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Language of a people


German Chancellor and leader of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) Angela Merkel (Photo by Tobias SCHWARZ / AFP)

What is in language that makes one, like religion, unconquerable for another? What is in indigenous language that no people are prepared to surrender it altogether for an alien one or in the quest for a national unifying language? It can be observed every minute, every hour, every day that without any prompting, without any pressure, where two or more are gathered, they turn to one another speaking in their mother tongue. In gathering where the environment is repressive they talk to one another in low tones, in whispers. It could be in gossip; it could be in jest, in hissing, in rebuke, in protest or in agreement or to take a common position on weighty issues to the exclusion of colleagues. It happens in government; it happens in parliament. It happens in clubs or in restaurants –anywhere there is a gathering of people with disparate backgrounds, geographic or political identities. It could be just to feel good and on top of the world that we speak in our native language. What is in language that we rejoice in it, whether as minority groups or as a majority ethnic group?

Straightaway, without any equivocation, we may say language summarises the totality of the people who speak it and, and as such, is imbued with their resilience to feel great, or to survive tribulations more so under a state of occupation by other people. We may not be far from the truth—only that we would not have tugged at the roots of the origin of language. How did language evolve which, from the ancient of days, has come to define a people? We will come to this presently.

Europeans, like Indians, like Asians further East, have long come to the recognition of the indestructibility of language except by the originators and owners themselves, if they are careless, if they are slothful, if they are negligent! It could not be for nothing that Rauf Aregbesola, erstwhile governor of Osun State, said to the world that he would prefer to be addressed as Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, not any longer as Mr., Alhaji, Chief nor High Chief, nor Engineer Rauf Aregbesola, any of which he could proudly flaunt. Dr. Kayode Fayemi has, only a few days ago, directed that at all traditional events in Ekiti State, Yoruba language must be the medium of communication. What could be moving His Excellency, you may ask? Seizing the opportunity of the Eid-El Kabir celebration and the attendant holidays last week, President Buhari visited the IDP camp in his home state of Katsina. He addressed them in his Hausa native language. Each time he does that he is in his element; he is confident and he glows.


Akinwumi Ambode in what will easily pass as his imperishable legacy as governor of Lagos State directed that the teaching of Yoruba language should return to schools in the state. Prof. Babs Aliyu Fafunwa made spirited efforts to have Yoruba used for teaching in schools and colleges in the South-West. Under the indefatigable leadership of Abraham Adesanya a summit of Yoruba leaders was conducted in native Yoruba language. Is it conceivable that Mr. Putin of Russia or North Korea leader Kim Jong-un would speak in English at meetings of world leaders, at the UN General Assembly for example? The generation of Chancellor Angela Merkel studied English in schools as a second language, but you are never likely to catch her speaking it at the fora of nations. She is stuck to her German language.

In May, 1992, after eight years of preparatory work, ambassadors of the then 26-member Council of Europe considered for adoption a convention to protect the European Community lesser used languages spoken by about 50 million people. Under the convention, member states were required to use these languages wherever the need existed—in banks, schools, colleges, courts, media and so on. Understandably, the proposal generated uproar. The critics believed that the promotion of minority and regional languages would induce political conflicts and fragmentation from the majority culture through greater minority visibility and self-assertion, apart from lowering, as some French antagonists argued, “ literary and linguistic good taste.” To these the proponents returned a charge of cultural imperialism.

The fear of conflict and fragmentation was understandable, underscored by the balkanization of the Soviet Union and the disintegration of Yugoslavia at the time. But many argued that the fear was borne out of selfishness and the quest for domination. Of course, the drive for domination is resisted everywhere as it is unnatural and it leads to unfreedom.

It cannot be for nothing that different peoples have different constitutions, nature and characteristics. Even where these are ascribed to geographical conditions, as is often the resort in intellectual explanations, the point is often glossed over that man forms his environment. We hardly ask ourselves: Why is it that where the Western Europeans live in our midst is often markedly different from where we, like Indians, live in terms of beauty, enrapturing environment and orderliness? Also, it may be stated that if the people of Shomolu, Mushin and Ajegunle on the one hand and those of Ikoyi, Lekki, Ikeja GRA, Victoria Island, and Banana Island were to swap habitation today for five years, would the environment of these Lagos neighbourhoods not respond correspondingly at full term to the nature of the porter’s hands?

