Experts say that with the dominant status of English language as the official language in Igbo land, the Igbo language face a serious threat of extinction.
According to them, failure to popularize Igbo language by teaching and speaking it in schools and homes affects the socio-linguistic development children born to Igbo parents and contributes to the on-going gradual extinction of the Igbo language.
They also note that English language remains dominant in scientific communication in Igboland to the point where more than 70 per cent academic research on Igbo culture are even published in English and not even translated in Igbo language for posterity sake albeit with the use of computer software.
However, experts argue that if people of the South-East ensure the Igbo language is spoken more often than observed today, the language will overcome the threat of extinction, develop further, remain vibrant and functional for centuries to come.
At the moment, the English language is used for everyday communication; especially in most official engagements in Igboland. Therefore, acquiring proficiency in the language somewhat becomes an elitist feat at the expense of Igbo language.
In this light, the younger generations, aided by the desire of their parents to let them be proficient in English language, do not even care about speaking Igbo language.
Why Igbo Language is becoming unpopular among Igbos
Analysts, however, say there are various factors that are causing the Igbo language to become unpopular among Igbos, warning that Igbo language is dead or close to extinction.
Environmental factors and the dominance of English language as common language, especially among Igbos living outside the South-East, has contributed to the gradual extinction of Igbo language. .
It is disturbing to find that, for instance, only three out of 17 Igbo children in a classroom in Abuja can communicate fluently in Igbo language.
English language has taken over most Igbo homes in Abuja; and some parents are to blame for this development.
In the past, Igbo parents always communicate with their children at home using Igbo language only, but now many communicate using English or even Pidgin English language in their homes.
Some concerned Igbo parents OBINDIGBO spoke to in Abuja explained that they had evolved strategies to address the issue.
“We have decided that if not Igbo language, no other language will be spoken in the house, except when necessary,’’ Mazi Maxwell Ndukwe said.
He said that some Igbo town unions he knows had also agreed to sponsor Igbo drama and discussions programmes on Television and Radio stations to further generate children interest on the usage of the Igbo language.
“Some town unions I know are trying to use the mass media to generate children interest in Igbo language; The move has yielded result as the Federal Radio and Television Stations have introduced discussions and comedy programmes in Igbo language to further attract interest in the language,’’ Ndukwe added.
Nonetheless, the penchant for migration among various Igbo could be partly responsible for the decline in use of Igbo language among Igbos.
In marriages, when parents are from different ethnic groups, the children are lost on which of the languages to speak. Take for instance, if an Igbo man marries an Idoma woman; the children will only speak English language, being the common language here. The children will neither fully speak Igbo nor Idoma and this is the common problem with most homes.
Also, the kind of early education Igbo children get also contributes to their inability to speak Igbo language fluently.
A child born to Igbo parents, who is yet to start speaking Igbo language, is exposed to English language upon his enrolment in either a kindergarten or nursery school. In such instance, the first language he will be acquainted with is English because the environment in which he spent most of his time is an English speaking environment.
Strategies to prevent Igbo language from going into extinction
If this ugly trend highlighted above is not discouraged, then Igbo language will go into extinction someday. In place of that, Igbo parents should take their children to school only when the child has clocked or more years at home.
Again, developing the habit of speaking the Igbo language to their children at home cannot be overemphasized to Igbo parents. It has been noted that most Igbo parents hardly spoke their mother tongues to their children. Such habit could make children to forget the Igbo language.
That is why Igbo parents are advised to encourage the speaking of Igbo language in the home, especially when they reside outside the South-East.
South-East governors need to introduce the COMPULSORY teaching of Igbo language from primary school to junior secondary school level. Such a mandatory policy would go a long way in promoting Igbo language as one of the medium through which Igbo culture would be preserved.
The governors can also set up special scholarship boards in their respective states in order to encourage all those who wish to study Igbo language in tertiary institutions to do so under full state sponsorship.
Other educational policies of the government that promoted foreign languages should be repealed. For instance, in almost every secondary school in the South-East, governments employ separate teachers for English Language, for Literature in English and for Phonetics, while only one teacher is employed to teach Igbo language.
Igbo elites can also contribute their own part in promoting Igbo language by writing and publishing books in the language.
The reintroduction of history subject in schools is recommended to enable Igbo youths know their roots; as well as quiz competitions and debates in Igbo language should be organized to stimulate intellectual interest in the language among students.