Sorry, You Said What – The Languag Debate

Traitor. Confused. Lagosian. Hybrid. Heck, even sad.

I’ve been called a lot just because due to some weird twist of fate that resulted in me not being able to speak either one of my parents’ languages. People have tried to make me feel bad or guilty about it. They’ve even tried to make me out as some kind of freak.

Frankly, I feel guilty. Because I don’t care.

I know, I know, it’s a tragedy, I can’t ‘identify’ with my people. It’s just something I can’t kill myself about. Probably if I cared more I would have been inspired to learn a smidge of Igbo. I hear a lot more Yoruba than I do of it, god knows!

And interestingly, it’s NOT because I grew up in Lagos! I lived a sheltered enough life, went to private schools where it was so common to not be able to speak your mother tongue, it was OKAY. I never once had an issue with it. At least, not till I got to my final year in University and I realised that my roommates were gossiping about me in a foreign language AND playing the same New Dawn CD by Yinka Ayefele day in and day out *many, many, many people… many, many, many people…*. The tarts.

So, it became a bit imperative to have impromptu sessions with Kitty, where I’d ask questions like: ‘What the heck does ko si mean?’

At a point though, I realised it was a bit of a lost cause, cos barely managing to understand what they were saying about me did not benefit me in any way. So once again, I stopped caring, and also became an ardent Ayefele music recogniser. Yes. I can even smile when I hear that Many People bit.

Fast forward to my current workplace. It’s an issue of ‘Oh, you’re name is Onyeka?’ Cue the switch to Igbo. I don’t get it. I think even if I DID speak the language, I won’t speak it all that often cos I’m unbelievably comfortable with the English language. It’s the language I grew up speaking, analysing and I express myself EXCELLENTLY in it. I felt funny even saying French phrases in class –now that’s another language I know better than my mother tongue. If someone says something to me in a language, and I understand it, I’ll reply in English, cos you know what? It’s what I prefer. I could only use it to talk to old relatives and conc Igbo people, cos my friends are all Yoruba ANYWAY.

A few people tried to blame my parents for my mono-grammar (yeah, I totally made that word up). I frankly can’t blame them much. They speak different languages, and as such speak English to each other. It really didn’t start bugging them until late that my sis and I couldn’t understand diddly-squat, and even then, like me, their discomfort didn’t last.

Another funny thing I’ve been asked on many occasions is that whole, ‘But what if you want to discuss in private, something’s that a secret? How would you do it?’

Er… I’ll leave the room!? That’s the worst argument for speaking a language I’ve ever heard. It’s not like Igbo, or even Yoruba is horribly uncommon. Chances are, if you switch languages, you’ll STILL be understood. Abi I lie? Another one is the ‘if there’s a war/coup/political-tribal disaster how would your people know you’re on of them?’ *Eye roll* He-llo. I know people that can speak like 3 languages. What’s your point? Besides, if there WAS a war… I really doubt I’d stick around!!! ‘What if people are talking about you in another language?’ Um…so? Ignorance is bliss sometimes, men.

I’m not arguing or justifying myself. I just don’t see it as that big a tragedy. It’ll lead to the dilution of my culture. Perhaps. But highly unlikely. The ratio of us Traitors to you Good guys is like 1 to 50. So far my English has served me well. And while it would be cool to be able to speak another language, I admit I’m in no hurry to learn any. Does that make me such a horrible person???

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15 thoughts on “Sorry, You Said What – The Languag Debate

  1. I totally get where u are coming from. I don’t know how to speak any nigerian language besides pidgin (which i speak very fluently, btw). My parents are from two different tribes but my mom can speak my dad’s language very well.

    My two older sisters were brought up speaking ibo (that’s my mom’s language) cos my dad left the country really early. By the time we were born, my parents had a disagreement over which language to teach the kids. My father felt that we should speak his language, my mom became mad and decided that everyone should speak english. Given that my father was based in another country, i question her judgement till this day.

    It never used to bother me until i came to the US, where because u have an accent these people automatically assume u don’t speak good English. Everyone is proud to have a separate identity and everywhere u go, u hear pple speaking spanish or whatever language they speak. That’s when i started to feel bad about not being able to speak any language. By the way, my mom can speak 5 nigerian languages, so u can imagine how angry i get whenever we talk about it. I feel like i was robbed of my heritage.

    I have consoled myself with pidgin english, at least Americans don’t understand it.

  2. I should have been first, ah, haba, bubbles!

    My dear, reading this entry was like reading my life story. And like you, I just can’t understand what the big deal is and I don’t care really. Both my parents speak different languages. And to make matters even worse, I didn’t grow up in either parent’s state and I can’t speak the language of the state I grew up in…you get? Follow me, come on!

