Society and Culture

Igbo Language And Its Downward Trend

The Longman dictionary of contemporary English defined extinction as ‘’when a type of person, custom, language stops existing’’. Examples of extinct languages in Nigeria includes (a) Ajawa; formerly spoken in Bauchi State, Nigeria. It became extinct between 1920 and 1940 as speakers switched to Hausa. (b) Kpati; formerly spoken in Taraba state, speakers now speak Hausa. (c) Basa Gunma; it’s an extinct Kainji language of Nigeria formerly spoken by people around Niger and Nasarawa states, speakers now speak Hausa. This is to mention but a few. You can check this link for more on extinct Nigerian languages.

It is no longer news that UNESCO in 2012 predicted that Igbo language might become extinct in the next 50 years. To some it is impossible, but it unsettles me, and I make bold to say that it is a possibility. I will tell you why.

There are about 500 languages spoken in Nigeria today, in them you will find Hausa, Igbo, and Yoruba being spoken by a larger population in Nigeria. In other words, these three are the masquerades (Mgbadike) of the Nigeria languages. The fact Igbo language instead of gaining communication height in the hierarchy of languages is currently moving in the downward trend because of the rate at which the Igbos especially the youths are shying away from their language with reckless abandon.

Let us use our parents as a case study to x-ray UNESCO’s prediction. There is no doubt that our parents understands and speak Igbo, but how many of their children can effectively communicate in Igbo language? Even the once that knows it prefers to communicate with their brethren in English. If in the next 50 years, our parents passes on to the great beyond leaving behind their children who cannot or refuse to communicate in Igbo, don’t you think that UNESCO’s prediction has come to pass then?

From my research and observations, it is only the older generation of Igbos (40 years and above) that speak the language both in the cities and in the rural places. The worst hit are the female folks especially the younger ones (30 years and below) they understand the language but refuse to speak it. Listen to a Hausa person speak to a fellow Hausa, you will never hear English in their communication, in the same way, when I speak Igbo to an Igbo person I make sure I don’t add English and yet over 90% of my female friends will reply me fully in English. This shows that they understand the language but refuse to speak it.

Among the male counterpart, it is only those that didn’t go to school that proudly speaks the language. It gladdens my heart anytime I go to the market to buy things (Lagos and Abuja), there you will see Igbo traders and business men proudly speaking the language, but it is not so when you visit our universities or meet our graduates on the road.

I once asked a female Corp member posted to serve in our office why she prefers to communicate in English instead of Igbo to her fellow Igbos, she told me that if she speak Igbo people will see her as an illiterate and a local girl. Gosh!!! Why do the Yoruba and Hausa people not have this type of silly mentality that is prevalent among Igbo Youths?

I feel ashamed that my Hausa and Yoruba colleagues will see their people and say stuffs like Inakwana, Inaoni, Ekaro, Ekaso (i.e morning and day greetings in those languages) But the Igbos will see each other and start saying things like: Nna how far, good morning and good afternoon. Hardly will you see an Igbo person that will greet you with: Nna kedu, Ututu Oma, Ibolachi, Kaoo, Jokwaa etc. This is not only prevalent among the Igbos of the South East, the Igbos of Rivers and Delta states where my mom hails from are equally guilty.

English is a means of communication between people of different tribes since Nigeria is a multilingual country. People of the same tribe should not use English to talk to each other. It is a sick thing for an Igbo person to communicate in English to a fellow Igbo, you will never see a Hausa person communicating in English to his tribal person. If you are Igbo and you don’t know how to speak the language, it is actually a shame, it’s your number one identity, and so you should go and learn it. Nobody is asking you to go and serve your ancestor’s deity but to speak your language.

