Why are Africans abandoning their languages? – Part 1

 In my last blog, I wrote that I found an unbelievable phenomenon going on in Nigeria during my research into why Africans (in this instance, Yoruba) born in Diaspora cannot speak their language. This phenomenon is what I will term as “the other side of the coin” to the issue that I started with as it is beyond comprehension!

This phenomenon  is that many Yoruba parents and teachers in Nigeria are favouring and promoting speaking English language over Yoruba language, thereby raising Yoruba children that are not able to speak their own native language.

They (the parents and the teachers) are now unconsciously enslaving us and our future to English at the detriment of our own language, thereby perpetuating Cultural cringe  which they should actually be ‘fighting’.

This practice, which is alienating our future generation from speaking their native language all in the name of having a better life, career and excelling in business world in the future, in my opinion, is wrong!

I discovered that this phenomenon has been going on for a while now and that so many Yoruba children born and raised in Nigeria are no longer able to speak fluently in their native language not to mention being proficient in proverbs, idioms and other forms of expression that are bona fide to someone raised in a particular culture from birth!

 

 

I met and spoke to some of these children and young adults who are not able to speak their language properly or they stutter to speak it as many of these children have been brain washed to think that they are ‘cool’ or ‘tush’ (or is it ‘toosh’!) This is wrong and ridiculous.

Personal encounter with issue

I first became aware of this issue a few years back when I noticed that some relatives’ children were always speaking in English whenever I phoned them. I did not mind at first as I thought that being children, they wanted to speak to me in English rather than in Yoruba due to my residence outside of the country.

However, on a particular occasion, I decided to speak to them in Yoruba and that was when  I realised that they did not understand Yoruba which made me speak to their mum who as a typical Nigerian Yoruba mother (that has been subtly brain washed into this belief) thought she was impressing me by saying that “they (the children) don’t really understand or speak Yoruba as such at home and in school simply because in their school they expect and encourage them to speak English even at home and so on…”

I responded by explaining the implications of her actions as she was in my opinion ‘selling’ her children to a fake unrealistic culture and language and that no matter how much they spoke English, they were never going to speak it like a child born and raised in an English culture, and that she was helping to unknowingly isolate her children from their society where they belong and where some would not hesitate to cheat and mock them in the future.

Thank GOD, she listened. I can now say that these children speak Yoruba fluently and one of them now in one of the Universities is a ‘Yoruba speaker champion’ among her friends as many of them rely and depend on her to help them when they are out in the community like in the market. These young girls that were not  allowed to speak Yoruba when young are now being forced to learn to speak their own native language in their own country!

And the issue is that many parents currently raising their children are not conscious of this issue, its impact and future implications as this issue is ongoing as I came to discover recently, hence the need to raise and bring awareness to it with the hope of helping someone or a family to proactively re-evaluate their approach to current practice and speak their language to their children.

 How did this start?

When confronted with a situation such as this, one begins to wonder why, when, and probably how did this start? It is rather difficult to actually trace or pinpoint when this behaviour and despicable attitude to our language started, I can only assume and conclude from my personal experiences when growing up, gathered information from research and general observation of the society that we live in.

Childhood awareness          

One of the things I remember that prevailed around 1970’s and 80’s when I was growing up, was that the more educated one was the more respect and honour the person got within the family and the larger society. I also remember that anyone coming from abroad with their children who could not speak our language were highly looked upon and almost revered!

But that was then! I believe that we as a society should have moved on from ‘hero’ worshipping of someone who speaks English. One would think that the amount of ‘educated’ people in our society would have allowed us to ‘see’ things better that English is just a language!

I know that English is both Nigeria’s lingua franca and the world’s business language, but it is still just a language! There are so many uneducated people in the parts of the world where English is their native language. They naturally speak English (it does not mean they can write it). Does this mean that when an illiterate English speaker gets to Nigeria, a graduate would hero-worship them simply because they speak English? It’s just a thought as the reality of how we perceive and treat someone because they speak English language in a tone that is peculiar to their language is uncanny.

To highlight this point, I heard of a story of some Nigerians that went to a particular world conference in America. That when it was time for the main guest speaker to speak, he had an interpreter because he was from China or Sweden (I cannot remember) and guess what, one of these Nigerians who probably had been feeling quite overwhelmed and intimidated because his English or intonation was not as the Westerners who’s language was English was heard to have commented that he no longer felt as if he was at “the bottom of the ladder” as at least, he understood and could speak English unlike the main guest speaker!

