Trouble With The Thinking Of Some Of Our Political
It is now generally accepted that it is a sign of idiocy to do the same thing over and over again and expect a different result each time. Equally, it should be accepted today for those who can do something about one thing to make the same statement so many times and do nothing is a sign of mental indolence and physical laziness.
Anybody remember what possibilities were stifled by the political in-fighting that destroyed the Action Group and its government in 1962? There was the government policy of heavily assisted (misnamed free) primary education. There was the commitment to the promotion of Yoruba language as the language of learning in the then Western Region. More on this in the rest of this presentation. There was the on-going but sure industrialization of the region. There were the housing estates being developed across the region. There was the paid for by the regional government of the electrification of the major cities and towns of the region. And perhaps more and more developmental projects. All these were stymied by that political rumpus within the Action Group.
These issues came back to mind again when there appeared a statement a few days ago to the effect that the new Ooni of Ife wanted Yoruba should be the language of use in the Yoruba area of Nigeria. He made the statement on the occasion of the leaders of the Afenifere’s courtesy visit to him in his palace at Ile-Ife. The media covered the meeting and the statement and there, there would be an end, no follow up, until it is time to make the same statement at some other occasion. With no follow up, just like before.
In the meantime, some governor in the region would want our kids to begin the study of Chinese. Or to make French the second language of their state. Which language, in this pecking order is the first language? If it is English, what English? Pidgin English? Or the half-baked English that is coming out of our institutions of higher learning? What do we want to do with Chinese and French when we do not speak our own language? Have we seen any Chinese public person speak any other language other than Chinese anywhere in the world? Have we heard a French public person address the public in any other language other than French? Whatever we want to do with these languages we cannot do unless we can do them in Yoruba first and foremost.
Which brings this presentation to the point that Professor Oladele Awobuluyi makes in his foreword to Dr. Fakinlede’s ENGLISH – YORUBA SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY HANDBOOK.
“There was a glorious period in Western Region in the 1950s and 1960s when indigenous governments cared so much about the Yoruba language that they set up and funded technical committees to create ‘grammatical and scientific terms’ for it as well as reform its then somewhat defective orthography. That period was followed by another much longer one during which the same previously undivided region began to witness a series of semi-autonomous governments, both military and civilian, that all treated that language with supreme indifference and could not in the least be bothered about it. And as if that was not culturally tragic enough, yet another period has now set in, with indigenous governments and politicians that appear collectively intent on killing off the language altogether. Thus, one such government would have children in Lagos state schools learn Chinese instead of Yoruba – thereby, in effect, creating room for Chinese to complete in the current century the work of exterminating Yoruba and its associated culture that English began in the last one. Another such government some time ago in Osun state would dispense with Yoruba teachers altogether, just because, as it declared, it wanted ‘science’, that supposedly esoteric and mysterious discipline, taught in its schools.”
Western Region pioneered through Professor Fafunwa’s Ford Foundation funded successful Six-Year Primary Education Yoruba Language Project, an experiment that mother tongue education is best for learning everything local and foreign. This experiment is quoted everyday around the world to say that children must learn in their mother tongue. The case has been made over and over again that science is not taught in English alone across and around the world. Science is being taught around the world as we make this presentation in Arabic, French, German, Chinese, Japanese, Hebrew, Afrikaans, Farsi/Persian, and a beginning is being made in isiZulu at the University of KwaZulu Natal. If science can be taught in these languages, so can it be taught in Yoruba.
Awobuluyi makes the case in this foreword, that every language begins with a list of “things that can be seen, smelt, felt, and touched and how these things can be taught in every human language. Which means these elementary science words can be taught in Yoruba as well. He gives the examples of oju, (eye, surface), inu (stomach, capacity), okuta (rock, stone), ewe (leaf), eso (seed, fruit), eje (blood), ito (urine), oje (sap), omira – omi ara (body fluid, lymph), igun (angle), ofo (zero), ofurufu (space above the ground), ibu (space within large bodies of water), etc (ati beebee lo!)
It is only at the intermediate and advanced levels of ‘science’, continues Prof. Awobuluyi, that ALL LANGUAGES to varying degrees experience lexical or vocabulary gap. That gap was made up in English, French, German, etc for instance by borrowing words in very large numbers from other languages (e.g. Greek, Latin, French, etc in the case of English), as well as by using native linguistic elements to create or coin new scientific terms (e.g. by combining ‘frost’ and ‘bite’ to form ‘frostbite’, and ‘heat’ and ‘shield’ to form ‘heatshield’ for space capsules, in English. With Yoruba, the dialects of the language provide a wealth of vocabulary to mine for neologisms for science and other foreign knowledge that we need to domesticate, as was the case in the Arabic language.
The Ooni of Ife is sincere in his call for the restoration of Yoruba in Yorubaland. But he is not the decision maker. Neither are the Afenifere decision makers. They can make this statement every day of the rest of their lives and they will get nothing done if they cannot persuade the six indigenous governments in the old Western Region to restore the language to its place of pre-eminence.