This Is Africa recently published an article titled How can African languages be protected? which explored the threats to the survival of African indigenous languages. In the article, an endangered language was defined as a language at risk of falling out of use as its speakers die out, or shift to use other languages.
The Goethe-Institut Lagos, Nigeria made a call on Facebook in a post requesting anyone interested in saving Nigerian endangered languages to participate. The announcement read:
Open Call: VANISHING VOICES
Of the world’s 6,000 languages, 2,000 are spoken in Africa and 500 in Nigeria alone. The three major Lingua Franca – Hausa, Yoruba and Igbo – have several million speakers each, not to mention dozens of smaller languages that are in serious danger of disappearing One hundred and fifty-two languages have less than 5,000 speakers: the critical lowest threshold for a language to survive.
This call for proposals is open to Nigerians who can identify endangered indigenous Nigerian languages or even find a language that has only one speaker left. The peripheral languages in the country need to be protected and heard. The often forgotten, and now endangered languages are the voices the project is interested in identifying, and saving.
Interested participants can either work in a group or as individuals.
The deadline for submission of proposals is midday 22nd April 2017.
Goethe-Institut Lagos further stated in its call:
Of the world’s 6,000 languages, 2,000 are spoken in Africa and 500 in Nigeria alone. As a result, the latter- as far as linguistic diversity is concerned- occupy the third place in the world, surpassed only by Papua New Guinea and Indonesia. Europe by comparison, has only 120 languages.
The three major Lingua Franca- Hausa, Yoruba and Igbo have several million speakers each, not to mention dozens of smaller languages that are in serious danger of disappearing. One hundred and fifty-two languages have less than 5,000 speakers: the critical lowest threshold for a language to survive. Basa-Kontangora, Kiong, Kudu-Como, Lere and Njerep are spoken by less than 100 people in each case and will, as a consequence, disappear forever with this generation. According to UNESCO, even major languages such as Yoruba and Igbo face this danger in the long run, since not only lingua franca English, but also Pidgin English, are advancing inexorably and are no longer cultivated in many families.
According to the release, the urban elites are increasingly becoming strangers in their own countries. In the private schools of Lagos and Ibadan, children can barely even greet one another in Yoruba. The globalization of the world economy- and of the neo-evangelical churches – are also playing an inglorious role as far as the loss of language diversity is concerned.
There is no doubt that language and identity are two sides of the same coin. This impoverishment goes hand in hand with social disintegration and a loss of identity, the release stated. Leading Nigerian intellectuals even speak of elf-enslavement. With every language that dies, it is not only a valuable linguistic heritage that vanishes, but a genuine view of the world and our environment.
“Taken together, all the passing human lives can never make up for the loss of a language since it requires a language to proclaim the death of a human being,” Prof. Ayo Oyebode, University of Ibadan noted.
The way forward according to the release:
Against the background of this impending loss, Nigeria is now involved in a broad public debate on the preservation of languages and cultural heritage. In order to prevent Nigeria’s unique polyphony from falling silent forever, some 15 artists, linguists and ethnologists will be invited to record an endangered language and present it in a vast, collective sound installation.
The call to save Nigerian endangered languages couldn’t have come at a better time. We hope this project extends to other African countries facing the same problem.