The expertise and the knowledge of this main guest speaker was not important to this Nigerian, but rather the ‘evaluation’ going on in their heart was about language rather than the content of their message! And that to me shows the way we have been unconsciously ‘tuned’ to think from childhood. Wrong emphasis is placed on the language rather than the individual and we need to start to correct this faulty perception in our upbringing.

 

Gathered information

From my research in relation to how we came about this pride that we take in speaking English language, I have come to the conclusion that this idea was rather ‘planted’ in us since time immemorial as so many of us living today ‘met’ or rather inherited this attitude without questioning it.

We all imbibed into it and so a false pride was planted in us which a quote from Pa Nelson Mandela, can help to confirm; 

Without saying, it became expedient that everyone would gravitate towards the supposed ‘superior’ culture. This is the way the British went about it. And do I blame them? That’s not the purpose of this blog. The purpose of this blog is to help us see how we are treating ourselves and our own language that we are still sacrificing on the altar of unchecked biased ego and pride and how we can consciously change this.

Finally…..

One thing I would like to point out here though, is that many of us (25 years old and above) that were raised speaking our language first and learning English later or raised simultaneously with both languages not only survived but we thrived and still thriving as we are bi-lingual.

We have turned out rather well speaking English language (including those that did not even pursue education beyond secondary school level) for this reason, I see no point in this delusion to make a child forgo speaking their language!

 

Why is it important to speak my African language, (Yoruba)? – (In Diaspora Part 3)

It’s no secret that I love my language and I enjoy speaking it. There is nothing to be ashamed of. I like and enjoy hearing other people speak in their own languages as it tells me that they are confident and proud of who they are.

I also like it when I see and hear the Turkish, the Polish and other East Europeans not to forget to mention the Indians, the Kashmiri, the Pakistani, the Chinese and so many Asians speak their native languages to their children in the playground, in the shops and so on (in the UK).

“And SOMETIMES, I get exceptionally excited when I see an African who dared  speak their language to their child / children as I have observed that many Africans here in the UK do not speak their languages to their children”

This I still regard as ‘enslaving’ their language again to the European languages (English, German, Italian etc.) and this in my opinion should not be! We are now in the 21st century!)

In my last blog, I wrote that there were several issues and reasons that led to why so many Nigerian-Yoruba, born in diaspora could not speak their language. I have decided to engage with only two of these reasons and the first one is:

The parents did not speak their language to their children

 Yes, that is the truth!  The parents did not speak their language, Yoruba to their children or encourage them due to their perceived fear (as some have claimed) that their children learning to speak two languages simultaneously might be confused and that this might slow down the children’s learning ability and pace with their mates.

This to me made it difficult to have any reason to blame the children for their choices after all, they were children and should have been guided by the adults for if the children had been exposed to the language from birth and been in constant communication and conversation with their parents regarding their language and heritage, there might have been less issue with them struggling in relation to socially ‘belonging’.

This issue of the parents not speaking their language to their children is rather confirmed to be true by someone that was raised as a child in diaspora’, (now an adult) and a blogger by the name of Spectra.

A child’s perspective

Spectra wrote in her blog “….ironically, immigrant parents ……. are less likely to teach their children their native languages, for the purpose – or rather, the sake – of easing their assimilation into English-speaking culture”.

Spectra also emphasised the fact that “contrary to popular assumptions, not many people (the children) actively choose not to learn their native languages; this decision is often made for them at a young age, by schools and parents, perhaps pushing for assimilation into the dominant culture in which they live, or due to other factors”. This, in my opinion, rather poignantly shed the light further on the subject.

The second reason that I want to engage with is known as cultural cringe.

Cultural cringe

Cultural cringe is defined in Wikipedia as “an internalised inferiority complex that causes people in a country to dismiss their own culture as inferior to the cultures of other countries. It is closely related to the concept of colonial mentality”.

Now, looking at the meaning of the word ‘cultural cringe’, could this be happening or existing subconsciously in us (as Yoruba and Nigerians) and in our society (Nigeria) that when we even leave our country for another, this perspective is somehow imbedded in us? I don’t know, but it is worth keeping in mind especially as our society still clamour and pride itself on speaking ‘the Queen’s English’.

May I say here that this particular point, cultural cringe cannot be fully addressed here as it goes deeper into the heart of our society at large which I hope to discuss fully later on in my future blog in relation to speaking our language (Yoruba) to our children and other topics that seem to be seen and linked to this social cringe issue (I hope you would keep reading my blog).

So, what’s the point? what now?

The point here is that whatever happened in the past has happened and it is now in the past! But to ensure this does not continue to happen, is the essence of this blog as I am conscious of the fact that people are always moving all the time from one part of the world to another and where one has been is where someone else is starting.

