Culture, Opinion

The Ethnocide of Future Generations – The Effect of Western Culture on the Nigerian Language

Nmesoma Okwudili


April 5, 2023

Nigeria has a rich linguistic heritage, boasting over 500 languages and dialects. However, English, the language of the former colonial powers, has become the country’s official language and is widely spoken and written. The impact of Western culture on Nigeria, particularly on its language, has been debated for years. Scholars have argued that the influence of the West has led to the systematic erasure of Nigerian culture, including its language, leading to what they call the “systematic ethnocide” of future generations. Others, however, argue that the impact of Western civilisation has been largely positive, leading to the growth and evolution of the Nigerian language.

The impact of Western culture on Nigeria’s language has been significant. By taking ownership of English and using it as a medium of expression, Nigerians have made a unique and distinctive contribution to English as a global language. Nigerian English, also known as Naija, is the Creole language incorporating elements of English, pidgin, and local dialects. It is spoken by millions of people in Nigeria and the diaspora. For example, “okada,” which refers to a commercial motorcycle, originates in Nigerian pidgin English. Similarly, the term “mama put” is used by a small food vendor in Nigeria. These words have become part of the English language and are recognised in international dictionaries.

However, adopting English as the country’s official language has come at a cost. The increasing use of English in Nigeria has led to a decline in the use of indigenous languages, which are being pushed to the margins of society. According to a report by UNESCO, Nigeria loses a language every two weeks, and half of the country’s languages are expected to disappear in the next generation. English is promoted as the primary language of education. As a result, many Nigerian languages are now endangered and at risk of extinction. This has led to concerns that future generations of Nigerians may be unable to speak their languages. However, it is essential to note that adopting English as the medium of instruction has also had positive effects, such as promoting literacy and enhancing access to global knowledge.

The loss of indigenous languages is a serious issue that has far-reaching consequences. Language is a means of communication and a carrier of cultural values, traditions, and beliefs. When a language dies, a whole culture is lost. Moreover, the decline of indigenous languages can lead to biodiversity loss, as languages often contain knowledge about local flora and fauna.

Many Nigerians have started to adopt Western languages, mainly English, as a means of social mobility and status. This has led to a decline in the use of indigenous languages, which are increasingly perceived as less prestigious. However, this is not a new phenomenon. Similar patterns have been observed in many other countries worldwide, where indigenous languages are declining due to the perceived benefits of using dominant languages.

As some have argued, the systematic ethnocide of future generations results from the dominance of English in Nigeria. Adopting English as the country’s official language has resulted in marginalising indigenous languages, which are seen as inferior and backward. This has led to losing pride in one’s linguistic heritage and a desire to conform to Western norms and values.

The effects of the Westernization and commoditisation of Nigerian culture have also contributed to the decline of indigenous languages. Western products, particularly American, have flooded the Nigerian market, and Nigerian youth are increasingly adopting Western fashion, music, and lifestyle. This has led to a loss of interest in indigenous cultures and languages, which are seen as old-fashioned.

In linguistically diverse nations like Nigeria, some languages are in danger of extinction. Akum, Bade, Bakpinka, Defaka, Ajawa, Auyokawa, Basa-Gumna, Gamo-Ningi, Kpati, Kubi, Mawa, Teshenawa, and Jalaa are a few of the nearly extinct languages in Nigeria. These languages are categorised as being vulnerable or critically endangered. The majority of indigenous languages suffer from the same fate as these languages in Nigeria and, in fact, the rest of the world.

The impact of Western culture on the Nigerian language is positive. The adoption of English has brought economic and political benefits to Nigeria. English is the language of international business and diplomacy, and proficiency in English can open up job opportunities and increase social mobility. English has also helped to bridge the linguistic divide between Nigeria’s many ethnic groups, enabling people from different parts of the country to communicate with each other.

The claim of future generations’ systematic ethnocide due to Western civilisation’s impact on the Nigerian language is controversial. While it is true that the dominance of English has led to the decline of many indigenous languages, it is not accurate to suggest that this amounts to ethnocide. Language shift is a natural phenomenon observed throughout history, and the loss of some languages does not necessarily imply the loss of culture or identity. Furthermore, adopting English has also had positive effects, such as promoting literacy and facilitating communication across diverse communities.

Ultimately, the impact of Western civilisation on the Nigerian language has been complex and multifaceted. While there have been concerns about the erasure of Nigerian culture and language, there have also been efforts to preserve and promote local languages. In short, the evolution of the Nigerian language will depend on the choices made by future generations and how they choose to balance the influence of Western civilisation with their cultural heritage.


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