What Makes a Native Language Tick?

A few years ago while living in Abuja, I was riding on one of the popular El-Rufai buses from the city center to Gwagwalada. Seated by my side was a young lady, Fatimat from Kaduna, Northern Nigeria. We engaged in a conversation going from her life as a student at the University of Abuja to Nollywood movies. It was during the latter that she reeled out the names of Yoruba movies she’d seen. It was pretty impressive for one who admitted she had never been to the South-Western part of the country let alone understood the language. “So why do you watch them?” I asked. In response, she went on to reveal her fascination with the body languages and expressions of the actors and actresses. How like a trivia, she tries to figure out the storyline by watching the scenes and reading the sub-titles where available. Her face brightened up with amusement as she spoke about peculiar attributes she’d come to associate with Yoruba people.

Fast forward to today and I can readily relate to Fatimat. My video playlist on YouTube is a collection of videos from diverse cultures; local and international. I’m a big fan of Ethiopian, Hausa, Igbo, Tiv…music; just about any culture I’ve come across. I even have a compilation of Kannywood (Hause Movie Industry) soundtracks that I play regularly. Am I nuts for listening to something I barely understand? Well, not if you consider the instrumentations, colorful imageries of attires etc. that come with them. These musical videos like movies reveal a lot of interesting Cultural features. On the other hand, if we open our minds, there are indeed subtle elements of any language that interest us. In Fati’s case, it’s the dramas Yorubas seem to evoke in speaking which is not limited to its movie actors/actresses. An example would be the emphasis on certain exclamatory words which present funny spectacles to speakers and non-speakers alike. For me, the pace at which Hausa is spoken thrills me much like Arabic. For Igbo, I love those slang-like words. When it comes to Benin, the accent of its speakers thrill me so much that I could spend hours simply listening as I would to a fluent French speaker. Another interesting one is Efik or Ibibio. During my stay in Abuja, I learnt to tell a Tiv person just by listening to him or her speak. Same goes for the Igalas, Okun, Ebira speaking people of Kogi State, Middle-Belt, Nigeria.

I could go on and on about these nuances but you may be wondering where and how the foregoing add up when it comes to learning our native languages. From an idealistic point of view, think of a learning resource that uses these peculiar components to drive our languages. Now that’s not even farfetched when you consider a simple analogy in the ads we come across on local TV or the web. Not bad, right! 

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