I am hoping that this blog would help someone moving into a new culture (be it English, French, Spanish, Portuguese or another African culture or society different to theirs) to see the need for them to pause, assess and plan what they want to achieve with their lives and that of their children and that they include and prioritise speaking their language to their children so that there would be no regret in the future simply because they might have unconsciously through economic bias or otherwise, thought at a point in time that European languages are superior to their language which may result in their children being ‘left behind’ in their culture’s language arena or estranged from their culture language-wise. I really believe that our society, Nigeria needs to change its views regarding our languages.

May I also say here that I know quite a number of people that were ‘born and bred’ here in the UK, who understand our language perfectly well. Some do speak it while some might not speak it as well as they would like to, but they understand it a lot and it has been beneficial to them. All thanks to their parents who chose to speak to them in our language when young and being raised.

Below is my interview with one such, Mrs Bọ́lá Ayẹni. You can check our YouTube channel (Naijamatterz) for the rest of this interview.

Just to say here that there are so many individuals and organisations within our societies everywhere that are doing different and various things similar to what l am doing, and that is, promoting us, our languages and cultures as they see fit.

The aim of this blog is not to condemn, but to challenge our beliefs and attitudes to ourselves and our culture some of which we might have inherited from time immemorial within the culture and society which as we unpack, review and challenge these beliefs,  we would come to realise that they are no longer relevant of which not speaking our language to our children is one of them.

As much as I would like to finish my writing about this language business, I cannot but bring up another issue that I came across during my research, which I would like to refer to as the ‘other side of the coin’! I believe I need to bring this up to raise our awareness to what is going on right ‘under our noses’ as I cannot conclude until this particular issue is brought to our attention, so that all aspect of our norms both at home and abroad in relation to our language and are jointly discussed and reviewed so that positive change and attitude can be made and cultivated.

IT IS ABOUT OUR RELATIONSHIP AND ATTITUDE TO OUR LANGUAGE RIGHT IN OUR OWN AND BELOVED LAND AND COUNTRY OF NIGERIA!

It is unbelievable and this story needs to be told. We need to look at this social norm together and make a positive change.

Read about this in my next blog.

Positively Nàìjá

 

Adébùnmi

 

 

Why is it important to speak my African language, (Yoruba) – (In Diaspora Part 2)

Understanding human needs for identity –

Picking up from my last blog on the children’s need to belong and looking at Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, it is quite amazing at the same time not surprising to see that the need for “belonging” is right in the middle as the moment the basic needs (physiological (being born, food, water etc.) and safety (security / family) needs are met, the next thing a human being wants is to have their sense of belonging established as shown below:

Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs

It is important to point out here that Maslow’s hierarchy of needs can be used to interpret any aspect of human life as long as there is a new beginning like moving to a new place or changing job and so on).

For instance, the children mentioned in the previous blog had their sense of “social belonging” needs met when they chose to relate to the dominant social culture of where they were at the time but now that they have become adults and established and do not need to ‘socially belong’ anymore, their desire ‘to belong’ is no longer directed towards the prevailing ‘social’ culture but towards meeting an inner or ‘cultural’ need, a need to establish their cultural identity and satisfy their inner desire for a sense of cultural belonging.

Language: Cultural or social identity?

My own journey

Looking at the role of language in any context (without going too deep into sociological studies), it is obvious that language plays important role in establishing both cultural and social identities.

The issue around my own passion to encourage and see people, in this instance, the young adults of Nigerian Yoruba parentage learn to speak in their parents’ language, started unknowingly some years ago when I came to live in the UK.

Life before UK

Before then in the late 70’s and 80’s when I was a teenager / young adult in Nigeria, it was not “cool”, posh or ‘tush’ or ‘toosh’ (as the young people of today would say) to speak Yoruba language. Actually, we children around the time heard lots of “no vernacular” (meaning we were not to speak in our own language) within the school environment at that particular point in time, so in a way, Yoruba language was relegated and regarded as ‘second class citizen’s language right there in Nigeria!

It was rather accepted and regarded as “cool” for us to speak English language to the extent that some people were willing to do almost anything to prove their knowledge and understanding of English language by using unpopularly used or uncommon synonymous words which we popularly referred to as “big grammar” just so they can be applauded! (It’s good fun (sometimes) though!)

Socially acceptable norms

 Popular and acceptable music among many young people and educated ‘class’ or ‘elite’ around the time were foreign music.

Artists like Michael Jackson, Cool and the Gang, Aretha Franklin and so on  ruled the airwaves, parties and disco clubs in Nigeria (at least in the western part where I grew up) as people that considered themselves ‘cool’ did not associate as such with  local and more traditional artists.

