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How to save indigenous languages from extinction —Adeyemi

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By Arowona Abdulazeez

In order to rekindle interest in the learning of the Yorùbá language and save it from extinction, a Professor of Yorùbá Literature in the University of Ilorin, Olalere Adeyemi, has enjoined the Federal Government to establish a National Literature Committee to be saddled with the responsibility of improving and preserving indigenous literary works, as well as encouraging and motivating indigenous writers.

Prof. Adeyemi of the Department of Linguistics and Nigerian Languages, Faculty of Arts, while delivering the 172nd Inaugural Lecture of the University, entitled “Yorùbá Literary Criticism: Theories and Theorizing in Nativism”.

The Linguist, who observed that “only writers in the English language medium are encouraged, rewarded and recognized,” suggested that the National Literature Committee, when set up by the Government, “should encourage and motivate indigenous writers by organizing literary competitions at state and national levels while prizes are awarded deserving writers.”

“Indigenous writers in Yorùbá medium should no longer be ignored”, the Inaugural Lecturer argued, just as he canvassed that “indigenous languages and literatures should be given the attention they deserve in the school curriculum”.

According to Prof. Adeyemi, “a situation where the teaching and learning of Yorùbá language and literature is made optional at the secondary school level portends a great danger of extinction for Nigeria’s indigenous languages and literatures.”

The don stressed the need for each state of the federation to “set up indigenous literature committee under the State Ministry of Education to be concerned with the improvement and preservation of indigenous written literature”. He said, “This kind of committee was established in the Western Region in August 1944 known as the Western Region Literature Committee; it motivated the early Yorùbá writers. Such a committee would see to it that indigenous writers and their works do not go into extinction”.

He lamented that “after fifty-seven years of Nigerian independence, the virus of colonialism has continued to affect our vision and perception of indigenous languages and literatures to the extent that people hate cultural values that belong to them and love what belongs to other civilizations.”

Prof. Adeyemi, who copiously spiced  his lecture with Yoruba proverbs, said, “The Yorùbá elders say: Oso Olosoo ko yeni bi ka ni teni, agbabo Sokoto ko yemo eniyan bi ko fun won lese, a so won regiregi lohun eni I bani mu.(An imitated fashion cannot be compared to one’s original creation. A borrowed pair of trousers cannot completely fit the wearer, if it is not too tight, then it will be too loose. One’s own garment is a perfect fit)”.

He maintained that “due to the large scale ignorance of many, the psychological fallout of colonialism and deliberate disdain for indigenous languages and literatures, particularly among the elite speakers”, there is “the need to look inward and engage in theorizing derived from our indigenous knowledge system, which in literary parlance is called Nativism.”

Describing the theory of Nativism as that which “calls for cultural revival especially the cultural values that can help the society move forward and create a definite identity for African language literature in the comity of world literatures”, Prof. Adeyemi explained that Nativism “is a ‘look back’ to the relevant aspects of our traditional civilization.”

The Inaugural Lecturer pointed out that “Yorùbá literary criticism and theory must have its roots deep in Yorùbá culture”, insisting that “it must take its birth from Yorùbá experience and culture and must pulsate with Yorùbá feelings and knowledge system”.

Prof. Adeyemi enjoined African writers, specifically, those of the indigenous language expression to “come together as a force to ensure that African literature in indigenous languages is given recognition as is being done for literature of English expression”. He urged parents and guardians, especially the elite, to desist from “discouraging their children and wards from speaking the Yorùbá language”, enjoining them to rather “encourage them to love, speak, read and write in their mother tongue.”

“The house of Oduduwa (both continental and Global Yorùbá), traditional rulers, corporate groups, individuals and organizations must not allow Yoruba language and literature to die. They must support academic researches in Yorùbá studies through awards of fellowships and grants to researchers, scholarships to Yoruba students, and financial reinforcement or support to indigenous publishers to reduce the burden borne by writers in the publication of Yorùbá texts”, the Yorùbá literary scholar  advocated.

 

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