is by no means exhaustive.
Notable among the tertiary institutions that are in the forefront in the teaching and development of Nigerian languages
are the University of Ibadan, Bayero University Kano, University of Jos, University of Maiduguri and Usman Dan Fodio University,
to mention only a few. University of Ibadan that has for a long time established linguistic department has also established
a Yoruba Language Centre in 2010 to offer studies in Yoruba language and culture. Similarly, Bayero University Kano has established
a Centre for the Study of Nigerian languages. There is also in existence at Aba, Abia State the National Institute of Nigerian
Languages (NINLAN) that offers diploma courses in linguistic and Nigerian languages (Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba). The Nigerian
Army established the Nigerian Army Language Institute (NALI) in Ovim, also in Abia State, with a limited objective of teaching
its personnel foreign languages (principally French) to meet the challenges faced by the Nigerian Army in international peacekeeping
operations. The Army had earlier established a College of Education in Ilorin (Sobi-Barracks). Run by the Nigerian Army Education
Corps, the college had existed for over 20 years teaching languages to army personnel.
Elugbe (1996) listed 11 government
institutions concerned with language development namely:
- University departments of Linguistics and Nigerian/African
languages joined by similar departments of Colleges of Education
- Teachers Resource Centres
- A National
Committee to advice Government on the production of textbooks
- Federal and State Ministries of Education
Educational Research Development Council (NERDC)
- States Mass Literacy Boards
- National Commission
for Nomadic Education
- National Commission for Mass Literacy, Adult and Non- Formal Education
Institute for Nigerian Languages
- National Primary Education Commission
- Centre for the Study of Nigerian
Added to this list is:
- Ministry of Culture and Ijaw National Affairs, Bayelsa
State (Ohiri-Aniche 2013 forthcoming).
Ohiri-Aniche (2013 forthcoming) and Haruna (2014 forthcoming) also
listed some communities and individuals involved in language perseveration and promotion to include:
- Kay Williamson
- The Jos Linguistic Circle
- CәLela Promoters and Trainers
- Urhobo Resource and Language Learning Centre (URLL), Lagos
- Centre for Igbo
Arts and Culture, Abuja
- Yoruba Folktales through the Net
The Linguistic Association of Nigeria
also remains committed to not only sensitise people to the potential extinction of some languages but also assists communities
and stakeholders to arrest the looming dangers.
LAN has also been advocating a language policy summit to be held
along the lines of such countries as South Africa and India to come out with comprehensive and practical recommendations to
safeguard our languages and ensure that every ones language flourishes. However, a positive response to that effect is being
expected from educational and cultural authorities and from the various legislative houses.
Meanwhile, LAN has been prominent in encouraging and working with different speech communities to preserve their languages.
In the last three years, LAN has collaborated with the NERDC, the Urhobo (Delta State), the Ijaw (Bayelsa State), and the
Jukun (Taraba State) to produce their orthographies and curricula for their primary schools. The efforts made have all been
presented at the Joint Consultative Council (JCC) and the National Council on Education. In addition, the orthography for
Cl'ela in Kebbi State has also been completed and is due for presentation at the next JCC. Beyond all these achievements,
LAN constantly does advocacy work with communities and State Houses of Assembly to urge them to start supporting the production
of their orthographies, curricula and primers for use in schools. The postal address of the secretariat of LAN is C/o Prof.
Andrew Haruna, Department of Linguistics and Nigerian Languages, University of Jos, PMB 2024, Jos, Plateau State.
In the current state of growing social interaction in the world, it is worthwhile to situate language issues in the context
of globalisation. While the UN is making effort to encourage minority language groups not to give up on their own languages,
the world body is guilty of entrenching certain major languages over others in its official policy, especially in its policy
of making only six out of the over 7,000 languages in the world the official languages to be used during its sessions. As
globalization permeates many countries, communities and clans, there's a growing tendency for many speakers of indigenous
languages to abandon ing them for more prestigious and economically useful majority languages.
In one of my books,23 the disappearance of African and other languages was traced to the official
policies and practices of imperial powers and the subjugation of languages of smaller groups by speakers of the
leading major language. I argued that while the linguistic dominance of colonial powers stems from military supremacy, the
dominion of a language over others in the same country is usually due to its speakers' huge population and the prestige
and privileges that come from speaking that language. Adequate measures need to be taken at the communal level to prevent
the extinction of minority languages.
Strangely, even the major languages do not have the
chance of surviving in their original forms. As time goes on, they would be subject to infusion and dilution as they influence
and are influenced by other languages. For instance, there is a noticeable trend in Nigeria relating to English language.
