Language creates boundaries. It is certain that communication is aided in many ways by the existence of languages. But perhaps this usefulness of language would be better appreciated if there weren’t so many different languages in the world today. This diversity of languages results in the formation of boundaries that limit communication. In other words, language contradicts itself. While serving to facilitate communication, language also hinders communication.
Diversity of languages forces us, sometimes deliberately and other times unintentionally, to place some languages above others in terms of overall recognition and importance. For example, in a country like Nigeria, where approximately over 521 languages are spoken by the indigenous people, only three of those languages are considered salient enough to serve as the country’s major languages. The three major languages spoken in Nigeria include Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba.
Reasons given for the emphasis on these three languages as the major languages spoken in Nigeria include that majority of the Nigerian people speak at least one of these three languages. In as much as this seems like a well-thought out reasoning behind the classification of languages in Nigeria into the three main languages and then the other 500+ languages, the negative effects that this classification has had on overall perception, acknowledgement and respect for the other languages cannot be ignored.
It is generally assumed that everyone from the eastern part of Nigeria speaks Igbo, people from the west speak Yoruba and those from the northern part of the country speak Hausa. These assumptions are problematic in a variety of ways. While it may be true for the most part that eastern Nigeria is dominantly inhabited by people who speak Igbo, it is extremely naïve to project this same assumption on to the northern part of the country. Northern Nigeria, on a closer look, is home to a vast majority of the total number of languages spoken within Nigeria. So it is unreasonable to continue to perpetuate the idea that Hausa is the indigenous language of almost everyone from northern Nigeria. Such assumptions are also problematic because Nigeria cannot simply be divided into only three parts – eastern, western and northern. What about southern Nigeria? There are even further divisions which include south-south, south-east, south-west, north-central and so on, all of which both include and exclude some parts that would normally fall under the narrow classification of northern, eastern and western Nigeria. Taking all of these geographical parts of Nigeria into consideration, the assumption that the three major languages dominate most of Nigeria, and are therefore superior, causes alienation of some parts of the country, like the south-south, where none of the three languages are necessarily dominant.
Returning to the general concept of language as a creator of boundaries, the idea that one language is more acceptable than another simply because it is spoken by more people is essentially what drives the creation of boundaries in communication. The stifling of minority languages through increasing encouragement and acknowledgement of the select few that are deemed worthy of national and global recognition is really sending a wrong message to upcoming generations. These days, children are beginning to aspire to speak a language because of its popularity rather than their own individual-driven identification with the language. The minority languages in places like Nigeria, are gradually becoming extinct because an increasing number of people are adopting languages that have been characterized as major languages. Consequently, those who still hold on to minority languages that they consider an integral part of their identities become further removed from the rest of the world simply because they cannot speak or understand the major languages.