THE ROLE OF LANGUAGE IN NATIONAL UNITY
Language plays a very vital role in any human community – school, company, organization, group, home, etc. the language of any human society tells a lot about that society, therefore it can be further emphasized that language and any human society are inseparable. In any human society, language occupies a very important place, more than it seems to everyone. The functions of language in any human community include the following; expression of thoughts, political, administrative, educational, social, religious, legislative, etc.
However, we will use Nigeria as a case study. The goal of any human community is to have peace and unity, many nations in the world today are facing varying degrees of conflict and Nigeria is unfortunately one of those countries. This paper aims to examine the role that language has to play in achieving national unity in Nigeria. In the past, people have expressed different views about the meaning of language.
One of my teachers, Professor Faquade.G. said and I quote, “language is the true mirror of society”, in other words language is what shows the true nature of any society. This means that what language is meant to do in any society is to reflect to the world what that society is all about. Therefore the language of any society must give us a perfect knowledge of what that society is; culture, beliefs, dress, marriage and any other sociolinguistic information about the society. Language should also be seen as a symbol of a nation, just like the flag, anthem, currency, etc., in other words, language should be the window through which people can peer into society.
As seen by Bamgbose, English is the language of integration in Nigeria, amidst the complexity of Nigeria, especially in relation to the language issue, the only language that indexes the spirit of cohesion is English. This clearly shows that so far in Nigeria, the English language has played a very important role in keeping Nigeria as a united nation. Amidst our cultural diversities and differences in beliefs, the English language still plays a big role in keeping Nigeria together and since it is the link between the various ethnic groups that exist in Nigeria, one cannot help but give this plus to English. to keep us together, so far away. Out of the over 500 languages that we have in Nigeria, we still have a link and that link is none other than English, it has served as a means of communication between the different tribes that are in Nigeria.
Of all the legacies left in Nigeria by the British at the end of colonial administration, perhaps none is more important than the English language. It is now the language of government, business and commerce, education, mass media, literature, and many internal and external communications. Bamgbose (1971)
As the Language of Wider Communication (LWC), English is used for phatic communication, ceremonial purpose and a tool for record keeping, information dissemination, self-experimentation and embodiment of thought among the various language groups in Nigeria. The common linguistic basis, which is the necessary condition for the existence of any nation, is provided by English. So with English as the common language for all ethnic groups, a collective sense of belonging is forged, despite individual or ethnic differences.
It is evident from this that the language that holds Nigeria together to a large extent is the English language handed down to us by our colonial masters and so far it has played that role well. In our official day-to-day communication, this has greatly improved the relationship that existed between the various ethnic groups that we have here in Nigeria. An Igbo man who has never been to the western part of the country nor understands Yoruba will definitely see English as the best medium to express his emotion, thought or whatever he has to say in such a situation.
Another area where language has been useful in keeping us together in Nigeria is in academia, this is because it has largely helped to bridge the gap between the rich and the poor, the privileged and the less privileged . Therefore, we have English as the link between the upper and lower classes in Nigeria.
In religion, the important role of language can never be overemphasized in various religious gatherings; The English language serves as a medium of communication, thus bringing people together under one umbrella. Many religious gatherings in Nigeria either use English in conducting proceedings and its course has contributed greatly to peaceful coexistence in our beloved country. However, we have had various religious disputes and have had one conflict at one point or another.
As we have earlier pointed out the various roles of the English language in achieving and maintaining national unity, however, I believe that it would have been better if the role(s) hitherto played by English were played by a local language, this does not is an intention or attempt to disrespect the English language, it contributed greatly to the national unity of Nigeria. But I am inwardly convinced that the situation would have been better if this position had been occupied by a language which was really ours; if the language was home.
Misrepresentation of ideas and expression is one of the main causes of conflicts we have around the world today, stemming from the use of words/utterances where intended ideas have been misrepresented. You can never reach the level of proficiency of a native speaker, and this has caused many people what they never bargained for, sending many to their untimely graves. A man’s language is seen as a tool to help him express his thoughts, unfortunately for the man, by using another man’s language, which is said to be his L2; he manages to misrepresent his ideas. In such a situation he is using a word out of context and some people can be so sensitive to the use of a word. Many of the conflicts and ethnic disputes we have had in the past could have been avoided if our official language was a local language. The reason is that many people verbally misrepresented their ideas, views and intentions due to their low level of proficiency, chose the wrong word at the wrong time, and this resulted in unsatisfactory testimony. We have chosen English as our ‘official everyday language’ and this has led to a situation where our local languages take a back seat. English is the key to every important door, no one who cannot communicate in English is expected to occupy an important position in any organization.
The New International Webster’s Comprehensive Dictionary of the English Language (Encyclopedic edition) defines language as the expression and communication of emotions or ideas between human beings by speech and hearing, the sounds spoken or heard being systematized and confirmed by use among given people over a given period of time .” From the above point of view, it is assumed that the language should communicate the inner (original) idea and express what a given speaker has inside him. But this is not always the case when a particular speaker does not master the language he uses as a means of communication at some point, for example a Hausa man who wants to communicate with a Yoruba or Igbo man will have to use English when his level of proficiency is low compared to his L1 there is a likely possibility that such a man will misrepresent some of their intentions during communication and this may not be likely accepted by the other party y and may lead to conflict between them.In such a case it would did he say that the language managed to play its part well? This definitely did not justify the importance of language and the essence of communication.
The way in which a certain thought is conveyed is very important during communication; therefore, the essence of all communication is to accurately represent the inner idea of the speaker. Many Nigerians think in their MT and try to convey their intentions in English and in some cases the ideas are misrepresented, they don’t have the right word to represent their thoughts. The situation is not the same when the interlocutors are of the same ethnic origin and when both have a good knowledge of the language.
Where there is similar linguistic background and better understanding (and the decoding of ideas is accurate), there will be a reduction in the level of conflict we have in Nigeria. We can make our version of the English language, Pidgin English. I believe this will go a long way in reducing the level of recurring conflict in our beloved country, Nigeria. Since the source of most of these conflicts is the manner and manner in which our different ideas have been misexpressed or interpreted, we must seek a better way to communicate, and this is why I believe that everyone has a role to play. We need to start looking for a better way to express ourselves and avoid unnecessary conflicts by using a language we do not master, achieve an encouraging level of proficiency and work on our communication skills.
To this end, let the federal government seek the advice of a language expert on how to achieve this goal and give full attention to this course. Let all Nigerians of good will come together and see how we can explore and utilize the richness of our language as we move towards national unity. And make every Nigerian understand that language can play more than the role of communication. Let us review our language policy in others too to avoid the death of our language which is our symbol.
It is urgent for us to start seeing language as a vital agent of unity in our beloved country Nigeria and start seeing how we can use this tool as an agent of unity to make Nigeria a more united country and push aside all ethnic and tribal differences. Language is a tool that can be in our quest for national unity and should be treated with full commitment and seriousness. Every Nigerian should start thinking and seeing how the language can contribute to the growth of the giant of Africa.
Our culture is embedded in our language. Let us embrace our language with enthusiasm and pride and promote what we have in common and then our differences will be a thing of the past. This is a call for national unity but this time it comes through an unpopular medium, let us use this precious tool of ours for one Nigeria. Language plays a vital role in our quest for national unity. Let’s embrace it just like we did with football. Language plays a vital role in our quest for national unity.
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