There are founded fears that the Igbo language, currently spoken by about 50 million people of Igbo extraction and few hundreds of other tribes who have had a close contact with those from South East, may soon disappear.
In 2006, the United Nations, through its organ, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, UNESCO, made an earthshaking prediction that some minor languages of the world will go extinct in the next 25 years, that is 2025. It was shocking that Igbo language was in the causality list.
The meaning is that, if care is not taken, after 2025, Igbo language will go into extinct; it will die; no tribe will communicate in Igbo again.
It is very glaring that there were signs that UNESCO saw and worked on before it came out with the prediction that Igbo language would soon vanish. First, many Igbo people are no longer favourable to speaking their language. According to a Catholic priest, Rev. Fr. Pius Chibuike Nwauzor who is the parish priest of St Gregory Umuhu, Okwuato in Ahiara Diocese, Mbaise, Imo State, “The problem has to do with the flawed thinking of most Igbo people. What I mean is that, some people wrongly think that it is only you speak English, you are not well educated. In other words, for any Igbo to prove that he is exposed, he or she must always speak in English. This is wrong and we must change this wrong perspective”.
A public affairs analyst and former MAMSER coordinator in Imo State, Dr. Chuks Osuji revealed that the factors driving Igbo language to death. In a chat with News Echo, he said; “There are parents of South East origin who are gullible and culpable. They do not encourage their wards to speak Igbo language. You know very well that failure to teach the kids the language at home is a way of encouraging them not to speak it, eventually. To be sincere with you, the women are to blame here because the kids stay more with them than the men at this early stage. And most Igbo mothers, especially those living in the cities do not speak the Igbo language any longer and they also do not encourage their wards to speak it as well.
“Two, there are some careless fathers who think they can be more English than the Englishman and so they are even the purveyors of this ugly act when ordinarily they ought to be the drivers of their culture and custodian of their language, Of course, the moment the man does not show interest in his language and culture, the entire family will follow suit and the result is for all members of that family to abandon their Igbo language. For Igbo language not go into extinction, Igbo leaders led by Ohanaeze Ndigbi which Chief Nnia Nwodo is currently the president, should carry out a social education as well as an orientation campaign on the need for Ndigbo to speak, socialize and associate in Igbo language”.
Ani Kelechi Johnmary of Department of History and Strategic Studies, Federal University, Ndufu-Alike, Ikwo, now Alex Ekwueme Federal University, Abakaliki, Ebonyi State, said, “ The world is increasingly recording high cases of endangered languages. Endangered language is a language that is at risk of falling out of use as its speakers die out or shift to speaking another language. Igbo language is falling out of the communication choice of many Igbo people. The society exhibits social violence against its language at home, school, church, as by the government and through their dialect as well as other multidimensional ways. It well calls for the factoring and promotion of Igbo language based NGOs, public service broadcasting and transformative government policy in other to attain sustainable Igbo language transformation”.
He added, “The fact Igbo language instead of gaining communication height in the hierarchy of languages is currently moving in the downward trend in the comity of human languages is drawing increasing consign among individuals and scholars within the Igbo nation and beyond. “But following the prediction by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Advisory Committee on Language Pluralism and Multi-language Education that Igbo language and by implication, culture, may be heading for extinction, and subsumed by other stronger Nigerian languages by 2025, if nothing is done, by its speakers to ensure that it is not only taught in schools, colleges and universities, but also used as language of official communications within government and business circles in the five Igbo-speaking states-Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu and Imo-the prayers, this time around, seemed to have changed from that of (language) height gain to long life” (Abanobi, 2012:27)”.
Ani went on to highlight languages that have died in Nigeria, warning that Igbo language was not the first to be in danger list. “For instance in Nigeria, the following languages have become moribund with few elderly speakers; Bete, Bubbure, Camo, Fali of Baissa, Fam, Holma, Kiong, Kudu, Mbaru, Njerep, Odut, Shan, Sheni, Undu Rishi, Yangkam and Ziriya (UNESCO.org). Again, Defaka, Fyam, Ilue, Jala, Ju, Kubu, Lere Cluster, Luri, Ngwaba, Okorogbana, Shiki and Somyewe have become seriously endangered language, which the young people that speaks them have reached or passed middle age (UNESCO.org). Ugwoke (1998:14-20) had earlier presented a comprehensive list of indigenous Nigerian languages that are endangered. Igbo people are increasingly engaging in the progressive race towards cultural marginalization and geometric linguistic endangerment. This study is centred on cultural marginalization theory of language. “This frequently happens when indigenous populations, in order to achieve a higher social status, adopt the cultural and linguistic traits of a people who have come to dominate them through colonisation, conquest, or invasion. This is the most common cause of language endangerment”
It must be recorded that Igbo is designed to fit in the National Language Policy in Education, which provides that a student of Nigerian origin, in addition to English should learn and pass at least one indigenous language as a minimum requirement for admission into the Nigerian Universities, especially in arts related courses. The language is also designed to be part and parcel of the Nigeria’s official language policy which is “enshrined as follows in Section 51 and 91 of the 1979 Constitution as follows: The business of the National Assembly shall be conducted in English and in
Hausa, Ibo and Yoruba when adequate arrangements have been made therefore. A House of Assembly may in addition to English conduct the business of the House in one or more languages spoken in the State as the House by resolution may approve. (Quoted from Bamgbose, 1991:117), a report noted.
A published report enumerated the causes of the death of a language, “The most common process leading to language death is one in which a community of speakers of one language becomes bilingual in another language, and gradually shift allegiance to the second language until they cease to use their original or heritage language. This is the situation with the Igbo language. Meanwhile, a language is often declared to be dead even before the last native speaker of the language has died. This is the process of gradual death of a language, that which is affecting most African languages that have the English language as a second language. As language is known to be an index of culture and a mark of people’s identity; it is a core aspect of every culture. Without language, there is no heart-to-heart connection between species of any kind. The death of a language amounts to the death of a people’s identity and culture, as such people do not fold their hands and watch their identity get eroded. The report went ahead to state thus, “Attitude, according to Bainbridge (1994:400) is “the positive or negative evaluation of an object with anything, tangible, capable of being the object of an attitude.” In that regard, community language attitude denotes “the positive-negative evaluations of individual languages or group of languages, with regard to such dimensions as loyalty, prestige, utility, cognancy or aesthetics” (Othmen and Bashir, 2000:449). Greater percentage of Igbo population, cutting across the elite, the educated, and the bourgeoisies believe that Igbo people show a negative attitude towards their language. It has been established that many Igbo parents living in Nigeria and in the Diaspora prefer their children speaking English to speaking Igbo. It is also an acclaimed truth that the language of discussion in many Igbo town meetings and forums is English and not
Igbo. Students of higher learning studying any Igbo related courses like Igbo Linguistics, Igbo Education and so on are usually seen with such a chagrin written all over them in the midst of their mates studying other courses. Much as it is true that Igbo people show a negative attitude towards Igbo language, some have attributed this to certain factors which include the introduction of Western education, government policy on language and globalization. Let us see briefly how these factors can affect people’s attitude towards their language.
“It is believed that education is capable of triggering either a positive or negative attitude toward language. According to Chumbow (1990:63), language is the indispensable medium for the education and training of skilled manpower. Hence, the English language has been the language of education, government administration and trade in Nigeria, therefore, Igbo people have developed a positive attitude towards English to the detriment of their own language. An average literate Igbo person wants to flaunt his or her mastery of English language at the expense of Igbo”.