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Are Indigenous Languages Endangered?

This illustration represents how indigenous peoples are striving to keep endangered languages alive. Illustartion by Sara Lopez Gilabert

BY THABANI H. MOYO | @thabanih | This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. | MAR 18, 2022

Our young people should take advantage that the current curriculum is designed in such a way that promotes all languages found in Zimbabwe.

BULAWAYO (The Citizen Bulletin) — Language is like a gem in a shell. The shell is like a people that carry the language. If our language is taken away, then that would be like a pearl that is gone. Our home languages connect us with our ethnic groups and help to shape our identity as a people.

Our tribal names, Ndebele, Tonga, Nambya, Venda, Kalanga and others are our language names. According to available statistics from the Zimbabwe Schools Examinations Council (Zimsec) the number of learners interested in indigenous Languages and Literature in Indigenous Languages in particular are being depleted.

This is a cause for concern really on why are our children shunning their pride and identity in terms of language? Why are our young people no longer interested in studying Literature in indigenous languages? Where is this lack of motivation to learn our literature in indigenous languages emanating from? One thing I know for sure is that Literature in languages is rich with good texts. Many literal bodies promoting literature in indigenous languages have come up with projects promoting these languages.

It is only through studying our languages that we can understand our complex indigenous cultures. When we lose interest in our languages we lose our pride and self-worth as a people.

Our languages are a fundamental marker of our distinctiveness and cohesiveness as different people. It will appear as if our people forget that language describes our cultural attachment to our region, cultural heritage items, and puts meaning within the many cultural activities that we do. It is through our languages that we are bound together as communities, cultures and as individuals.

What we need to understand is that our languages are sacred to us. Every language is sacred for those who speak it. Words are given to us by the land and those words are sacred. What does it mean to belong to a culture? The land needs words, the land speaks for us and we use the language for this. Words make things happen.

Words come not only from our land but also from our ancestors. It is for this reason why we must put value to our languages. The next generations must understand what it means to speak and have pride in our own languages. They must know that knowledge comes from our languages.

Language is ownership; language is used to talk about the land. Language is what we see in our people. Language is what we know of people. That is how we identify ourselves. Being you is to know your language.  It is like that root from the tree. Language is a community—a group of people. The next generation must know that they do not only speak the language but generations upon generations of their families have also spoken it. The language recognises and identifies them, who they are and what they are.

Why are young people no longer interested in studying Literature in indigenous languages?

Knowing our own indigenous languages and cultures plays the biggest role in growing our spirit, connection to our land and the stories of our ancestors. With our language we know where we belong; we know the names from our land.

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There is a need to have processes of re-awakening and revitalising indigenous languages before they are no longer spoken and remembered. It is a strong tool in personal and community development. Indigenous Language learners must have feelings of wellbeing, self-respect, empowerment, identity, self-satisfaction and belonging when hearing and speaking their ancestral language. Showing respect to indigenous language and culture, learning about and using the language will help in understanding their historical backgrounds and identity.

It is a strong tool in that it provides many beneficial social, emotional and educational gains to people. It is for this reason that as a people we should encourage our young people to be proud of their languages. They should take them up in schools and know that from them they are linking the past with the future.

We need to read our Literature in indigenous language texts for human development as well as for leisure. If our children are not careful they will wake up to find that other languages have taken over their cultural space and are forced to use a language from another culture.