Is Yoruba Language In Trouble? Raheem Oluwafunminiyi

It is not uncommon these days to hear how friends or people we communicate with, either face-to-face, on social and mass media or even on telephone, have suddenly changed the face of our indigenous languages. The local language we speak has often been made to transform itself through the way we use them to communicate among ourselves. The underlying effect or result is that the major languages spoken in Nigeria today faces not totally an extinction, as many in academic and public discourses are wont to theorize or make us believe, but of course could lead to a fatal conflagration of who we have been and who we should be tomorrow.

Language is a generational norm passed through cultural values, mores and societal interaction. It is a means to identify an individual from another cultural or ethnic group. It is actually not pyramid-like, for pyramids appear from bottom to top, which alters at the middle the very essence of language acquisition and usage. Rather, language is cylindrical in nature, little wonder it appears to be dynamic. This writer have used the pyramid and cylinder shapes as case studies here for no reason other than the fact that several decades ago, several of our local languages were spoken with a rich blend of consonantal and vowelic taste or what could be termed ‘indigenousity’, much that whoever was receiving words from a speaker, grasps a unique language tradition soothing to the ears. With this, one certainly appreciates not just the rich culture but the identity that comes with speaking the mother tongue.

Those were years of the cylindrical brand of mother tongued language which appeared straight, undiluted and real to the ears. Today, however, it appears to be a different situation as the language spoken appears pyramid-like which of course have overtaken us, tending to mix with a foreign language. Though understandable to whoever speaks and hears them, most especially by the youths, this mixture damages the very core of the rich language culture passed down by our fore-fathers.

This writer may not be too conversant with the over 250 ethnic groups dominant in the country (except perhaps, the so called Sovereign National Conference is someday convened) and the strands of language each group speaks, but coming from the part of the world where the Yoruba language is vastly spoken, one may not be too far from the truth to say that the language is fast becoming corrupt, what with the level a foreign language keeps finding its way,  creeping into our everyday conversation.

Many may be oblivious of this new trend or know about it, consciously or unconsciously shrugging it off, but it is a fact today that the English language continues to eat deep into our local languages (the Yoruba language as a pointer here), much that many cannot even make a complete utterance or statement in Yoruba without code-mixing or code-switching (which is the combination of English language and another or other local language(s) in an utterance).

For example, it is not unusual to hear these days utterances like: e wa CAREFUL ni beyen o; nigba ti mo CONSIDER gbogbo CIRCUMSTANCES to SURROUND MATTER yen, mo wa CONCLUDE pe mo MUST TO wa ni be; awon OTHER COMPANIES o ni AGREE lati je ka CARRY ON pelu ADVERT yen; o da bi pe GIRL yen ti wa INSANE amongst others.

There is no denying the fact that many of us who speak these new brands of mixed Anglo-Yoruba language do certainly understand them, most especially the new crop of teenagers, adolescents and youths who permeates the socio-political space of the country, but by the time they begin to take an in-road to places where the Yoruba language is still quite intact and in its original form, there seems to appear a disconnect between these two classes of people. The former begins to think the latter has only spoken to show his status or class and for that reason only wish to embarrass them with some uncouth effizy Yoruba, while the latter sees the former as the local type speaking a raz kind of Yoruba.

Nevertheless, overtime we have been inundated with common talk as to how the Yoruba language is fast going down the drain and in the next 50 years or so will go into extinction. This writer was even privileged to have attended one of those usual lectures where solutions were given as to how the language could best be preserved; yet quite few could identify the sudden emergence of this mixture of Anglo-Yoruba means of communication. Certainly, it is a dangerous precedence and it sure calls for a thorough solution to a future disaster. If our friend could say ‘o da bi pe GIRL yen wa INSANE’ when the Yoruba equivalent of GIRL is OBIRIN and INSANE being WERE, it calls to question how our language system is fast collapsing and denigrating (not going extinct).

Some might call this brand of language the Lagos way of speaking Yoruba, but surely, way down to Akure, Ekiti and even as far as Kogi, where Yoruba is spoken in pockets of places, it is not getting any better. Yoruba speakers in Lagos cannot, therefore, have a monopoly of such Anglo-Yoruba form of communication prevalent elsewhere these days. It is for this reason that everybody must put their hands on deck to correct this social teething problem right from the home to the school and our respective places of work. It starts with you and me.

Raheem Oluwafunminiyi is a social commentator and political analyst. He could be reached via [email protected]