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Intersection of language, culture,technology for democracy, development

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“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.”

For many who do not believe that there is need to develop Nigeria’s many languages, especially the minority ones, the above summation by a language and folklore expert is food for serious thought. And the fact that Nigeria as a country is yet to come into the realm of inventing technology lends ample credence to Dr. Bukar Usman’s above summation that poor language development hinders the attainment of scientific progress. It is not just enough to mouth the need for technological transfer, as some uninformed public servants had done in the past. Technology needs domestication through a proper understanding of how it works through language. The technologically developed countries are those which express technology in their indigenous languages, not through borrowed ones like Nigeria and the rest of Africa. And this can only be possible through a codification of local languages with appropriate technological terms for local scientists to work with.

These are the thoughts of Usman in his recent volume, Language, Technology and Democratic Culture (Klamidas Communications Ltd, Abuja; 2017), which is part of a paper he presented an International Conference on Languages held at College of Education, Zuba, Abuja. The second part is a paper he also presented at an International Colloquium on Cultural Diversity and National Identity held at Abdou Moumouni University, Niamey, Niger Republic.

According to Usman, Nigerian languages, even the big three – Igbo, Hausa and Yoruba – are sorely lacking on having linguistic approximation to scientific terms because of poor orthographies. The fate of minority languages, therefore, seems doomed unless something urgent is done to redress the situation.

In connecting the nexus between language and technology, Usman further states, “The primary function of language is communication, and this function drives education, effective management, and the provision of services. Language could either be a barrier or a facilitator of economic activities… It is therefore paramount for every society to ensure its indigenous language is developed to drive technological growth.”

Usman does not leave his readers guessing how this could be done, especially for those who snub local languages (mother tongues) in favour of international languages like English or French. He provides the context in which local languages could attain the desired level of development for technological application.

According to him, “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, 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 yet to be documented!”

For anyone in such minority language group, who is waiting for government to do it for them, Usman urges a rethink and tasks them to look inwards and undertake the exercise themselves, as they stand to lose when their language goes into extinction along with their time-tested cultural ethos.

“It is now the responsibility of speech communities to sponsor the codification of their language,” he advises. “The codification will facilitate development on various fronts. It is only codified languages that are taught in schools due to availability of orthographies.”

And Usman asks, out of 400 Nigerian languages, “Are there any Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry or Biology textbooks written in those languages? I am not aware of any.”

And he submits grimly, “Scientific or technological development cannot be attained by a people, who have not developed linguistically. Suffice it to say that all technologically advanced nations and societies attained linguistic development prior to their scientific or technological development… The failure of many African governments to enhance the robust development of their local languages to make them effective tools for technological development and wealth-generation has led such countries to failure and stagnation in many areas.”

For those who blindly argue that Nigerian, nay African languages do not have correspondence with scientific terms, Usman counters by asserting, “We must invalidate the myth that our local languages are not competent or appropriate for scientific or 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.”

Usman further argues that language development has implication for democratic culture as only an informed society that can participate actively in the democratic process. In the event of the deployment of technology for the democratic process, such an enlightened populace would easily adapt and be part of the process as against an uninformed populace.

Indeed, Usman draws a correlation among the three and says language has a key role to play in enhancing the technological and democratic culture of a people.

On ‘Cultural Diversity and National Identity,’ Usman simply submits, after throwing up all the relevant issues and arguments for cultural diversity and globalization or universality and against and settle for national identity, “One of the uncontrollable effects of globalization is to move millions of people across international borders. It has produced a mixed harvest of cultures. Cultures have been transformed by global forces both old and new, giving rise to genuine fears in some quarters that the world is descending into a monoculture society. However, like education although globalization may broaden humanity with the awareness of new problems, it will also broaden ingenuity and the pool of resources at the disposal of humanity to deal them in the management of human relations.

“All these notwithstanding, there are features of national cultures that will persist despite global pressures, whether because of their resistance to commodification or their unique ability to provide a meaningful sense of collective identity. One must, however, admit the inevitability of the world gravitating towards a near homogenous whole by the formidable forces of globalization and technological development.”



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