A TERM PAPER ON MULTILINGALISM IN NIGERIA –A CURSE OR A BLESSING, DEPARTMENT OF EUROPEAN STUDIES, FACULTY OF ARTS, UNIVERSITY OF IBADAN.
INTRODUCTION TO MULTILINGALISM
Multilingualism is a sociolinguistic phenomenon that arises as a result of language contact. It is a situation in which two i.e. bilingualism specifically or more languages operates within the same context.
In order to fully appreciate this question, it will be proper to have a historical knowledge of how we came to be a multilingual country and also what the concept of multilingualism means the historical background of Nigeria’s multilingualism, as well as the advantages and disadvantages it presents.
FEATURES OF MULTILINGUALISM
In multilingual countries, majority of people speak three or more languages:
Their mother tongue
Other local or community languages
The national languages as well as an ex-colonial language like English, French e.t.c.
Multilingualism makes its speakers think about their own patterns of language use and the links between language usage, culture and identity.
DEFINITION OF THE KEY WORD “MULTILINGUALISM”
Multilingualism as defined in relation to a country or state is a situation where several languages are spoken or the act of using or promoting the use of multiple languages, either by individual speakers or more.
Multilingualism is the act of using, or promoting the use of multiple languages either by an individual speaker or by a community of speaker(s) is one who can communicate in more than one language be it actively through speaking, writing, singing or passively through listening, reading or perceiving i.e. multilingualism is the using, speaking or writing in several or different languages well.
Reference: Macmillan English Dictionary for Advance Learners.
NIGERIA AS A MULTILINGUAL NATION
Nigeria is a multilingual society with an estimated number of indigenous languages ranging from 450- 505 with Igbo, Hausa and Yoruba as the major languages with about 18 million speakers. The fundamental problem is that none these languages can be accepted conveniently as each the National language. Any attempt to enthrone one of the languages at the expense of the other has proven a failure due to the fact that it appears as distrust which is inherent and regrettably discriminating and domineering on the other languages and this dies in the mine of ethnic bickering.
Nigeria as a country was put together without their consent by Lord Lugard making a reference to the history of Amalgamation of the Northern Protectorate and the Southern Protectorate in 1914. Prior to this, the Berlin Conference had partitioned independent units and Nations into countries to suit their economic goals and pursuits of colonialism.
The portioning brought various people with different languages and cultures together without taking into consideration their differences. As independence came these peoples were made to believe and think as if they were one entity but as time passed cultural differences began to cause a nursing of the idea of a breakup into different entities which soon became cumbersome and encompassing. Although, these cultural and language differences brought with it a rich cultural heritage for the country.
English began to be formally studied in Nigeria in the 19th century and is now used in almost every parastatal such as governments, education, literature, business, commerce, media, and international communication and as a lingual Franca in social interaction among the educated.
Factors that brought about multilingualism in Nigeria can also be seen in the lights of:
Educational acquisition and
ADVANTAGES OF MULTILINGUALISM
Multilingualism is the natural potential available to every normal human being rather than an unusual exception. The advantage that multilinguals exhibits over monolinguals are not restricted to linguistic knowledge only, but extends outside the area of language (cook) 1999.
A multilingual has a keener awareness (Alamos and Goldin-Meadow 1990, Ewert 2006, 2008) and Sharper perception of language enhanced meta-lingual.
A multilingual will be better at judging how many words there are in a sentence.
Learns more rapidly in their own language with a high positive correlation between foreign language study and improved reading scores (Yelland et al 1993)
Be more efficient communicators in language.
Develop a markedly better proficiency in sensibility to and understanding of their mother tongue.
Develop a greater vocabulary size over age.
BENEFITS OF A MULTILINGUAL SOCIETY
Multilingualism in Nigeria is a blessing because of the advantages it affords the speakers.
a. Communication: if a person is multilingual, communication becomes very easy. If the person travels to a country which is not his own, by knowing the spoken language there, the individual is able to communicate and feels no difficulty in travel and other needs. This is the most important benefit of knowing more than two languages.
b. Income Generation Potential: the individual who speaks more than two languages has an edge over others as he is able to earn more because of various job opportunities in different countries. They have additional income generation potential if they work in a set up where the translation of various languages is essential. On the internet these days, there are various opportunities for people who know more than two languages.
c. Recreation: a multilinguist is able to watch programmes in various languages on the television. The individual is always abreast with the current happenings around the world by watching news in another when he finds himself in another country that speaks another language.
