Language is a purely social tool; mother tongue is crucial

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By Scholastika Mbava Hausiku

 

FIRST it will be proper to define what a language is. A language is a system accepted by a certain group of people in a community.

A language consists of words and sounds that a certain group use to speak or to write to one another for communication purposes.

Therefore, I concur with Culler (1976) who describes language as a system of using signs, and oral and written form. In all societies across the world, people run their homes, industries or companies by communicating with one another through one tool called a language.

It is a fact that employers give instructions through a certain language, and employees follow instructions they get orally or in written form. The important aspect is that no single subject in schools can succeed in the absence of a language.

Goodman (1989:8) sees language as a tool that enables humans to share their experiences, learns from one another, plan together and enhance their intellect by linking their minds with those of other humans.  Skutnabb-Kangas (2000:205) describes language as a tool, a mediator and an active agent, central to our conceptualisation (and indeed, our creation) of the world, and essential for interpreting and understanding.

It is a particular kind of system for encoding and decoding information.

Also language can be seen as a system that is predicable in different situations depending on the use of words and sentence structures.

In this view, language is seen as the utterance of sounds or making of gestures that is accepted by a certain group of people for communicating their views, thoughts or experiences.

This is why Wittgenstein, an Austrian philosopher, believed that “the limits of my language mean the limits of my world.’(Cited in Flower 1966:52) Wittgenstein’s statement implies that without words or utterances – whether oral, written or through other semiotic signs – humans could not share their views, opinions and experiences, or send messages.

A system must exist to allow people to communicate and interact, whether in homes (between parents and children or between siblings), churches (between church leaders and followers or audiences), offices (between employers and employees) or schools (between teachers and learners, or between learners and their peers).

Therefore, I believe and trust that, language – and more especially, mother tongue – is seen as a crucial issue, and its significant role on teaching and learning in schools for better understanding towards what is being taught.

 

As a language practitioner, I am in line with language scholars/linguists who believe that language is power that connect people and allow interaction between them.

Some languages more especially western languages like French, German, English and Portuguese in developed countries are well developed compared to indigenous languages in developing countries that lag behind.  In many cases the imbalance only occurred due to the colonial system and politics.

Furthermore, as a concerned Namibian indigenous language speaker, I noticed the danger that western languages continue swelling over the indigenous language for various reasons.

 

It is obvious that the sub-ordinate to satisfy his/her master is to speak the master’s language. Despite resources and/wealth in Africa, foreigners undermined African natives to control them, by not valuing the indigenous language equally to western languages.

Ngungi (1994) cited by Alexander (2002) says the following: The real aim of colonialism was to control the people’s wealth …(but) economic and political control can never be complete or effective without mental control.  To control a people’s culture is  to control their tools of self-definition in relationship to others.

For colonialism, this involved two aspects of the same process; the destruction or the deliberate undervaluing of a people’s culture, their arts, dance, religion, history, education, orature and literature, and the conscious elevation of the language of the coloniser.  The domination of a people’s language by the languages of the colonising nations was crucial to the domination of the mental universe of the colonised.

In conclusion, against this background I would like to shake the indigenous native speakers to awake from their sleep to realise how much we have lost by neglecting and disregarding our own languages.

Fortunately, fellow Namibians, we are not too late to rectify where we were misled.

Let us polish our misunderstanding and misconception on the value/importance our indigenous language have to enhance teaching and learning in education.

• Scholastika Mbava Hausiku is MA and BA Honors holder in African Lingustics. She also obtained a Post-Graduate Diploma in Multilingual Education and Literacy Studies. All these studies were done at the Department of English and Literature (Linguistics Section) of the University of Cape Town.

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