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The Death Of Mother Tongues? 

By Jessica Neh (UB Journalism Student on Internship)

CameroonPostline.com — The mother tongue is said to be more than a language; it is the very soul of mankind. It is an archive of history and an identity tag, a daily means of expression.
Mother tongues, however, have increasingly come under pressure due to colonialism, migration and globalisation. Matters become worse as soon as mother tongues cross the line into urban areas.
 

In some cases, pressure from school authorities, who believe that mother tongues are not a passport into the future, help to “kill” indigenous languages by forcing students to use English or French only in the school milieu. Most modern parents too, who live and work in urban areas don’t help matters. They tend to shy away from their mother tongues for diverse reasons, denying their children the opportunities to learn them.
 

Such is the case of Catherine Akamanda and her siblings from Bamungo in the Northwest Region of Cameroon. Their parents denied them the opportunity to learning their mother tongue, since they grew up in the city. Though Akamanda’s parents understand and speak the local language themselves, to them it is of no importance to indulge their children in this practice since English is the dominant language in the world, followed by French. Rather, Pidgin English was adopted as the dominant language at home.
 

Akamanda, now a mother, living with her family in Molyko, in the Southwest Region, feels alienated from her people because of the language barrier. As a parent, she has decided to right the wrongs of her own parents by encouraging her daughter to learn her mother tongue, though she believes that English and French are more important languages that would help her daughter survive in the modern society.
 

Joshua Mboni, a student and native from Bafuchu village in the Northwest Region, was embarrassed by his grandfather while in the company of some friends. The old man had wanted to communicate to his grandson furtively and so spoke in the mother tongue.

Though Mboni grew up in a city, he had several opportunities to learn his mother tongue from his grandparents through his numerous visits to his village. Instead, he gave a deaf ear to it. It was only until he was embarrassed by his grandfather in the presence of his friends, that he realised the importance of the mother tongue.
 

Dr. Blasius Chiatoh, a language expert in the Department of Linguistics at the University of Buea, says the mother tongue is considered to be an important aspect of every [African] society.
To him, people are fundamentally what their languages make them to be, as such, it identifies them. Dr. Chiatoh believes that parents who shy away from their local languages suffer from the phenomenon of inferiority complex.
 

“Parents believe that their local languages are inferior vis-a-vis other circular languages such as English and French. As a result, speaking their own languages means, to them, that they are primitive and uncivilized,” Dr. Chiatoh says. He argues that some parents have argued that the mother tongue has a negative impact on the pronunciation ability of a child in the French and English languages.
 

“They complain that these local languages make it difficult for their children to effectively learn the official languages. In order to spare their children from this, such parents interact with them in these circular languages to ensure a successful future for them in the society,” says Chiatoh.
According to Chiatoh, our local languages can be restored especially in the urban areas by creating space for the mother tongue in the educational system, this he said, will promote these languages and make them useful in the learning process.
 

“We need to change our personal perceptions concerning our local languages, if we want to preserve it from extinction,” Chiatoh asserts. He adds, “If the idea of introducing the mother tongue in the educational system of the country is backed by the government, parents and youths who shy away from it will begin to value it because the Government gives importance to it.”

First published in The Post print edition no 01385

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