How to Kill a Language: The Death of Yoruba
A language is a system of communication which consists of a set of sounds and written symbols which are used by the people of a country, region or community for speaking and for writing. It is said to be an embodiment of their culture and traditions, and to be intricately tied to their sense of being, identification and belonging. Take away a people’s language, and you take away their sense of worth and belonging. The disconnect engendered by this loss almost always leaves them open for the reception and adoption of a new language with its attendant culture and traditions thereby paving the way for the death of their own language.
As a modern day colonial looking to expand the influence of Her Majesty, your Queen; to all corners of the earth, there is no medium better than your language to preach this gospel.
And so, without further ado, this is how you kill a language:
First, you colonize its speakers.
This you do through conquest, trade, assimilation, religion… Whichever poison you prefer. You ridicule their traditions, you take away their language, you take away their identity. You subjugate them using every means at your disposal such that they become and see themselves more or less as a part of you.
Second, you re-educate their offspring.
After colonization, comes re-education. There will be “infidelic” non-believers amongst your new people. These whilst exhibiting a modicum of compliance in public, are defiant of your gospel of change in private. Since they cannot openly oppose you, they will pass their language, culture and traditions down to their children in a bid to prevent the extinction that must surely come from your dominance.
This defiance on their part you must make sure must be in vain. You must teach their offspring, their supposed last bastion, that speaking their language, their mother tongue is vernacular. If they like their parents choose to be defiant by uttering a word of ‘their’ primitive language, you impose sanctions on them. N20 (Twenty naira) for every word (of Yoruba) that escapes their mouth in official places. This will ultimately discourage them from attempting to allow the uncouth drivel escape their lips.
This however you must note is still not enough to kill a language.
Third, you engender a language shift amongst their offspring’s offspring.
You do this by portraying the mastery of your language as the ultimate ideal. Every word that escapes from their lips must be properly dictioned. With the accent to accompany it. Proper Queen’s English and nothing more so pretentious. Anybody with ‘H’ factor will be deemed a second-class citizen and will need to shape up or be left behind. Shame in this instance will be your greatest weapon. Parents will endeavor to send their children to the best schools in their country where your own educational curriculum will be employed. It will no longer be ‘A’ for Apple but ‘ah’ for Apple. Picture perfect English as portrayed by every on-air personality.
Fourth, you break their Spirits.
At this stage, the majority of your work will have already been done. The offspring at this stage may hear and understand their mother tongue, but they will be hard pressed to speak or write it even at the pain of death and as such, they will have little or nothing to transmit to their own offspring. And whilst you still have to be vigilant, be rest assured that 300 (three hundred) years from now, when a vintage copy of Fagunwa’s Ogboju Ode turns up at an archeological dig at the site of what may have once been Ibadan, there will be no native speaker to decipher it, Yoruba will have become a lost language, and in that moment, your work will have been done.
- This post was inspired by a tweet from Kola Tubosun wherein he stated to have heard a Yoruba recording from the 1920s and how it was so much different from the one we currently speak. Our parents can read, write and speak Yoruba, we their children can read, write and speak Yoruba to an extent. Our children hear or will hear Yoruba but will barely be able to speak, read or write the language. Their children will be able to do none of those and this I tell you, is the saddest sadness of all.
- Yoruba as used in this post is metaphor for indigenous Nigerian Languages.