Language is one of the most beautiful and important aspects of every culture. It provides people with a unique ability to communicate with one another. This will build relationships and create a sense of community, togetherness, and oneness. Many Nigerian languages have these uniqueness in their pronunciations, spellings and intonations.
Cause for concern
It has become a growing concern that some Nigerian languages may be at risk of becoming extinct. Nigeria is a beautiful multilingual nation with major and minor languages spreading over 250 different ethnic groups. As one of the most linguistically diverse countries in the world, aside from Nigeria’s three major languages – Hausa, Igbo, and Yoruba, which are predominantly spoken in the North, South-East, and South-West regions of the country respectively, Nigeria has over 500 spoken languages. Unfortunately, most of the major and minor languages have gone or are predicted to become extinct in the next 10 to 50 years.
Language extinction is referred to as the process that occurs when a language is no longer spoken or passed down to new generations.
Earlier in 2006, The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) predicted that the Igbo language, one of the three major Nigerian languages, may become extinct in the next 50 years. Similarly, a study was carried out in 2018 on the extinction of indigenous languages in Nigeria which came to a conclusion that a lot of Nigerian languages would go extinct in a few years unless proactive steps are taken.
Reasons for the extinction of Nigerian languages
Languages can go extinct for a variety of reasons, such as the dominant culture and language imposing itself on minority languages. Economic and social changes for instance makes it more advantageous for people to speak a different language. In Nigeria, the widespread use of English and other dominant languages, as well as the country’s rapid modernization and urbanization, may be contributing to the decline in some of our indigenous Nigerian languages.
This decline is mostly caused by the introduction of the western culture which came bearing gifts of urbanization and modernization along with its language. As a result, the English language has become the most spoken language in Nigeria. The diversity of the indigenous Nigerian languages and the failure of parents to teach and pass down their mother tongue to their children in a bid to make them more accepted and recognized in society by speaking fluent English is another very important factor resulting in the decline of our Nigerian languages.
A recent study carried out in 2020 shed light on the impact the English language has on our indigenous Nigerian languages.
List of Some Nigerian Languages going extinct
The Endangered Language Project that supports and celebrates global linguistic diversity also identifies about 172 Nigerian Languages that are going extinct along with the population affected. Some of these languages include
- Ake language, Spoken in four villages in Lafia LGA, Nassarawa State, Nigeria, with less than 2,000 native speakers as at 2006
- Alago language Spoken in Awe and Lafia LGA, Nassarawa State, Nigeria, with about 15,000 native speakers as at 2011
- Bade language, Spoken in northern part of Yobe State, Nigeria with only 250,000 native speakers as at 2007
- Bakpinka language, Spoken in Cross River State, Nigeria with about 4,000 native speakers as at 2006
- Centuum language, Spoken in Balanga LGA, Gombe State, Nigeria with less than 100 native speakers as at 2011
- Defaka language, Spoken in Opobo–Nkoro LGA of Rivers State, Nigeria with less than 200 native speakers as at 2001
- Deguza language, Spoken in Bauchi State, Nigeria with about 2,500 native speakers as at 2003
- Dulbu language, Spoken in Bauchi LGA, Bauchi State, Nigeria with less than 100 native speakers
- Fyem language, Spoken in Bauchi and Plateau State, Nigeria with less than 3,000 native speakers
- Geji language, Spoken in Toro and Bauchi LGAs, Bauchi State, Nigeria with about 1,000 native speakers as at 2005
- Guruntum, Spoken in Paali and Duguri districts of the Alkaaleeri LGA of Bauchi State with 15,000 native speakers as at 1993
- Gyem language, Spoken in Bauchi State, Nigeria with about 1,000 native speakers as at 1995
- Ilue language, Spoken in Cross River State, Nigeria with about 5,000 native speakers as at 1998
- Jilbe language, Spoken in only one village in Borno State with about 100 native speakers as at 1998
- Kono language, Spoken in Kona village, Saminaka LGA, Kaduna State, with about 5,000 native speakers as at 2000
- Kudu Camo language, Spoken in Bauchi State, Nigeria with only 42 native speakers as at 1990
- Mvanip language, Spoken in Taraba State, with about 100 native speakers as at 1999
- Ngwaba language, Spoken in Adamawa State, Nigeria, with about 10,000 native speakers as at 1994
- Polci language, Spoken in Bauchi State, Nigeria, with about 22,000 native speakers as at 1995
- Reshe language Spoken in Kebbi and Niger State, Nigeria, with about 44,000 native speakers as at 1993
- Sambe language, Spoken in Plateau State, Nigeria, with only 2 elderly native speakers as at 2005
- Somyev language, Spoken in Kila Yang village Mambila Plateau, Taraba State, Nigeria, with about 15 native speakers as at 2000
- Yangkam language, Spoken in Bashar town in Plateau State, Nigeria, with approximately 400 native speakers
The languages listed above are only a few among the numerous Nigerian languages that are going or have already gone extinct as of 2022.
This is a huge cause of concern for the affected cultures and Nigeria as a county. According to UNESCO, “Every language reflects a unique worldview with its own value systems, philosophy, and particular cultural features. The extinction of a language results in the irrecoverable loss of unique cultural knowledge embodied in it for centuries. This includes historical, spiritual, and ecological knowledge that may be essential for the survival of not only its speakers but also countless others.”
A person’s native language holds great significance as it is embodied in their heritage and belief systems. Consequently, the loss of this languages would result in the loss of a personal connection to who they are and where they come from. In other words, even if they learn to speak another language, their sense of identity and belonging will be uprooted and they would not be able to pass down this heritage to the next generation.
What can we do?
Some of the possible solutions is the creation of recorded and printed resources. That is to say, the preservation of the language’s unique sounds and pronunciations using various digital and social media outlets. Introducing the use of native languages in the classroom is another possible solution to preserving Nigerian languages. Nigeria has taken a step in the right direction with the introduction of the mother tongue in primary schools across Nigeria. The new National Language Policy now makes the mother tongues a compulsory medium of instruction from primary one to six.
We can also raise awareness on the importance of language preservation and advocate for the support and use of local languages in media. This way, we can promote the use of multilingualism in cyberspace. Free Knowledge Africa has started by raising the awareness on the importance of language and Cultural revitalization.
The Organization has identified various languages and cultures that are going extinct within Nigeria. The revitalization of these languages, and how to preserve and digitize them has been a major cause of concern. This can be remedied by visiting the indigenous places and speaking with the gradually reducing number of indigenes who can still speak these languages. However, access to these communities and the expenses to cover the digitization process poses a challenge for the organization.
Free Knowledge Africa with the help of concerned organizations can work together to create a framework for language revitalization. People should be able to learn about these languages in a digital format with the creation of online educational resources for history preservation and even correct pronunciations of words in these languages. This will result in better communication in these language which would help make the language stronger.
Preservation and promotion of these languages are very important to ensure continuity. Nigerian Languages going extinct is a huge cause of concern to the nation. If not properly and promptly addressed, could pose irrevocable consequences. As a result, a lot of people could lose personal connections to their heritage and mother tongue which is never a good thing for a culture or a country as a whole.