Language is an interesting thing. It can be the reason why two people become endeared to each other almost instantly. It also has the power to set bridges ablaze. Language is deep, and powerful. It gives a sense of pride to a people.
I am actively working on understanding and speaking more Igbo which is my native dialect, because I enjoy having the ability to connect with my tribesmen on that level, aand mostly because it gives me a sense of belonging.
Languages and accents reveal details; details about a person’s life and travels. The language you speak and the tone in which you speak it tells a story about you. Take my mother, for example: she is an Igbo woman, born & raised in the South-Eastern part of the country where the most popular language spoken – which also happens to be her native tongue – is Igbo. Her first medium of communication to the world is in Igbo. English is a language she is introduced to as she begins formal education.
After she passes the entry test (which was the ability to reach one ear with the opposite arm going over the head, by the way) and is deemed old enough to start Form 1, she learns to speak this second language over time to the best of her ability. This works out well for her because she moves to Lagos where most of her adult years are being spent.
In Lagos, the official language is English. It is virtually impossible to climb a professional ladder in this state – like most others – without speaking and understanding this official language. She develops this second language, becomes able to understand it brilliantly and speak it fluently. The truth however remains that my mother, at her core, is an Igbo-speaking woman who learnt English on the way, an English that is spoken and written with occasional creaks here and there. An English that is spoken with an Igbo accent. I’m learning that there is nothing inherently ‘bad’ or ‘unclassy’ about that. That is who she is.
Looking back now, I almost want to apologise for all my internal judgement against her in the past. Why was I turning my nose up when she spoke a word in English which was clothed in her Igbo accent? I absolutely despise the part of socialisation which groomed us to think that erasing our heritage was something to aspire to, something that gave you a weird kind of prestige. That “you don’t sound Igbo” is something meant to be taken as a compliment, and “you don’t speak like a Yoruba person” sounds like something to inspire to.
So many Nigerians walk around today with an inferiority complex, one lingering effect of colonialism that continues to rear its head in many spheres of life. Somehow, we have been made to believe that speaking with our own accents are not good or proper enough, and in order to sound more “polished” one has to infuse an “abroad” accent. How else can I explain the weird nose-pinched tones that come from the mouths of on-air and TV personalities? Are our accents so repulsive that we have to sound foreign even on local television?
When my beautiful mother speaks now, I just listen and converse. I laugh at her made up words that she creates from sounds – which actually do the job of bringing a story home – and I would care less about any “errors” in her spoken and written English. I am learning to listen to her and every other Nigerian I meet without those voices in the back of my head criticising their diction. It is normal to sound like where you come from and where you live in. It is totally okay, and the erlaier we all learn to accept that about ourselves the better we will all be.
With love always,