Feature

Nigeria: Illiterate in all of our languages

Just 20 years ago, an educated Nigerian spoke four languages fluently.

Farooq KperogiSunday Trust

Young Nigerians can’t talk to anyone but each other, said Farooq Kperogi. Just 20 years ago, an educated Nigerian spoke four languages fluently: a native language, a regional language such as Hausa or Yoruba, Pidgin English, and standard English. No more. Our native languages are dying out. Some argue that’s because of a new emphasis on English, but if that’s the case it’s a rotten bargain, since our mastery of standard English is pitiful. I write a blog about language, and I recently found to my horror that many people come to my site by plugging the query “why do Nigerians write terrible English?” into a search engine. That’s evidence that Nigerians are using our Pidgin dialect to try—and largely fail—to communicate with other English speakers on the Web. “We are raising a generation of Nigerians whose first and only language is a deformed, ghettoized, and impoverished form of English that is incomprehensible to other members of the Anglophone world.” If we don’t launch a massive public education program, we will end up like Algeria, whose young people are famously “illiterate in three languages”—French, Arabic, and Berber—and speak an unintelligible mishmash of all three. Will Nigeria, too, have to write off a “lost generation”?

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