Farooq Kperogi, an Assistant Professor of Journalism, in the Department of Communication at Kennesaw State University in Georgia,
USA, has identified a developing brand of English tagged "Nigerian English" (as opposed to "British" and
"American" English). Kperogi has found the trend serious enough to write a book recently on this subject. A review
of his book titled Glocal English reveals the characteristics of the Nigerian variety of English as:
fastest-growing non-native variety of English popularized by the Nigerian (English Language) movie industry and the Black
Atlantic Diaspora...the book isolates the peculiar structural, grammatical, and stylistic characteristics of Nigerian English
and shows its similarities as well as its often humorous differences with British and American English...and demonstrates
true comparisons with American and British English with its distinct vocabularies and rules of usage."24
In terms of spelling, the original (British) English is gradually giving way to American English
and this is likely to continue as most computer programmed languages carry the American spellings. In fact currently if one
uses computer that has American applications it would underline spellings in British English as wrong spellings. Some examples,
with American spellings on the right, would include: centre/center, colour/color, labour/labor organise/organize, honour/honor,
endeavour/endeavor, and sensitise/sensitize.
This constraint notwithstanding,
globalisation has its beneficial effects as remarked by Transpanish:
Although the future admittedly looks
grim for some minority languages, globalization doesn't necessarily spell the end for all of them. Indeed, globalization
can bring to the forefront the plight of some of these endangered languages, sparking attempts to revive them.....25
There are some encouraging
developments as there are today a few newspapers and magazines published in local languages for mass circulation on a limited
scale. Among these are Aminiya, Leadership Hausa, Rariya, Mujallar Muryar Arewa, Mujallar FIM,
Mujallar Manoma, Mujallar Gambiza, Kakakin Harisawa, Ido Mudu which are published in Hausa in the North while Irohin
is published in Yoruba in the Western part of the country. Apparently, there are no similar publications in the East. The
brief news in some local languages aired by some electronic media establishments across the country cannot be relied upon
for any effective language development.
It is therefore a welcome development to learn of
efforts being made by a private publishing house to come up with literatures in some local languages. Notably, Learn Africa
Plc is to publish Unto Igbo (Junior Secondary School Igbo Course), Okachamma Igbo (Primary Igbo Course),
and Hasken Karatu (Primary Hausa Course).26 Equally welcome are the recent developments in commercial
production of home videos in some major languages, largely through private efforts. These have helped in no small measure
in generating and sustaining interest in the languages of the productions. Such endeavours should be greatly intensified while
speakers of minority languages would do well to replicate such efforts in their local languages.
Another welcome development is a recent action taken by the Lagos State House of Assembly which expressed concern at the threat
of extinction of the Yoruba language and passed a resolution urging the state government to direct the State Ministry of Education
to ensure teaching and learning of Yoruba language in the state's public and private schools.27
Similarly, concerned at what it perceives as a pitiable deficiency in effective communication in Izon language among the various
age groups in Bayelsa State, the state government embarked on measures that would ensure that all Ijaws become competent speakers
of Izon. In so doing, the state government urged parents and guardians to do their best to ensure that their children and
wards understood how to speak Izon fluently. The state government had also made wide consultations following which several
books had been written in Izon and were being distributed to public libraries.28
Another encouraging development is that, there is now a competent computer keyboard for typing Nigerian languages. It is the
Koinyin Nigeria Multilingual Keyboard, produced by LANCOR Management based in Lagos.
international level, the government of Pakistan has introduced a bill that seeks to replace English with the native Urdu language
as the official language.29
The effect of technology on language cannot be subject to regulation by any authority as change in language is simply
a natural response to advancement in technology that is either being promoted by the society that develops it or accepted
by the society that sees the new technology as contributing to the enhancement of its living standard.
can hamper the speedy growth of technology in a given society but not to the extent of stopping such growth. Technological
influence, as it permeates, can break cultural barriers and effect changes in a people's way of doing things.
technology affects a given culture it affects all aspects of that culture, including its language. Generally every society
has its culture while a democratic society has more clearly defined rights which every member of that society is expected
to live by. It is the attempt to propagate such ideals to another society with a different culture that tends to evoke conflicts.
In that sense, although it is only proper for culture to evolve naturally and change or sustain itself, this has become practically
impossible faced by the growing threat of globalisation.
Given the government dilemma in
language promotion the greater initiative would seem to lie with the speech communities and interest groups to take steps
to safeguard their languages from extinction. They should endeavour to engage the services of experts to analyse their languages
and come up with orthographies of their languages. They should thereafter produce attractive publications that would sustain
the interest of their native speakers especially the young ones. That also requires securing the services of trained native
It is the responsibility of science and technology, and indeed all of us, including the family,
community and special schools, linguists, and policy makers, to be inspired enough to take up against the erosive forces of
We must have a language-specific programmers who would help us to tap into the beneficts
of relevant technological developments. We must invalidate the myth that our local languages are not competent and appropriate
for scientific and technological purposes. What we need to do, as a matter of conscious national policy, is to establish Language
Technology Centres to serve as language laboratories, where findings of technological and scientific research, can be codified
into suitable language concepts. Terminologies, modes of expression and vocabularies (in lexical and structural terms) can
be in the local languages, chosen from among, in the first instance, the major languages in which the inventions and findings
had been carried out. Relevant softwares to support such inventions should be developed.