Asking a young Igbo person to say the numbers or naira value in Igbo language is like asking them to trek from Abuja to Aba. I could remember an episode with an Igbo woman that sells roasted yam opposite PHCN office in Maitama Abuja. Below is our conversation.
Woman: Nna, Kedu ihe I choro? (Sir what do you want?)
Me: Biko nye m ji otu akpa ego (Please give me yam of N200)
Woman: I si gini (What did you say)
Me: A si m gi nye m ji otu akpa ego (I said you should give me N200 yam)
Woman: Gini bu otu akpa ego? (What is N200)
Me: Obu na ibughi onye igbo, I maghi ihe ana akpo ego na asusu igbo (Are you not Igbo, don’t you know the names of money in Igbo)
Woman: A mabu m ya mbu, mana e chefuola m ya (I know it before but I have forgotten it).
Me: (Gets angry) Biko nye m ji N200 naira ka m rie si ebe a puo. (Please give me yam of N200 let me eat and get out of this place.

This woman is not alone on this. These days, it is hard to find Igbos who knows the Igbo meaning for some certain things. Gather people from different tribes in Abuja or Lagos and ask them what some certain things are called in their native language and you will see them boldly telling you but ask an Igbo person the name for Chameleon in his native language and you will see them looking at the skies as if the answer is going to fall from there, the best answer you will get is I used to know it before.

Those that still manages to speak Igbo language mixes it with English. Listen to someone talk in Igbo, you will discover that 40% of their speech contains English. It’s only among the elderly ones in the rural places that you can still find someone that speaks Igbo language flawlessly without adding an English word.

Hardly will you see non Igbos visiting or residing in the Igbo states learn Igbo language anymore because the inhabitants of those lands no longer speak Igbo language. But reverse is the case when Igbos are visiting Yoruba or Hausa states, just give them 6 months there, they will come back and speak those languages more than the original owners.

My elder brother’s wife is from Edo state but schooled in Madonna University Anambra state. The first time I met her I greeted her in Igbo and spoke some simple Igbo to her but to my greatest surprise she told me that she didn’t understand anything in what I just said. I became embarrassed and told her that I spoke Igbo to her because I was told she schooled in Anambra state and should have used the opportunity to learn some basic Igbo language. She told me that during her school days, the Igbos who are majority in her school (over 80%) hardly speak Igbo to each other, they always communicate in English, so how was she supposed to learn the language since the owners of the language seldom speaks it.

I know some people will say that I am exaggerating, but I want you to know that this is a research that has taking me 5 years since I came back to Nigeria after my studies abroad (2010-2015) Don’t just hide behind the screen of your computer and gadgets and criticize me. Take a trip down to Nigeria if you are not here already, then you will understand what I am taking about. Visit all the major cities in Nigeria, south eastern states inclusive, then you will know that this downward trend of our dear language is really scary. If you think I am joking just pick up your phone right now and call any of your Igbo friend or family member and hear them speak then you will understand my lamentation.

Does it not bother you that we started Nollywood and over 80% of Nollywood stars have Igbo roots yet we don’t have a dedicated channel on DSTV whereas there are some channels dedicated to Hausa and Yoruba people.

If you are non-Igbo, I will advise that you steer clear of this thread, this is not the time for tribal war, it’s the time to bring to the consciousness of my Igbo brethren what is happening to us,but if you must contribute, please let it be constructive since nothing warms your blood than a thread that bashes the Igbos. And to my fellow Igbos, it is a wake-up call to all of us, it is time to bring this to bare, there is nothing to hide anymore, there is no better time to discuss this topic, it doesn’t matter if other tribes laugh at us now, the greatest scorn and laughter will be when UNESCO’s prediction will come to pass and we will be speaking English, Hausa and Yoruba in our villages. (A na eji bekee awa oji?) If we fail to do something fast, we will have a rude awakening and will become a laughing stock to other tribes soonest. And if nothing is done to correct this anomaly now, we will wake up one day to find Igbo language extinct like the others that have gone into extinction.

If you will make it a point of duty not to speak English to your fellow Igbos from today and to also spread this to your friends and family outside nairaland, I think our problem is already half solved. Be quick to correct your Igbo friends that speak English to you by reminding them that they are Igbos and should only speak Igbo language to you.

Igbo muru Nze muo Ozo, biko kulie nu na ura. Bido ta subara nwanne gi asusu Igbo.

#Suba asusu Igbo.

Ka Chineke mezie okwu.

Written by Nnamdi Ositadinma a.k.a Mba-ana-abara-Agu (the threat made against the Lion)

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