By Dolapo Kolawole
Collison of cultures
Contact between 2 civilisations and cultures often has an impact on both , often the less civilised and weaker yields to the dominant culture or more sophisticated civilisation – often but not always. The definition of a more sophisticated or civilised culture is also subject to debate .Arab cultures have to a large extent maintained their uniqueness and ways , despite contact with Angloceltic civilization ; Asian cultures such as the Chinese and Japanese cultures remained largely intact despite external influences from Europe and America. The languages, traditions, customs, music, modes of dressing, cuisine and religion of most Asian and Arab civilisations resisted Anglo Celtic influences. The two main cultures that impacted on Africa are the Arab and Anglo Celtic .Arab contact during the 7th century brought Islam, and the Trans Saharan slave trade .European contact in the 15th century led to the Trans-Atlantic slave trade and colonisation.
Islam , Christianity and African Culture
Islam changed modes of worship, across the Northern part of West Africa, it also spread deep into sub Saharan Africa as far as East Africa. Under Islamic influence many traditional ways of African worship died, Islamic styles of governance took hold and many 15th to 18th century African empires were essentially Islamic states .In vast territories such as present day Nigeria, the Fulani ethnic group waged a jihad, conquering land from the desert and Savanah north, southwards into the tropical forests close to the Atlantic ocean. The Islamic way of life became part of African culture.
Contact with Europeans also transformed African culture; Christianity found a foothold, to the extent that traditional African religions became a minority. Forms of Pidgin English and Portuguese evolved to facilitate trade with European sailors-there had to be a means of communication with the white man. A culture of warfare and slave raiding also developed to supply the slave markets, for about 3 centuries. Inter-tribal wars and slave raiding in west and central Africa could be termed as part of the regional culture for about 3 centuries, as it became a way of life to supply slave markets. Local customs, laws and ways of dispute arbitration adjusted to sentence “convicts” and ‘’debtors’’ to the slave markets along the coasts. The abolition of the slave trade followed with the colonisation of Africa. Colonisation meant constant European presence and governance on the African continent. Colonisation was the main tidal wave that hit, eroded and transformed culture across the vast African continent.
During the colonial era education on the continent was in western languages, thus entrenching English, French and to a lesser extent Portuguese and Spanish on the continent. The languages of the white man became the lingua franca and mode of official communication of African states and the African elite – English, French, Portuguese and Spanish .The impact of these foreign languages has been far reaching; More Africans speak European languages and these languages became a symbol of social class and level of education. African languages suffered and declined. Some families began to speak more of the European languages in households rather than African languages .Children learnt English, French, Portuguese or Spanish as first languages in schools, picking up their native languages as second languages with very weak foundations and mastery of native tongues.
As the ability to speak own languages declined, English and French words are often used in sentences when native languages are spoken. Whole sentences spoken in African languages would contain many phrases and words in European languages. A Nigerian or Ghanaian, who speaks only his native tongue, is most likely a stark illiterate. A Cameroonian or Ivorian who speaks only his native tongue and no French has no formal education. Contrast this with other civilisations that learn , study and write in their own languages such as Chinese , Arabic , or Japanese .Africans failed to “learn” or “study” in their own languages , thus as more Africans and succeeding generations became educated , African languages weakened .
African languages also failed to evolve in vocabulary, as the world transformed in technology, art and science. There were no words in African languages for many new inventions that developed, thus it became unavoidable to use French are English words often when speaking in African dialects. African languages became a cocktail of native and foreign.
Extinction of African languages
If you are African and reading this let me tinker with your mind a little bit , ask your self how good is your mastery of your native language compared to your English , French , Portuguese or Spanish ?. Ask yourself what are normal words often used in everyday conversation such as , aeroplane , bridge , joystick, perfume , torchlight, engine , socket, cotton bud, vitamins and climate change , simulator, belt, tyre, railway line in your native language ?. Think of many other words and phrases used in today’s everyday life that do not exist in African languages. Think deep, think wide, think ordinary, think inventions, think science and realise which words cannot be found for many things that exist today in your African language .African the languages did not metamorphose to accommodate the evolving world, because the ‘’language of learning and study’’ was the white man’s language. Contrast this with cultures that held on to their own languages as the means of education and thus evolved with human development. Does Mandarin or Japanese , have these limitations ? .
Using Nigeria as a case study of the decline of African languages; Nigerian is the most populous and diverse African country with about 520 languages. About 27 Nigerian languages are now extinct. Languages of smaller ethnic groups in Nigeria are endangered as each succeeding generation speaks a poorer quality of the language .Whist major languages such as Hausa , Yoruba and Ibo are still widely spoken they are weakening in originality . Yoruba as a language has many sub dilates such as Ondo, ijebu , ijesa , ekiti and egba , these sub dialects are also endangered , spoken in their purity only by some adults above 60 years, and youths who grow up in interior villages (a rare concept as Nigeria becomes more urbanised .)
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