    I always get annoying comments like
    ‘Sorry, eh ya, you are lost o,’
    I’m really comfortable speaking the English language and I don’t have an accent. And I don’t quite blame myself, because my parents never taught me any language in my early years when it would have been easy for me learn. So, I don’t consider myself disadvantaged in anyway. I’ve lived without understanding my mother tongue till this point without issues and will continue to do so!

  3. I think we should start a reverse revolution (or somthing). For me, it was the same people who took it upon themselves to be concerned at my limited fluency in my mother tongue, who laughed their heads off at my attempts to speak it. There’s no pleasing these people!!!

  4. 9ce blog. Wia 1/2 u been?

    I guess part of life in lagos is that you get to speak a lot of yoruba and pidgin. I dont even bother telling pple my native name; I stick to english. cos I can hardly speak a word in the damn language

  5. @bubbles

    hate to say it but i question your mum’s judgment too!!! Thats a new one. but i feel you. I guess it might only really bother me a bit if i was on a foreign land, but while im here, live and let live!

    @naija chikito
    no vex, you’ll be first next time!
    thats the spirit! i’m beyond the age of easily learning a language, and there are bigger issues to be addressed.

    @undacovasista
    LOl. I think i read a blog post about something smiliar. Was that you?

    @ms hotbody
    thanx for dropping by! But you should have warned me that your blog is NOT SAFE FOR WORK!! 😀

  6. Honestly, I feel it’s a good thing to know how to speak ones native language because it makes it easier for u to identify with ur people. I went to my village in 2005 and I must tell I didn’t feel good about no being able to communicate with people.Unlike ur parents,mine are from the same village o,but they speak English quite a lot so it was English we started speaking at first. As time went on my mum started speaking our language to my siblings and I then we started to understand even though we can’t speak.I can speak Yoruba fluently because I grew up in the south west but my dad doesn’t like us speaking it he wants us to speak English.It can be really annoying when ur tribes people come to visit and start rebuking one for not being able to speak ur native language.Now if any one rebukes me I just tell them to go blame my dad.Even though I can speak my language I cn speak Yoruba and pidgin that makes me a Nigerian.

  7. Yeah, well, guess who can’t speak her fathers language either?

    I shall get bits and pieces in eventually, for now I’m okay with understanding most of what my elders say 🙂

  8. 1st time here. hey ya’ll..

    anyways, i must say, u r the first person i hve come across who cant speak their native tongue.. feel guilty? yea, u shld. just kidding.

    it’s no biggie, really.. 🙂

  9. it dont matter what language(s) or lack of.. that people can(‘t) speak -as long as u can communicate with those who matter to u—it’s all good.i wish i am multi-lingual though……..

  10. No girl…it doesnt make you a horrible person in the least.
    However, i personally feel that one should be able to speak his/her native language.
    Its funny that we spend so much time, money and energy learning foreign languages yet we cant speak our own.

    It wont be a bad idea if you can learn at least then you can boast of being bi-lingual,lol!

  11. i cant speak my mother tongue and i desperately yearn to learn especially when my non-hausa friends are blastin the thing at emselves and the bonafide person of the language is looking lost.
    i see it as a handicap(now thats my own opinion for myself) i’ve tried not to care but men its hard.
    i long to have long coonversations with my granma since her english is as limited or well better than my speaking her language.
    crappy i tell u.
    and here i am killing myself trying to learn italian so i could woo my sisters boss…lol. what happened to charity starts at home.

  12. ladies ladies heard the saying “knowledge is power”? then I’m sure you’d be able to relate with this one: “language is power”.

    remember how you get the job done easily when you speak pidgin to seller by the corner, that’s the same way you’d bridge gaps easier if you spoke another language.

    stop consoling yourselves, learn a new language today! (i admit I’m in your shoes but I’m aiming to elevate and not sulking about it). cheers.

  13. ‘ hmmnn…so the gist is there’s this gal ehn, her ass is like…’ oops, wrong blog, wrong post. My bad! {lol}…
    A quick one: we all think, YES, but in what language? Well, that doesn’t give you the answer to the language deficiency…but, I’m sure its a creative distraction…..lolzzzzz {till fade}

  14. hmmm yes it makes u a terrile person, lol i keed i keed but ill advice to learn it at least or attempt to, i dont speak yoruba well but i understand it and well what does it do for me, nutting really but im proud to be able to speak another language , i speak small french and spanish too so…but yea do try dear

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