Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

Etsako: An Anthropological Reflection of an Endangered Minority Language in Nigeria

Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

Etsako: An Anthropological Reflection of an Endangered Minority Language in Nigeria

Article excerpt


Language is perhaps the most distinctive behaviour that makes human being human. It is among the very first form of behaviour that we learn as children. Anthropologists do not know precisely the origin of human language but on the basis of available evidence, they could trace the evolution of language to the Homo-erectus stage of human evolution (Oke 2004). Language is the primary vehicle through which human culture and unique experience is shared and transmitted from one generation to the next.

Language is an indispensable means of interaction. As people interact with language, they construct meaning and social reality within the context of culture and unique experience within where they live. So, language does not merely reflect an existing reality, it also helps to create the reality (Ahearn 2001). Language is important not only as a system or symbol of communication but also as a way of organising a people's mode of thought (Otite and Ogionwo 1994). Language is an embodiment of ethnic identity. Indeed each and every language represents a unique expression of the culture and identity of a people. So, loss of any language is invariably loss of the identity, culture, history and the social thought of a people.

A language is lost when it is extinct. When a language becomes extinct, this implies that there is no documentation on the language and it cannot be revived again. A language could go extinct after several years of being endangered. And a language that is endangered is on the path toward extinction. Especially, a language is endangered when its speakers cease to use it as their first language and particularly when its use is increasingly reduced, or it is not spoken by parents as a medium of communication with their children or simply when the elders of the language community cease to pass it on from one generation to the next (UNESCO 2003) About 97% of the world people speak about 4% of the world languages and conversely, about 96% of the world languages are spoken by about 3% of the world people (Bernard 1996) And presently, fewer than 10% of the approximately 2000 African languages are widely spoken and none of this 10% is an endangered language (UNESCO 2003).

Language endangerment is a widespread phenomenon among minority languages. A language is endangered when its use is increasingly reduced or its speakers no longer pass it onto the next generation. This is a situation where children may no longer acquire the language even when the language is still being spoken by the language community elders. Language endangerment may arise when communities with different linguistic traditions live side by side. Such contacts involve an exchange of products as well as an exchange of cultural elements. Very often, the communities do not enjoy the same prestige in contact situations: a dominant vs. an inferior status may arise for specific reasons, such as economic, socio-historical or political strengths of each community. The communities with a lower status commonly acquire proficiency in the language of the dominant group. They may be inclined to relinquish their culture, including their language and may decide to adopt the language and culture of the dominant community. All over the world, member of ethno linguistic minorities are increasingly abandoning their native language in favour of another language including in child rearing and formal education (UNESCO 2003).

Language has an important role in the social thought of any ethnic group and in their ways of life. The indigenous social thought is encoded in proverbs, idioms, riddles, folktales and other oral sources of knowledge meant for promoting the language, norms and value system. This oral literature reflects experience from the socio-cultural and physical environment of the people. But in recent times, the Etsako language like many other minority languages in Nigeria has come under threat of extinction or is increasingly endangered because the mother tongue is no longer being acquired by children whose parents are from this language community. …

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