It was two weeks ago, myself and two other corpers were waiting for our letters when the issue of speaking one’s “mother tongue” came up. You could say I’m part of the exception as English is the only language I’m fortunate enough to be adequate in. French just never stuck with me even after years of being a student neither Yoruba nor Igbo. As a result after the “Where are you from” question, I get the “Ha! O jo omo Yoruba” (Cos of my fair-skin, stereotypical yeah?) and then the “Oyinbo lo tin so latekan, so gbo yourba ni?” and then when I tell them I can’t speak they might switch to English language and go “Ah! It’s not good for one to not know how to speak his mother tongue. It doesn’t say well about you. You should be proud of where you come from.” or its Yoruba equivalent. Pause! Now I could go on about reasons why I shouldn’t be proud of where I come from and even ask why Yoruba, if it were superior, didn’t go round the world like English did, but really I wouldn’t because the simple truth in this instance is I have never at any point said I wasn’t proud of where I come from, they just presumed I wasn’t.
Now there was a colleague with us and we argued back and forth and as much as toying with the emotions of my “opponent” was fun, seeing as she was emotional about the whole thing, I never let my points be made without having logical reasons behind them. Not my main point but wouldn’t it be terrific if we could extend the emotion and vigour we put into this whole “mother tongue” issue towards other issues affecting our society? A Yoruba man for example might be corrupt but because they don’t want to “bite the hand that feeds them”, the people around him would simply look away. If an elder were wrong in a situation, most people would simply cover it up instead of standing on the truth all in the name of respect, thereby sending a putrid message to the youth. If our language which we would fight for so dearly, defines who we are then I look around Nigeria and I ask who are we?
Many times I have been in a public place where two or more people decide to speak in their language and there is nothing wrong with that. But where there is only one person who doesn’t understand that language, how wouldn’t that person consider the possibility that the discussion is about them? Once I joined a queue where two Ibo guys were speaking English, then they changed to Igbo, I kept looking at them till they were uncomfortable, they then embarrassingly asked if I understood them and I just smiled. Maybe a private conversation, maybe not, but it does cause a faction in public places.
My main point is simply the rule and its exception. Should every man speak his mother tongue? Yes. Ideally is it possible? Yes, realistically? No. So where is the exception in this case? My friend Victor can speak Igbo and Yoruba, the languages of his father and mother respectively. He also speaks Hausa and French relatively well. I once met a man who could speak the three main Nigerian languages excellently well along with some other languages and apart from the slight Ibo accent, I really couldn’t figure out what tribe he was from. Then there is me the man who grew up in Lagos and whose only exposure to Hausa language was in junior secondary school, whose exposure to French should allow him construct and reply simple sentences. If not any of those, what of Yoruba, at least Lagos is said to be a Yoruba state? Have I tried? Yes, to an extent. Would I keep trying? Definitely! But you see, the question most people failed to ask is “Why can’t you speak your native languages?”. Now that basic use of language opens up a discussion, not a debate because then I get to tell my story and then help can be offered. I have heard people say “It would be good if you could speak it” or “You should try learning, it’s important”, now those sound encouraging rather than the instances given in the opening paragraph.
Shortly before we got our letters an Akwa Ibom man came in and he contributed by saying his children grew up in Lagos and they understand their native language but can’t speak it but that they spoke Yoruba well. I have met Ibo people that speak Yoruba well and some even say it’s easier than Igbo. Coupled with the fact that Westernisation has played a huge part in our lives from birth, it’s really an integrated problem. But a lot of people often forget the fact that the lifestyle in the rural area of a place say the United States, is different from that of those in the urban areas. Ergo, the issue of language is an individual issue as well as a collective issue. So judging someone on an individual issue from a collective perspective is wrong. Technical Drawing is fun for me, but it’s a pain in the neck for some people. Someone might speak up to six languages fluently like one of the lecturers in my final year, while others may only grasp one language easily.
Society should remember that we all don’t have the same abilities and language isn’t an exception!
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