(169): Local languages: Panacea for social interaction and more?
By Muhsin Ibrahim
Language is one of the most amazing things in the world. We often overlook its influence in our lives because it is mundane. We all use a language, verbally or non-verbally, daily. We acquire language, i.e., we grow up speaking effortlessly. Thus, we don't care much about its profound impact and influence on how we interact with others, think about and view the world.
We had international conferences on Africa in Cologne, Germany and San Francisco, United States. This short piece is about something other than the many academic papers presented; it is about how hearing someone speaking our language or a local language we are familiar with in a foreign country attracts our attention.
In both Cologne and San Francisco, I observed a pattern. People speaking the same language form a circle. It does not matter if you are an ethnic speaker of the language or just a speaker. People quickly click, for it is easy to use a language you grew up speaking – or so I feel.
In our case, we forget our differences. I met long-time online friends Nura Abubakar and Dr Hadiza Kere for the first in San Francisco. Nura was with another friend, an ethnic Hausa speaker from the Benin Republic. Then came Kefas Lamak, a Kano-born Christian Hausa speaker. We spent hours and hours conversing.
We also met Umar Sheikh Tahir Bauchi, whose father doesn’t require any introduction (He is one of Nigeria’s most distinguished Islamic scholars). Still, we blended even more and moved around. We joked and laughed and talked about specific local issues and events. It can be challenging to do all this in another language.
The same happened when we – Prof. Abdalla Uba Adamu, Dr Umma Aliyu Musa, Dr Musa Ibrahim and my humble self – met in Cologne earlier in the year. Mahmoud, an Egyptian speaker of Hausa, couldn’t find a better company than us.
I love writing in English. Most of us often struggle to write or speak in Hausa without code-switching, code-mixing, etc. Still, Hausa is the language I am most comfortable with in conversations, especially on non-academic issues.
I will not rehash what several scholars, such as Ngugi wa Thiang’o, say about the relationship between language and identity. What I described above is yet another evidence of that. We are not only Africans or Nigerians but Hausa – or Yoruba, Igbos, you name it. Unlike many other speakers, Hausa speakers find it hard to use any other language whenever they meet fellow speakers of Hausa…unless necessary.
For instance, one of us in the attached picture (Samba Bah) comes from The Gambia and doesn’t speak Hausa. He’s super friendly and understanding to remain in our company. He even attempted to talk a few Hausa words!
As much as I don’t squarely blame our usage of foreign languages for our setbacks in Africa and other Global South countries, I concur that the inclusion of native languages within our school systems would significantly enhance academic performance. Now, students struggle to learn the language a teacher uses and the concepts they are taught. This is “double wahala”. We should think and do more about this.