That was the way things were. And am afraid to say that many of us went along with it! We didn’t query anything.

 

In our own way, we were subconsciously trying to ‘belong’ as well to the “elite” class that our Nigerian society was creating.

 

Belonging? Who am I? Time to find out

And then, I came to the UK thinking I was alright as I communicated very well in English (in my opinion and that of many Nigerians.) But then living and working in the UK shed another light on my world and knowledge of English as their use of English and mine (and fellow Nigerians) were and are still so different. Many British found it hard to understand me and my fellow Nigerians and we also found it hard to understand them as well.

Identity crisis: Cultural and or social identity?

Language (as a cultural identity) and language (as social identity)

Intonation

Can you imagine being at an interview and not fully understanding the questions been asked? Don’t laugh! It happened to me! Needless to say, I excused myself in the middle of the interview and went to the toilet (a perfect excuse just to talk to the person that took me to the interview that I could not understand the man’s intonation! (It was cockney! And I think the man too did it on purpose, Who knows!) Needless to say that I did not get the job!

I’m sure that many Nigerians that are now high flyers in the UK (and elsewhere like The USA, Canada and so on), if asked would have loads of stories to tell like mine!

Name – what’s in a name?

What about my name, a three lettered word “a-d-e” got various pronunciations! (edi, addi, eda etc. to mention a few). I made it a point to correct and I remember one person telling me that my name was strange and that was why it was difficult, to which I gave a reply that their own name would be found to be ‘strange’ as well if they were in my part of the world.

As you can see, many fellow Nigerians and I (and probably other Africans too) were under pressure to do something to “belong”.

How do you belong?

To meet this endless desire to ‘belong’, some people chose to ‘amend’ their intonation, some chose to use their English Names while some re-named themselves and started answering to English / Christian names like Chris, Sam, Kate, Judith, Monica and so on while some chose to waddle on and take their stance regarding their identity, neither did they add other names nor did they intentionally develop a funny accent.

May I say here that there were people from other parts of the world as well (Indians, Chinese, Ethiopians, Jamaicans and so on) who were also grappling with the same issues as us in their own way.) We all however adjusted and adapted here and there to ‘belong’ in our own way to the society just as much as our host country and citizens also tried and accepted us by trying to understand us a bit as well.

By the way and to my knowledge, at no time did any British ever tried to write their name phonetically so that I or anyone else could pronounce it. I mean imagine a Sean spelling his name ‘Shon or Shun’ for my or anyone’s benefit? No. That realisation helped me to quench any desire to spell my name ‘Addey’ (as some were trying to push me to) as I finally accepted me and who I am.

Belonging, fitting in, yet not fitting in…

From the above, you can sense that people went through a lot of emotional feelings and psychological issues in their bid to ‘belong’. These psychological issues range from inferiority complex to superiority complex while some tried to have a balanced view. All these psychological issues however reflected themselves in various behaviours with us all in different ways as  individuals.

My own way of dealing with this emotional tussle at the time was to tell myself that I also was proficient in another language, Yoruba. This was when I noticed how some of my people were not speaking Yoruba to their children. I did not like what I observed then, so, I began my “one man (I mean woman) crusade”. It worked with some, others did not see it the way I did which was fair enough.

Accepting me (colour, language, intonation and all)

I tried and encouraged Nigerians especially the Yoruba  parents around me to speak our language to their children. I reasoned that these children might not be able to write it or speak it fluently, but they should at least understand it so that when they eventually ‘go home’ (to their parents and their own cultural background) which so many do, no matter how long they have been away from their country of origin) or that whenever they are with fellow Nigerians anywhere, they would not feel like strangers! That was some years ago. My passion for this issue has not waned, no not yet!

We all struggle

As you can see, the parents (adults) also went through their own issues around the need to belong not to mention the fact that these parents (we Yoruba’s) came from a culture that embrace and pride themselves in speaking “Queens English”. The outcome of this is that so many parents did not notice or sense what was going on and before we know it, we now have almost a generation that struggles with speaking their own cultural language!

Nevertheless, as some are now keen to speak our language, my own response was and still is “Let’s help, let’s walk together” as nothing is ever too late and there is no time like now.

As you can see, there are issues on both sides (children and parents / adults) and I think it is important to revisit some of these issues which means finding out the reasons for our attitudes to our language and how best to address the issues so that these would not keep robbing us but make us better as we would be if we, with information consciously plan for a better future for generations to come.

Look out for part 3, where I plan to conclude on the issues with Nigerians in diaspora and Why is it important to speak my African (Yoruba) language even in diaspora.