Academic journal article International Journal of Linguistics

On Language Endangerment and Language Maintenance: A Case Study of Zarma of Sokoto State of Nigeria

Academic journal article International Journal of Linguistics

On Language Endangerment and Language Maintenance: A Case Study of Zarma of Sokoto State of Nigeria

Article excerpt


The focus of inquiry in this paper is to examine the nature of language endangerment with specific reference to Zarma, one of the indigenous but minority languages of Sokoto State of Nigeria visa-vis the processes and strategies exploited in preserving the language in the face of overwhelming predominance of Hausa.

Keywords: Zarma, Language endangerment, Language maintenance, processes and strategies

1. Preliminary Remarks

This is essentially a preliminary study of the nature of language endangerment and language maintenance with respect to Zarma, one of the indigenous minority languages spoken in Sokoto State of Nigeria (Muhammad: 2001). Much of the material in this paper is based on work I have carried out for the past six years in Bankanu and its environs. This is augmented by comments and remarks from a number of displaced Zarma native speakers in the state who have displayed high level of language awareness with regards to this language.

In particular, our task here are twofold: first to determine and establish whether or not Zarma can be properly called an endangered language, given the particulars of what typically constitute endangered language in the literature and second to examine the sociolinguistic strategies exploited by the language as mechanism for language sustainability.

Recent estimates of language population (Crystal 1997:286) suggested that half of world's languages are prone to extinction in this century, and that only 1,000 or so languages may be preserved by the 22nd century. He further argued that the speed and the rate of this inevitable decline is largely attributable to the political, economic, and if I may add, social pressures which are motivating people to consciously or unconsciously commit language suicide by replacing their mother tongues by one which gives them access to the languages of more powerful cultures, invariably increasing their social mobility and making them more politically relevant. This, therefore, necessitated the need to carry out research on languages, whether endangered or otherwise, hence the raison deter for the present effort. The study also hinges on an important key point of inquiry stressed by Grenoble and Whaley (1998:vii) that it is imperative to gather ''more accurate assessments of current language vitality based on empirical data on languages of the world with a view to serve as a sound and valid basis for genuine and authentic research findings on language loss, language assessments that include not only head counts of speakers and estimates of fluency in native language, but also evaluations of the possibility of the continuation, decline or revitalization of the languages in any given community". Since, as they further pointed out, only with detailed and comprehensive data on language vitality is long-term prediction of the global linguistic picture a real possibility.

Again, inseparably connected to the questions about current language vitality is the crucial issue of identifying precisely the kinds of situations which will facilitate or alternatively hinder language loss or expansion. This, further underscores the crucial nature of the present endevor. But then, before we proceed, in order to put our discussion in clear perspectives the following questions are pertinent and this in turn is our point of departure:

What is the linguistic affiliation of Zarma?

Where is Zarma found globally and particularly in Sokoto?

What are their historical antecedents and identities?

What is the sociolinguistic profile of Zarma in Sokoto?

How can we classify Zarma, within the larger endangered language characterisation and categorisation?

What are the internal cohesive mechanisms for language preservation that characterized Zarma speech community of Bankanul

Why is Zarma still linguistically vibrant in Bankanu town of Sokoto State?

What are the linguistic prospects of Zarma in Sokoto state? …

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