21st February every year is celebrated all over the world as International Mother Language Day. It is a set aside by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to promote the awareness of linguistic and cultural diversity and promote multilingualism. It was first announced by UNESCO on 17th November 1999 and was recognized formally by the United Nations General Assembly in a resolution that established 2008 as the International year of Languages.
Its significance is to promote the preservation and protection of all languages around the world.
This year’s theme: LINGUISTIC DIVERSITY AND MULTILINGUALISM COUNT FOR SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT explains the importance of language to mankind.
“… Languages are the most powerful instrument of preserving and developing our tangible and intangible heritage… “What this means is that for our existence on earth and our cultural heritage to be preserved in history, language is needed.
Communication can be seen as the effective exchange of information by speaking, writing or the use of some other medium, but spoken communication cannot be complete without a system that is peculiar to a particular country or community.
Unfortunately, in 2012, UNESCO pronounced that Igbo language as well as some other languages will go into extinction by 2025 if nothing is done to save it. Now, the question is: what will be done to save Igbo language as well as our local dialects from going into EXTINCTION?
‘’… It is not quite easy for a language to go into extinction except when parents abdicates the speak-ability of the language in their homes” says Kindness Jonah, a public commentator/lecturer at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN).
But, whose fault is it if Igbo language goes into extinction? We live in a society where the older generation eat our local dialect like ‘Ikokoo’ while the younger ones who are supposed to be the custodian of this dialect are ashamed or shy to utter it in public for fear that they might be spotted easily and one could guess which tribe the person comes from and with that see them as ‘Local Champions’, so in order to avoid that embarrassment, subscribe to speaking English even when it is half-baked.
So, I ask again: Who is to be blamed? Is it the parents of today who train their children with “Queen’s English” or the Schools who have prohibited the speaking of local dialects therefore making the children think it is a taboo to do so?
Unarguably, the Aro dialect remains the most distinct among other dialects in Igbo language because of its peculiarity to the Aro people so that when an Aro man speaks one can easily recognize him as an Aro man.
Permit me to say here that the Aro man’s dialect is his identity and pride.
I can remember debating with some of my colleagues sometime ago that Aro dialect is the generally accepted central Igbo used by all Igbos- and I still stand by that, I even used Aro dialect to run an Igbo program on radio. That is the level i took it to.
But nowadays it breaks my heart when I see Umu Aro struggling to make a statement in Aro dialect or stand in front of other Umu Aro to address them without stammering. How then can such a person stand in front of people from other tribes to say I AM PROUDLY OKEIGBO! Our dialect should be what singles us out from the other communities.
At the grand finale of the Most Beautiful Girl in Arochukwu held on the 29th of December 2017, a friend of mine introduced me to one of our Aro daughters based in the U.K. I only asked her “Nne nda aga imere?” I quickly noticed the sheer confusion that flashed through her eyes. It is embarrassing!
How do you feel, as a father, if your children cannot speak their local dialect? How do you feel when they cannot pronounce the name of their village correctly? How do you feel when they see “IKEJI ARO” and ask you if they were referring to Linda Ikeji? You laugh at it, but it is not funny.
What is the fate of our beloved Aro dialect? Will there be people to to speak Aro dialect fluently in the next 50years? How do we teach young Aro sons and daughters how to speak Aro dialect? What are our parents and elders doing about saving our dialect from going into extinction? These are the questions we should ask ourselves.
As Aros, at home or in the Diaspora, we must strive to protect and preserve our dialect and promote it to international envy. No matter where you find yourself, be proud of who you are. Be proud of your dialect. It is your identity. It is your pride. Do not let it die!
Nwa Aro icho, nkpo Aro icho.