UNESCO has pointed out certain steps that can be taken to avoid language extinction. They include "preparatory work in
form of socio-linguistic surveys defining the current situation of the language to be studied and determining the safeguarding
measures to be adopted, data collection to study the phonology, morphology and syntax of the language and thirdly preparing
language materials (orthography guides, reading and writing manuals, teacher guides, word lists, small dictionaries, grammars)."30
It is clear that no matter the degree of endangerment of any indigenous language,
its speakers, if determined, at family and communal levels, can stop the disappearance of its linguistic heritage largely
by ensuring that intergenerational transmission of their mother tongue is implemented in every household. This is the bottom
line. It is the most basic and effective measure. Intergenerational transmission should therefore be considered to be the
bloodline of language preservation. An example of this is the nomadic Fulani who have used this method to preserve Fulfulde
for several generations.
With this brief remarks, I wish all the language professionals who
have come to share their thoughts on the subject of language, technology and democratic culture happy deliberations. Thank
Dr. Bukar Usman, OON, D.Litt
September 1, 2015
1. Usman, Bukar, Langauage Disappearance and Cultural Diversity in Biu Emirate, Klamidas
2. Usman Bukar, Language Disappearance and Cultural Diversity in Biu Emirate, Klamidas
2014, P. 70
4. The Nation,
June 21, 2015, P. 29.
5. Sunday Independent, August 30, 2015,
6. Helser, Albert D, In Sunny Nigeria, Revell, New
8. Vanguard, July 4, 2015,
9. The Nation, May
26, 2015, P.31.
10. Hans Uszkoreit, DFLI-What is Language Technology? http:2/theconversation.com/how-technology-is-changing-language-and-way-we-think-about-the-world-35856:
Retrieved May 13, 2015.
11. Technology and Culture: A Circle of Influence:
Retrieved May 18, 2015.
12. Dr. Tengku Sepora Tengku Mahdi & Sepideh Moghaddas Jafari, Language and
Culture: www.ijssnet.com/journals/vol.2-no-17-september-/24-pdf:Retrieved May 13, 2015.
13. Back M. Balkin, Digital Speech and Democratic Culture: A theory of Freedom of Expression
for Information Society www.yale.edu/lawweb/balkin.
14. Hugh Starkey, Democratic Citizenship, Languages,
Diversity and Human Rights. www.coe.int/t/dg4/linguistic/source/starkeyEN.pdf.
15. Excerpt from comments by Omadachi Oklobia in response to a review of Language Disappearance and Cultural
Diversity in Biu Emirate made in The Sun Newspaper July 25, 2015
16. Musa Roselyn Jummai, Language
Education in Primary Schools in Nigeria: Contemporary Issues and New Direction-Literacy Information and Computer Education
Journal (LICEJ), Vol. 3, Issue 3, September 2012.
17. Lewis, L.J. (ed.) 1962 (page 63), Phelps-Stokes
Reports on Education in Africa, London, Oxford University Press.
18. UNESCO 1953. (p.47-8), The Use of Vernacular
Languages in Education. Report of the UNESCO Meeting of Specialists (1951). Monographs on Fundamental Education VIII, Paris.
19. Saturday Tribune, July 4, 2015, P. 10.
July 11, 2015, P.20.
21. Excerpt from comments by Omadachi Oklobia in response to a review of Language
Disappearance and Cultural Diversity in Biu Emirate made in The Sun Newspaper July 25, 2015
Samuel Aondoaver Tondo: Language Teaching and Language Policy in Nigeria
23. Usman Bukar, Language
Disappearance and Cultural Diversity in Biu Emirate, Klamidas 2014
24. Transpanis:http://www.transpanish.biz/translation_blog/globalization-and-its-effect-on-the-world%E2%80%99s-languages.Retrieved June 4, 2015
25. Kperogi Farooq A: Glocal English: The Changing Face and Forms of Nigerian English
in a Global World http://www.amazon.com/glocal-english-changing linquistics-semiotics/dp/1433129264/ref=sr-1 1?ie=UTF8&qid=1436535191&sr=8-1&keywords=kperogi (Daily Trust July 12, 2015, P. 41)
26. The Nation on Sunday, May 24, 2015, P.60.
Nigerian Pilot, June 21, 2015, P. 22.
28. Punch, July 5, 2015, P. 4.
30. Usman Bukar, Language Disappearance and Cultural Diversity in Biu Emirate, Klamidas 2014, Pp.
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