The Use of English

With an approximate record of 1.5 billion people, English is the world’s most widely spoken language. However, it is unusual because the vast majority of speakers are not native. Less than 400milion use it as a first language while over 1 billion use it as a secondary language.

Hi! It’s still me Prospoet and still you, a supportive and amazing reader, second to none! Are you ready for September? Well ready or not, the door is open, so let me be the first to say, welcome to an amazing month! Thank you for being here. Now let us dive into the use of English, shall we?

This is the official language in Nigeria. And for many people raised in major Nigerian cities, it is the only language we can speak fluently. It is the language of instruction from upper primary education through secondary and tertiary education in Nigeria. Which makes you wonder why we have to spend so much just to prove our English proficiency everywhere we go. Back in secondary school, students did not find the need to read it so much. I mean it’s English, how hard can it possibly be? We would struggle with or own dialects like I stumble with Ibibio sometimes, but would flow with Othello and all the “mayest and shouldest” that come with it. Some people even go as far as learning another foreign language, like I find myself dabbling in French. I know, I am guilty on so many counts but today is not for judgment.

Linguistic Map of Nigeria

Do you doubt the simplest spellings sometimes? I do, I have lost count of how many times this has happened. The silliest of them all was ‘come’ I kept asking myself during that exam if ‘come’ was truly spelt with an ‘e’. I remember thinking something might be wrong with me but after a little research and questions here and there, I realized that it is normal. It could happen to anyone; forgetting simple spellings when under some kind of pressure. Let me know in the comments if you experience this too. I digress, let’s go back to the Use of English.

How many times have you found yourself arguing about a word, defending a meaning that’s outside the dictionary or meaning intended when that word is traced down to its etymology? I’ll give you a funny example of institute and institution. One guy was ready to have my head because I called his alma mater a ‘nice institution’. He said it is an institute and not an institution. I stared at him, waiting for him to laugh but this guy was dead serious. Well, my first resort, when English is concerned, is always a dictionary. This language that came with the Colonial masters can be quite fascinating.

 I opened the app and read out both meanings to him. He still wouldn’t budge, he was red, and clearly mad at me. Confusion hugged me at that point. A few people around began to argue for or against it. I was thrown out of the conversation and made to watch as words flew from one team to another. I thought to myself, “Prosper you and your small mouth. Couldn’t you just keep quiet?”.

How crazy could it get, arguing about English? It was so funny that I let out a laugh. The eyes that met me were my cue to just stay quiet. There was no resolve, everyone stayed married to their opinions till the end. Anyway, that’s one story. There’s another one about dexterity. This one still cracks me up when I remember it. This happened on a group chat.

He said, “We need to change some names due to the dexterity of the negative impact it has carried.”

And then I come in, unintentionally starting another word war.

“Dexterity of the negative impact? Are you sure those words fit together in a sentence?”

In a blink of an eye, personal attacks were launched and it got bloody. I was speechless. Of course, speechless is just a saying, I definitely had a lot to say. Things just escalated pretty fast.

Insults and jibes from him poured out as lectures, ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’ ensued on the group chat. Researchers sprung up and pictures were sent to show the origin of the word and examples of how to use it. But like every wall, he would not budge. I will leave out the bloody battle. In all that chaos, two comments stuck with me

“When you want to speak English, speak it well and learn to bring your so-called intelligence low enough to be able to explain it to a 5-year-old…” said lady 2.

“…simply take correction and move on. But no, you would rather be rude and disrespectful about it. You would rather string a handful of big English and justify yourself…” said lady 1.

Like I said earlier, things escalated pretty fast. Dear readers, remember that it all started with Dexterity, or should I say English?

I have countless scenarios, like some students that throw legal jargon to every table they sit at. Every conversation is an opportunity to open the briefcase of Latin maxims. Then there are the Atheists that pick apart every word in the Bible, always ready to attack Christians in Hebrew, English, Greek, and Latin. You are okay with not believing there is a God and I don’t bug you about it. Why can’t you be okay with my belief that there’s a God without bugging me too? I will not bore you with details on those word wars for now, let us move on.

The primary purpose of Language is communication, is this what happens every time you speak? Are you communicating or simply presenting rehearsed words? Consider the wise words of Paul below.

I thank God that I speak in [unknown] tongues more than all of you; nevertheless, in public worship I would rather say five understandable words in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue [which others cannot understand].

1 Corinthians 14:18‭-‬19

In Nigeria, it is common for people to mock those who are not fluent in English and anyone who has a native accent. Because of these ‘show offs’, innocent people like me, get tagged. We would be called ‘proud’ simply because we speak English fluently. In my head, I’m wondering, “you can tell pride from a language?” I guess there is still so much I have to learn on this lovely earth. It feels like the use of English has caused us quite a lot of issues. Start with the fact that our native languages are going extinct. My beloved generation finds the thought of identifying with their native dialect unappealing because they feel people would perceive them to be Illiterate or not cool enough for the English-speaking ‘cool kids.’

Experts report that more than half of over 400 languages in Nigeria are endangered. More alarming is the speculation that languages such as Igbo and Yoruba may not survive the next 50 years if urgent measures are not taken to reverse the trend. The inefficient intergenerational transmission of our languages from the older generation to the younger one has put us in this sad situation.

Our culture is beautiful, we should proudly embrace it!

Let me clarify this, I have no issues with English. It is a great language that makes international communication easy. So yeah, I acknowledge its efficiency. My point is, our native dialects are our identity, what happens when we lose this? Will we start building another tower of Babel when everyone becomes one with English?

Why is it such a big deal to give ear to our own dialect? What is wrong with mastering both English and our dialect? Why do you feel uncomfortable with identifying with your own people but feel at ease embracing a borrowed personality?

In summary dear people, communicate in English and communicate in your dialect too. Please, do not settle for “I cannot speak but I understand my language”. What we pass down to the next generation is what they hear us speak, and not what we ‘understand’ because they cannot read our minds. I am looking forward to writing a blog post in Ibibio (my dialect) one day so I am taking a stand to be intentional about getting better at communicating in my dialect. No one else can keep our culture alive for us, we have to do it ourselves.

Have a lovely September people! Ofioñ ami eyé mén eti mpko adi! See? I am getting better at Ibibio already. I would love to see you say something in your dialect in the comments!

Thank you for reading and supporting my blog!

2 thoughts on “The Use of English

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