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Yoruba nation under the siege of linguistic slavery

By Safiu Kehinde
11 September 2019   |   3:01 am
I was wondering what offense would a five-year-old girl have committed to deserve such a heavy spank. I watched her scurried away from her mother to the far corner of her bed, looking petrified.

I was wondering what offense would a five-year-old girl have committed to deserve such a heavy spank. I watched her scurried away from her mother to the far corner of her bed, looking petrified. Like every other spank an African child received from African mothers, she held her butts with both hands to suppress the hotness from her mother’s palm. She neither stole nor lied to warrant such treatment.

Being moved by this little girl’s reaction, I questioned her mother only for her to tell me that “she speaks too much of Yoruba which has been affecting her spoken English”. I couldn’t believe such a shocking statement from Yoruba mother- punishing her daughter for speaking her mother tongue. This has left me wondering if it is an abomination for a child to be groomed in his or her native language.

Gone are those days when mothers calm us down with head arousing Oriki which has become a lost glory in this modern society. We have long forgotten how our fathers woo mothers with sweet appraisals like eyinfunjowo, adumaadan, aponbepore, ibadiaran, akuruyejo, aguntasoolo, etc. What we cherish today is honey, dear, darling, the cockroach in my cupboard-that will one day be killed, the sugar in my tea-that will be sipped until the cup of beauty runs empty.

Similarly, names like Adunni, Badejo, Ashake, Akanji, Bodunrin, Akinwale, etc. are now sour in our tongue and unpleasant to our ears. What we crave for now is Isabel, Winnie, Vivian, etc. These show how much we’ve lost the value and prestige of the Yoruba language.

Language they say is one of the essential tools of communication. Among the human race, language is a means of identification and a symbol of belongingness to a particular group of people. However, several languages have gone into extinction while some have attained widespread which was made possible through preservation, maintenance, and sustenance. Examples of such widespread languages are English, Spanish, French, Portuguese, and presently Mandarin.

Interestingly, one of the African languages with the potential of attaining the feat of the aforementioned languages in the Yoruba language. Yoruba has become one of the most sought after language across the globe. It is one of the most extensively researched of all Sub-Saharan languages and cultures. A London University described the Yoruba language as one of the many African languages that one is sure to hear people speak in the buses and the underground trains in several parts of London.

Rye Lane, a BBC reporter, could not but compare Peckham, South East London, to a mini Lagos, where one can hear several people speaking loudly in Yoruba as they go about their shopping. Not only has Yoruba gained ground in the UK, but it is also spoken in our neighboring countries such as Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Senegal, the Gambia, and Sierra Leone. It is much loved for its tradition of oral verbal production (oral literature) and its tonal form.

Among the foreign countries that embrace the Yoruba language, the United States is at the top of the pecking order. National African Language Resource Centre (NARLC) revealed that there are about eighteen full-fledged Yoruba language programs in the US which according to Timothy Ajayi of Fayetteville State University, are taken in thirty-nine institutions across the US. Little wonder why we have a lot of whites across Yoruba land who speaks the language like they were the descendants of Oduduwa, whereas, they never step their feet on the African shore. Little wonder why a band of white choristers could sing a Yoruba version of Christmas Carol. Also was it not surprising when a white man who even take pride in calling himself ‘Kayode’, could beat and give meaning to the sound emanating from his Gangan drum.

Meanwhile, the sons and daughters of the soil, rightful inheritors of the founding fathers’ prestigious language and culture, have neglected their heritage. We are ashamed to pass on our language which foreigners spend millions of Dollars and Euros to learn. Despite our hard-earned independence from the colonial masters, our mentality is still enslaved via the negligence of who we truly are. Unfortunately, we’ve also relayed these shackles of linguistic slavery unto our offspring.

Basically, developed countries like the US, United Kingdom, France, etc., are fond of investing in long-term projects in which they are certain of earning a profitable outcome at the end. Every action they take is on purpose. Thus, their investment in an African language, most especially Yoruba, is not for the fun of it. Their intention is to make the learning of African socio-cultural heritage a platform of greater job opportunities in years to come. Or how else do we explain spending millions of dollars to send students from overseas to Nigeria yearly, all because of learning the Yoruba language. Certainly, they come with ambition and we’ve been seeing them flaunting their accomplishment right on our face. They now speak Yoruba fluently than most of our kids who can hardly pronounce their Yoruba name correctly- that is if parents still call their children in a native name.

While foreigner’s enthusiasm to learn our language keeps increasing, some parents take to discouraging their ward from speaking the language. Code-mixing has become an inevitable phenomenon as it is hard nowadays to hear native speakers speak Yoruba without adding some English touches to it. Most parents have not been helping the situation at all.

You wake up your child in English, address him in English, send him to school where they will be taught in English all through, and welcome him back home in English. Unfortunately, we forget that it is until when one is fully knowledgeable in one’s mother tongue before one can gain proficiency in another learned language.

Contributing to the diminishing of Yoruba language among native speakers is the academic sector. Despite being one of the most widely learned as a second language across Europe and America, our academic sector handles the teaching of native languages lightly.

According to research, the status of Yoruba teaching is not the best it could be in Nigeria despite the fact that there are greater job opportunities in this field than in most other professional careers in the country. Our Colleges of Education and Secondary School (majorly public schools) are the only academic institutions offering full-fledged Yoruba language Programming for student-teachers and students. Nigeria’s tertiary institutions, with the exception of few, are yet to meet up to the standard of proper teaching and learning of native languages. The Curriculum of native language programs is shady, unlike their US counterparts where over thirty-nine institutions keep increasing Yoruba language programming consistently.

Agreed that we’ve lost beyond the average of our culture, but losing our mother tongue will be a national disaster.
Conclusively, the widespread of Yoruba language and culture across Europe, America, and the Caribbean is an indication that Yoruba’s future is bright.

Thus, it is high time we took possession of what is ours. Parents should speak and encourage their children to speak their mother language. They should minimize cramming too much of Western ideologies into the children’s heads. Rather, let’s relate them back to their roots, their culture, and their heritage. Also, our academic institutions and the government should implement more programs in regards to native languages and cultures. It is not until when expatriates return to our shore to teach us our language and culture before we take action. Sadly, it will be too late by then.