Background of the Study
The phenomenon of language is natural to man. Language is one of the factors that distinguishes human race from the lower animals (Azikiwe, 1998). It is man’s most basic tool without which it will be difficult for man to live and interact together. Language is also a means of social control, an instrument which enables us to communicate our thoughts. This implies that language is a means of conveying meaning which has become accepted and systematized through a long period of use.
Kodilinye (1972) noted that language is a master key to the treasure house of a people’s cultural heritage, and where it is not fully developed and cultivated, it reacts on the people and retards their achievement and the expression of their individuality. In recognition of the role of language in expressing the people’s culture, the International Institute of African Languages and Culture (1930) at Rome stated that every child must learn to love and respect his culture. One way of doing this is through the use of language.
People can best show their identity and individuality by the use of language. A person cannot understand another person’s thought until it is expressed in a language. Okonkwo (1972) believes that no language can be more appropriate for self-expression than the natural language which is the mother-tongue of a people. This is the language that comes almost spontaneously and imperceptibly and grows out of the natural environment of the speaker. According to Adiele in Nwadike (2002:6), “a race whose language cannot be used for literary and serious purposes has no real identity, the race is decadent.” He went further to say that the most conclusive conquest of a people is the conquest through language. Nwadike (2002) equally says that the most essential asset of a people is their own language – their mother tongue. According to him, no people under normal circumstances would want their mother tongue to die, for it is after all the language that makes them an ethnic entity or nation. Without a language of its own, a nation becomes merged and lost in the foreign group whose language it is forced to speak. With its own language, a nation identifies itself and ensures its perpetuation. It is those languages, which are taught widely in schools as written languages that will survive and develop.
In view of the above fact, the Federal Republic of Nigeria (FRN) in the National Policy on Education (FRN, 2004:6) states clearly that –
In addition to appreciating the importance of language in the educational process and as a means of preserving the people’s culture, the government considers it to be in the interest of national unity that each child should be encouraged to learn one of the three major indigenous languages other than his own mother tongue.