Academic journal article International Journal of Linguistics

Atrophization of Minority Languages: Indigenous Folktales to the Rescue

Academic journal article International Journal of Linguistics

Atrophization of Minority Languages: Indigenous Folktales to the Rescue

Article excerpt


In the wake of the already established fact that Africa in particular, and some other developing countries of the world, are gradually losing their linguistic heritages, and in consequence their cultural ethos, to the encroachment of the 'super-power' languages like French and English, it is necessary to examine the scope of the hegemonic influence wielded by foreign languages, particularly English, on the culture of the 'colonized', and how folktales as a part of communal tradition can invigorate a renaissance in the preservation and sustenance of culture. This paper, as a synchronic study, therefore discusses the utilitarian values of some of the well-known Yoruba folktales in ensuring a reappraisal of the link between culture and language, and maintenance and survival.

Keywords: Language death, Indigenous folktales, Yoruba culture, Language preservation

1. Introduction

Sociolinguists from Africa owe their communities a duty of not only analyzing and describing their linguistic milieu, but also making sure that necessary changes that can spur the preservation, regeneration, and growth of such languages are promoted and supported. Currently, the language situation in most African nations are wholly exoglossic, that is, the languages used in formal, official situations are languages that are not indigenous to those societies. This situation can be traced largely to the colonial experience of the African continent. The only exception to this is in the use of Kiswahili, the national language of Tanzania and Kenya, which is also widely used in Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and neighboring countries. In Nigeria English is the language that everybody wants to acquire, possess, keep and speak in that order, so as to be considered as somebody who belongs to the right social hierarchy.

Thus, the evolutionary trends of the English language in Nigeria can be discussed in four clear stages: i. English as a colonial legacy, ii. English as a language of education, iii. English as a language of integration, and iv. English as a 'Nigerian language'. Stage four is the present stage of English in Nigeria. This is the stage at which the pervasive use of English, whether in its standard or non-standard form, is best noticed. The language is being blended with the indigenous languages, especially in hip-hop music and entertainment generally to express typical Nigerian cultural milieu. This phenomenon, technically referred to in sociolinguistics as code-switching/code-mixing, has been taken to higher level in Nigeria when one critically examines the symbiotic relationship that now exists between English and many indigenous languages in Nigeria (Babalola and Taiwo 2009). As Babalola (2009: 46) observed "... Nigerian English can indeed be considered as a national sociolinguistic profile brought about by the adaptation of the English language to the Nigerian socio-cultural context".

However, the local or indigenous languages have somehow been relegated to the background, with most language users now opting to jettison their language for the "more superior and respectable" foreign languages. Although the governments of many African countries claim to pay attention to the language situation in their domains by making their indigenous languages part of the recognized languages, as is the case in Nigeria where Yoruba, Hausa, and Igbo exist as regional superpowers, indigenous language planning has not really been established and promoted adequately and with the required political will in the African continent. In commenting on the exact number of languages being spoken in Nigeria, Babalola (2002b: 161) submits that

While the Federal Government, in its language policy, has

categorized three (Hausa, Yoruba and Igbo) as "major "

languages out of over four hundred Nigerian local languages,

Williamson (1990) made a brilliant list of 118 "minority"

languages which have been found to have determinate geography

and speakers as well as literature and potentials of being developed. …

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