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Total Recall: Your Mother-tongue Language is not Vernacular!

By Oludamola Adebowale  20 October 2019   |   7:40 am

Total Recall: Your Mother-tongue Language is not Vernacular!

Kolade was dropped off at the gate of the school by his mum. It was his first day at the new school in Lagos. His Dad has just been re-assigned from Ekiti to Lagos.

Excited and anxious, Kolade looks forward to his first day at the school. He settled in and everything was fine until a teacher was called out during a class by the principal but before leaving, the teacher told the class captain to write down the “names of noisemakers and any student caught speaking ‘vernacular.’ ”

Kolade, totally ignorant of the rules went on chatting with his new friend in his indigenous mother tongue, Yoruba.  When the teacher came back, Kolade was reported for violating the 10th commandment of the school “Thou shall not speak in vernacular.” He was punished leaving him heartbroken.

His mother noticed the sad look on her son’s face when she picked him at the close of the day. Kolade asked his mother “Mummy, why can’t I speak our language in school?”

His mother was taken back with the question not until her son narrated the whole experience of what happened in his new school. She replied, “no one is saying you shouldn’t be proud of your language, it is not just proper to speak ‘Yoruba’ in school. English is the proper language,” but Kolade interrupted “If English is proper, why is my language not proper?”

His mother was disturbed, and for the first time she looked into her son’s eye and she couldn’t give him a proper answer to the question troubling the mind of her 13-year-old son.

In the Nigerian context, “Vernacular” is mostly tagged as “An Offensive and inappropriate language”. This is contrasting to the lingua franca, which is “English Language. According to the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary: Vernacular (Noun) the language spoken in a particular area or by a particular group, especially one is not the official or written language.

Now, the peculiar case of a country called ‘Nigeria’. There are over 520 languages spoken in Nigeria. The official language of Nigeria is still “English language” a colonial language that was placed in motion to facilitate trade, dialogue and make easy the colonial powers infiltration to the country and its hinterlands.

This language was adopted as the country’s lingua franca at the expense of the other languages.

There are over 520 languages spoken in Nigeria. The official language of Nigeria is still “English language” a colonial language that was placed in motion to facilitate trade, dialogue and make easy the colonial powers infiltration to the country and its hinterlands.

This language was adopted as the country’s lingua franca at the expense of the other languages.

Between 1843 and 1864, Africa’s first Anglican Bishop in Nigeria and linguist Samuel Ajayi Crowther successfully translated the English Bible to Yoruba at the now-famous “First story Building in Nigeria.”  He also produced a primer in Igbo language in 1857 and also a full grammar and vocabulary on Nupe in Nupe language in 1864.

The primary objective of these amazing feats was to restore the confidence of the people during the colonial era and to set a standard for cultural remembrance for the future.

Language is more than spoken words. It is the bedrock of any cultural and traditional society. Take away the language, and the core spirit of heritage and history is lost.

The people in Opobo community had lost their native language to Igbo slave traders during the 18th-19th century.

Their forefathers, in the quest of trying to keep their language in secrecy and not allowing the slave traders know their language, opted for a common language to ease trade and business and in the quest of doing this, the native “Izon” gradually faded into oblivion while the adopted Igbo language took over the tongues of the generation to come.

By not allowing proper communication of our native languages, our history and heritage gradually fade without our knowing.

Countries like China, Japan, and the Arab World are proud of themselves in their native language which is their official language, such that you won’t have any choice but to learn their languages if you are to survive in their world. What then is the problem with ours?

But how do you pick a “common language” in a country of diverse tribes and cultural ethnics? It is practically impossible, right? Yes, it is. But one form of expression, now a common language/tone has been able to unite the country in an unusual way. Pidgin English

This popular and easy form of expression has found its way to unite a country of over 190.0 Million people. Irrespective of your tribe, ethnic, religion and colour. Pidgin English has found its way to stay relevant in the tongues of most Nigerians, even foreigners. It has become the official “Mother Tongue”.

While we clamour for the preservation of all other indigenous languages in schools and all other learning institutions.

Pidgin English has replaced the use of ‘English’ in most quarters. The way the people of Australia have their own English Language. It is a high time Pidgin English takes its place in the Nigerian society as an official language.

The removal and re-introduction of history in the educational curriculum shouldn’t even be a topic for discussion in the first place.

How can we move forward as a country if we don’t allow history to be taught in schools, at all levels? We learn French, Chinese and other languages at the expense of our indigenous language.

Preservation of the numerous cultural identities and heritages that make us who we are as Nigerians are more important than ever.

While our respective indigenous languages solidify our essence in our respective cultural roots, Pidgin language has managed to raise from the sands of time to unify this great country called Nigeria. No other language has done that!

Maybe, if Kolade had spoken in Pidgin English, his name wouldn’t have been on that list in school that day. Maybe not. We never know.

Dear Kolade, your native language is not Vernacular. English is the Vernacular language!

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