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Language Liberation

A Recipe for Africa’s Re-emergence

For centuries, since the onslaught of the colonization of Nigeria, colonialists have managed to sustain the lie that their language, English, is superior to our native language. They have done this in many ways, including by banning our mother tongue in schools and meting out severe punishment to persons who dared to communicate in it to other pupils.

Christianity, which birthed in Nigeria as colonialism took root, lent itself to use by the oppressors. The English language was the means of communication in the early churches, and persons who got baptized were compelled to take up English names and be so addressed forthwith.

The colonial imperialists tried to obliterate the language of the natives. They imposed the colonial language and positioned it as superior. They hurriedly trained a few natives in their strange tongue (English) and elevated them above their fellow natives, who then aspired to also acquire the strange tongue that was presented as a gateway to “a better life.”

Before long, the natives were stripped of their dignity—language power—and began to think in the language of the oppressor. Then they gradually lost their culture and became separated from their roots.

When persons have difficulty understanding and reading their native language, they tend to jump at any other language someone brings to them. Therefore the language oppressor tricks people into believing that their own language is difficult! The workshop brought home [made clear] the reality that ’’no language in the world is difficult; all languages are perfect, complete, right, accurate, and intelligent,’’ and I proudly add “awesome.”

Many years after African nations secured their independence, the African people continue to suffer the long-term effects of forced disconnection from their language and culture. Currently in most African schools, the teaching is done in the language of the colonialist. In Nigeria, if a student fails to obtain credit in English language at the Senior Secondary level, that could mark an end to her or his dreams of a higher education.

It is heartwarming to see that Re-evaluation Counseling is at the forefront of supporting people to reclaim their reality. A Language Liberation Workshop in Kenya, led by Xabier Odriozola, the International Commonality Reference Person for Languages and Interpreting, marked a great watershed for Africans who have watched many of their local languages become extinct in the face of extreme ignorance accentuated by internalized oppression. Now we have a clearer understanding of how colonialists and capitalism worked in tandem to destroy the native languages in order to plunder the people’s resources.

A common tool of the capitalist system is to make people feel bad about their language. When people aren’t proud of their language, they don’t want to speak it and they lose the benefits derivable from it.

Today the capitalist and imperialist forces target the youth by telling them that certain foreign languages, for example, English, French, and Spanish, are superior and more important than other languages. Truth be told, every language is powerful and, for as long as it’s spoken, is a vessel for preserving the core values of a people.

In the words of Xabier, the workshop leader, ”If we forget our language and learn the language imposed on us, we forget who we are, where we come from, and what we need to survive, and we forget our main cultural values.’’ The consequence is that ’’capitalism can grow inside us and achieve everything it wants.”

If we base our style of life on our native language, we help young people have sessions about talking in the imposed language of the oppressor. (Sadly, a lot of our young people do not want to talk in their native tongue.)

A language is not on its own oppressive. It is the way that it’s used that can be oppressive. It is oppressive to force assimilation on a people on pain of death. It is oppressive to force a people to denounce their native names and take names known only to the oppressor. It is oppressive to force people to speak in a strange tongue or be punished. It is oppressive for capitalism to eliminate the language of a people in an attempt to dominate. It is oppressive to import divide-and-rule tactics and use the power of language to pitch a people against one another so as to entrench capitalism and exploit the people’s resources.

DETERMINED RESISTANCE AND DISCHARGE

We need deliberate and determined resistance to every scheme of the language oppressor. One way to resist, as Xabier noted, is to “tell the story of your tribe, your culture, your language, all that you can remember,” because ‘’the more we remember our history, culture, language, and ancestors and talk about them, the more connected we will remain to our roots, so the more difficult it will be for capitalism to take us over [dominate us].”

Africans must invest in the discharge process, knowing that in so doing ‘’you can clean up the bad feelings that you have been forced to developed around your language.” Sadly, most people in Africa are as yet unable to discharge feelings about their language. The result is that the feelings continue from generation to generation. 

The message at the Language Liberation Workshop was clear: Every time we talk about a lost language, we are talking about a history of oppression and capitalism. We may not recover all the languages, but we can discharge the loss that is affecting us in the present.

Language liberation is an emerging force. I see a Language Liberation Movement in the wide world. I see a Nigeria that will one day sustain a political force that will create a unified language—one that every Nigerian will understand. I see total re-emergence through sustained discharge.

Onii Nwanwu-Stevenson

Lagos, Lagos State, Nigeria

(Present Time 198, January 2020)


Last modified: 2020-01-24 00:36:15+00