As I hinted last week, by this reckoning is assumed the possibility of pre-earthly choice of parents, tribe, nation, environment and circumstances—socially and economically. This should strike the note of re-incarnation confirmed for Christians by no less a Figure than the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the Word incarnate and the Truth, the All-knowing, when He confirmed that Elijah had returned, but they knew him not…and to Prophet Jeremiah in the statement “I knew thee before I formed thee in thy mother’s womb.” This way, it should undoubtedly make sense to conceptualise homogeneity of man and his environment, either at the family or ethnic level. A natural compulsion towards the arrangement or aggregation of everything in homogeneous blocks pervades life in any case.

Every atom of copper or lead is homogeneous. Every molecule of water or of palm oil is homogeneous. At the biological level, liver cells are different from those of the bones, brains or eyes. At a much higher level, elephants don’t live with tigers. Nor do lions parley with crocodiles. In the deep seas, tilapias live apart from whales and the paths of whales and salmons do not cross. In the Munich zoo in Germany, elephants from Asia refuse to mate with elephants from Africa! Only human societies would seem to have breached this natural beauty, peace and harmony. Yet when we go to our villages and towns, there is this air of entitlement; there is this inexplicable pull. As Achebe would say, everyone knows the way to his father’s house and everyone could see the moon from his father’s compound! And so presidents retire to their country homes, an elevated phrase for home towns! Yet again, among us human beings, it has long been recognized that “birds of a feather flock together.” From such recognitions as drunkards being the best friends of drunkards, and of noble-minded at home in the circle of the high-minded, has also emerged the saying as “Show me your friends and I’d tell you who you are.”

What I am driving at is that the natural linguistic formations are no accidents. The secret of man’s ability to speak is the sinking of the larynx between age one and age eleven, as embryologists established in 1905. People who stand at the same level of inner maturity, who, therefore, have the same perception of life, the same strengths and weaknesses like copper or lead cells, or water or palm oil molecules are brought together in wisdom, love and justice of the Most High so that no group may interfere in the development of the other, thus hindering his spiritual ascent which is the sole purport of life.

In the experiencing of life among themselves, homogeneous people desirous of expressing themselves generate a creative ferment, from currents in which are contained sounds of which they weave sounds and symbols of what is to become their language corresponding to the degree of their spiritual openness and the reach of their intuition. A language is made up of words. With the enlightenment of the higher knowledge spreading on earth today, we see that every word is a precipitation from the holy Word, a high gift from the Creator. It has come into being under the pressure of higher Laws. To the degree a people’s hearts are open and their intuitive perception is sharp, to that degree is their language mature or sloppish. In other words, a people stand on the same level as their language on the ladder of life, oblivious of the world beyond them, and seeing with disdain the immature world below them which they had traversed. In other words, too, they are strangers to language other their own and the language a mould in which alone their spirit can swing most beneficially to them –in the time being.

This is not to say that there will at no time be a living leading language. This living leading language may be used by all peoples for specific purpose but without detriment to their peculiar languages specifically formed and developed for their environment. Take away their language from them and they are taken from their familiar rung of the ladder. They must then consequently be like fish out of water, their spirit temporarily walled in until the heat or the cold of another language forces them into a new terrain they have to adjust to. It is in this way language imperialism or domination diverts a people from the natural course of their growth which is by no means the same path for every people. For what helps one may not necessarily help another. We can now understand why taking away language from a people represents taking away their very being, and as in the case of India, it is usually vehemently, and indeed, violently resisted.

It is in this light that the Council of Europe deserves praise for the effort to give about 50 million people in Europe a new lease of life. And to Olukayode Fayemi, we say, take a bow for recognizing a veritable vehicle in the climb to a certain rung of the ladder of life, and promoting the indigenous language of his people and saving them from the consequences of a distorted language. It may so happen that in the near future a majority of the people will be led to recognize the leading living language of these times—the End Time, the Age of the Holy Spirit.


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