November 20, 2017
Activities /
Posted by NCID

In Nigeria, English is the official language. Thus, making it essential for education, documentation and communication in formal settings. Yet out of the 185 million people living in the country, about 70 million speak Hausa as a first language, 28 million use Yoruba as a mother language and there are 24 million Igbo native speakers. In total, there are over 520 languages spoken across Nigeria. “The bigger the diversity, the more difficult it is to reach a compromise, so the status-quo remains, the colonial language that imposes a high cost on its citizens,” said Dr. Rajesh Ramachandran. On November 20th, he presented his paper Lingüistic Diversity, Official Language and Nation Building: Theory and Evidence at the University of Navarra.

Language diversity has been stigmatized as a cause of bad literacy rates and poor development. However, Dr. Ramachandran’s study might point to the contrary. His investigation focuses on Sub-Saharan Africa, but he mentions that the results could also be relevant to all World War II post-colonial countries. “The colonial language imposes because it is already institutionalized, and people believe that it doesn’t attach to a social or ethnic group: it’s not yours or mine, it’s neutral”, he said. However, he added that colonial language does discriminate between poor and rich, as the latter have it easier to learn in using such a language.

The lack of agreements leads to inequality. To be able to reach a successful language arrangement Dr. Ramachandran identifies two key factors: the language chosen must be similar with one’s mother tongue and its use must be widely spread. “Colonial languages in Sub-Saharan Africa have neither: they’re not used in informal communications and they are very different from local languages.”

The ones that suffer the imposition of a foreign language are vulnerable groups such as children. Dr. Ramachandran’s study focuses on education, but rather than in schooling attendance rates, he analyzed the quality of what is learnt depending on the language in which it is taught. “In some cases, it is shocking to see that after five years of schooling some don’t know even how to read a full sentence”, he added. “It is not the same to learn Mathematics in your mother tongue or a similar language than in a foreign one”.

Language barriers could have a devastating consequence on the future of Sub-Saharan Africa. With low literacy rates and a lack of training and capabilities, youth unemployment is set to rise in a continent that expects to have 830 million youngsters by 2050. “There must be a different between learning a colonial language and imposing it as the official language in education”, concluded Dr. Ramachandran.