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Nwaozor: The significance of mother tongue

By Fred Nwaozor
19 February 2015   |   11:00 pm
A LANGUAGE can be defined as a system of sounds, written symbols, and/or signs used by the people of a particular country, geographical area, tribe, or status as the case may be, to communicate with each other. It can also be described as the human ability to acquire and use complex systems of communication.  …

A LANGUAGE can be defined as a system of sounds, written symbols, and/or signs used by the people of a particular country, geographical area, tribe, or status as the case may be, to communicate with each other. It can also be described as the human ability to acquire and use complex systems of communication.

  There are several forms of languages in existence, such as spoken language, sign language, computer language, and animal language. Estimates of the number of languages in the world vary between five thousand (5,000) and seven thousand (7,000). However, any precise estimate depends on a partly arbitrary distinction between official languages and local/mother languages.

      Mother language or Mother tongue, which is also widely known as dialect or native language, is the indigenous language of one’s parents which is usually the first language learnt by him/her. In the same vein, it is also referred to as the language of one’s ethnic group. Suffice to say that, one’s mother tongue is an apparent indication of where he/she hails from.

    Mother language is often regarded as one’s ‘first language’. Therefore by contrast, a second language is any language that one speaks other than his or her first/native language. The mother language is noted as ‘first’, because it is regarded as the most important language spoken by anyone due to its hereditary value as well as its cultural impact on the concerned individual.

       No doubt, mother language or first language contributes immensely in a child’s personal, social, cultural, intellectual, educational and economic lives. Personal, in the sense that a child’s first (native) language is critical to his or her identity. Social, in the sense that when the native language of a child is not maintained, important links to family and other community members may be lost. Cultural, in the sense that sustaining a child’s mother tongue would help the child to value his or her culture and heritage, which contributes to positive self-concept.

   Furthermore, the intellectual aspect of it is that, when students who are not yet fluent in their second/official language such as English or French, but have switched to using only the said official language, would have the tendency of functioning at an intellectual level below their age thereby resulting to academic failure. Educational-wise, students who learn second language and continue to develop their native language would have chances of higher academic achievement in later years than those who learn their second language at the expense of their first language. More so, economically, there are available better employment or job opportunities in Nigeria and in the Diaspora for individuals who are conversant with their official language as well as another language – probably a native language.

    February 21, the world over is commemorating the 2015 International Mother Language Day. The Day was proclaimed by the General Conference of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) in November 1999. The date – February 21, represents the day in 1952 when the Pakistani students who demonstrated for recognition of their native language, Bangla, as one of the two national languages of the then Pakistan, were shot and killed by the police in Dhaka – the capital of what is now Bangladesh.

     On May 16, 2007, the United Nations General Assembly in its resolution called upon member states to promote the preservation and protection of all languages used by peoples of the world. By the same resolution, 2008 was proclaimed as the ‘International Year of Languages’, to promote unity in diversity and international understanding through multilingualism and multiculturalism.

     As the global community celebrates the International Mother Language Day, I call on every Nigerian, both home and abroad, to join in the ongoing crusade of promoting the significance of mother tongue by acknowledging that mother languages are the most powerful instruments required to preserve and develop our respective tangible heritages.

     To this end, I also call on the National Assembly to enact a law that would ensure that every citadel of learning in Nigeria, ranging from primary to tertiary level, offers at least one native language relevant to the area or community where the institution is situated. In addition, the proposed law ought to also mandate the various existing examination boards in the country including the West African Examination Council (WAEC), the National Examination Council (NECO), and the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB), to ensure that the students compulsorily enroll as well as sit for the said native language or subject as it concerns their respective schools or the institutions where they are seeking for admission, as the case may be. 

    Indeed, considering the singular fact that mother language helps to create full and thorough awareness on cultural traditions coupled with its role in promotion of solidarity among members of any given community thereby uplifting the level of moral, social and intellectual values of our young ones, it is of no gain reiterating that the ongoing crusade regarding uplift of various mother languages is a task that awaits all and sundry. Think about it!

• Nwaozor, a Public Affairs Analyst and Civil Rights Activist, wrote this in commemoration of  The International Mother Language Day, which is marked tomorrow, Saturday February 21, 2015.