Status Struggle: Evaluation Of The English Language And The Indigenous Languages In Nigeria

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Status Struggle: Evaluation Of The English Language And The Indigenous Languages In Nigeria


The presence and the use of the English language in Nigeria has been seen as a threat to the indigenous languages. The truth lies in the fact that Nigeria has adopted the language of her colonial master and has given it priority over the indigenous languages that were in existence before her existence. This act can lead to loss of identity as language is not only a means of communication but an aspect of a people’s identity. However, the awareness of this danger and the proclamation of UNESCO that the Igbo language will go into extinct in fifty (50) years, beginning from 2001 if nothing is done to revive the language have made Nigerians in the Diaspora engage in the struggle of dethroning the English language and restoring the indigenous languages to what they used to be before the coming of the British. Therefore, this research is anchored on key issues such as language and identity struggle, the national language question, the status of English in Nigeria, the status and struggle of the indigenous languages in Nigeria and the struggle for status recognition in the language of Nigerian literature, especially fictional prose. It justifies through a rationalistic view that the English language will win in the struggle if things remain the way they are.

Chapter One


1.1 Background to the Study

Language is seen as the main tool of communication between the members of a society that use it. According to Alan D. DeSantis, language is “a structured system of signs, sounds, gestures, or marks that is used and understood to express ideas and feelings among people within a community, nation, geographic area or cultural tradition” (80). I. O. Balogun sees language as “a cultural tool for the easy identification of a p eople and should be allowed to be learnt from birth to adulthood for the promotion of a people’s culture and tradition” (1). The English language in Nigeria stands against the three major indigenous languages which are; Igbo, Hausa and Yoruba. The minor languages in Nigeria are believed to be over 450 in number.

A language can only gain prominence with reference to the people who speak it. The presence and use of the English language in Nigeria have shown greater importance more than the other three national languages. This is because in a multilingual environment, it is the usefulness of a language that determines the status or importance of the language in the midst of other competing languages in the linguistic market place. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) report on endangered indigenous languages states that the Igbo language in Eastern Nigeria faces the risk of possible extinction in the next 50 years (beginning from 2001), if nothing is done to revive the language. Since then, Nigeria has been on the plan to engage her citizens in revitalising the indigenous languages.

Emenajo Nolue is of the view that language is the key to the heart of a people. He further states that a lost language is a lost tribe, a lost tribe is a lost culture, a lost culture is invaluable knowledge lost

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