d. Jobs: there are various job opportunities for people who know more than two languages. Jobs that include traveling to various countries are always on the lookout for people who know and speak more than two languages. Companies that have multi-national presence will benefit a lot from employing people who are multilingual.
e. Exposure to another culture: rather than thinking there is only one way to everything, multilinguists stay open, open to possibilities. Fabulous, isn’t it? They know and understand that different people do things differently.
f. Building bridges to new relationships: multilinguists have the ability to build bridges to new relationships because they can talk to diverse people, they associate and make friends with different people. For example, they can be the bridge between two people who can’t communicate with each other, they can translate or interpret.
g. Flexible and divergent thinking: research has shown that individuals who grow up speaking several languages think of one thing in different ways. They know there could be more than one word to a concept. So their mind stands more flexible and that often led to the fact that multilinguists do well in school than their monolingual counterparts.
h. Self Identity: a multilinguist sees himself as a language or culture bridge. The self image an individual adopts increases his self confidence and self esteem.
Based on the above highlighted advantages and opportunities posed by the blessing sides of the phenomenon multilingualism, we maintain that its existence favours Nigeria based on the truth that since her independence, “linguistic imperialism” had to be sustained in the interest of the Nation because there has been no indigenous language that could perform the function of English due to mutual suspicion of and ethnic consciousness among virtually all Nigerians. Therefore, multilingualism should be viewed as an asset, an embodiment of the cultural diversity and linguistic enrichment of the country.
DISADVANTAGES OF MULTILINGUALISM
Multilingualism came with its own problems of resource or revenue allocation and also in the sharing of political power. This problem mentioned were part of the causes of the Civil War of 1967 which saw the Eastern part of Nigeria declaring itself a state “THE REPUBLIC OF BIAFRA”. This was because they felt cheated and left out in the nationality of Nigeria; after the civil war, Nigeria was still divided along the ethnic lines with Igbo, Hausa and Yoruba being the major ethnic group with other minorities. Invariably; this has hampered development because the barrage of corruption in Nigeria can somehow be traced to language and ethnicity. Most of the time, employment is not based on merit but on language and ethnicity, which brings about incompetent people for a job.
Inter-personal relationship is most of the time fostered based on language. A Hausa man in the market relates more with someone that speaks the language fluently than someone who does not at all. Language also breeds a sense of trust in an individual towards another. This was why the British were the most successful and peace in the colonial process because they used the people to rule with their indirect rule.
Although they had problems with the Eastern part of Nigeria due to the system of government which was acephalous not because of language.
From all that has been said of can be seen that multilingualism has been more of a curse than a blessing to Nigeria. Maybe when Nigeria graduates into a national state, there will be a change because people will remove their loyalty from their ethnic groups to the state believing it will provide for them. This does not mean that multilingualism is a total curse because there are other multilingualism states in the world that are peaceful and developed. Theirs will stem from their willingness to see beyond their differences into their similarities also they came together willingly and not through colonialism. When this happens in Nigeria, we can see change.
a. Exaggerating weakness: when an individual’s two or more languages are poorly developed, the person can’t cope in any part of the school’s curriculum, multilingualism can be a curse. But then the blame shouldn’t go to the multilinguist but the societal circumstances that create under developed languages in people.
b. Increased parental input: raising a multilingual child can be more of an effort for the parents. The parents need to engineer the child’s multilingual development thoughtfully and creatively allowing the languages to flourish.
c. Cultural Identity: occasionally, children can feel confused about who they really are.
In conclusion, knowing well that multilingualism in Nigeria is simply an amalgamation of different dialects and the standard form of each language as regards each geopolitical area of the nation coupled with the inception of the major European languages- English and French; we maintain that it is as a curse. Reasons to this stand are obvious occasion of divisions among local languages which slows down national progress. Another is that it serves as an aid for inclusion and exclusion, disrupting our national unity. As a blow on the commercial, educational, political and administrational prosperity of the country, it has done no good to national development though while trying to rectify these differences, English language became a saving grace as it became an official language. In the actual sense of the matter, Nigeria has never been a nation. What is a nation? Firmly speaking, a nation is been a given group of people that shares the same language, same culture and are situated in one same geographical location. Could any trace be made to the historical background of the country? Yes, there wouldn’t have been any Nigeria from the outset if each group of people that formed it had been left alone to decide its national fate.
International corpus of English. The ICE project, University of Augsburg, Germany, 2009.
The unifying Role of English in a Multilingual Nation: “The Case of Nigeria”
Department of Modern European Languages, University of Ilorin.
an abstract from the work (article) of prof Joy Eyisi