How to preserve Africa’s languages..By KOFOWOROLA BELO-OSAGIE

As far as nine-year-old Jesse Iriah is concerned, she is not a Nigerian. And she may be right.

She was born in New York to a Yoruba mother and Edo father.  She speaks only English.  She knows a little Yoruba, though, at least she hears a bit of it when her mother speaks with relatives, but she doesn’t understand what Ora, her father’s language, is at all.

“I am American.  I am not a Nigerian,” she told this reporter with all sense of seriousness at the prize giving ceremony of the upscale school she attends.

Asked about how much Yoruba she can speak, she said: “I can speak two proverbs.”  One of them is “Ise l’oogun ise”, which she learnt at school.

She is among thousands of school-aged children across the country growing up in homes where English is exalted above the mother tongue as the preferred language of communication.

Her kind are born to a generation of highflying comfortable young professionals, many of whose parents also maintained a similar language regime during their childhood.

However, renowned Kenyan author Prof Ngugi wa Thiong’ O does not think such should be encouraged.  His description of the practice as enslavement took on a whole new meaning for the audience at the Read Africa Launch by UBA Foundation at the UBA Headquarters, Marina, Lagos on Monday last week.

Urging the foundation to support publishing in local languages, the distinguished Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of California, Irvine, United States, said: “You don’t say there are too many languages in the world. Languages are keys to knowledge.  The more languages you know, the more keys to treasure houses you have.  If you know all the other languages and don’t know your language that is called enslavement. If you know your language and add all the other languages, that is called empowerment.”

The impact of his statement on those in attendance was expressed by Mr Kenneth Uzoka, Deputy Managing Director of the bank, who lamented that most parents do not teach their children their languages.

“Professor has given us a new definition of empowerment.   How many of us can have a conversation with our children in our language? I am not sure we are up to 10 per cent, so that is slavery.  I think we should applaud the professor.  This is a man who has taught in Yale but he converses with his son in their local dialect,” he said……READ MORE