The Little World Of Diminishing Languages

The spread of education and the rapidly evolving culture has put a dent to many languages in the world. Coupled with intermarriages and National language policies many weak cultures are slowly losing their lingual Identity. What can be done?

Today marks the UNESCO’s International Mother Language Day. Celebrated on February 21st of every year, the day aims to promote linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism. According to UNESCO, “Every two weeks a language disappears taking with it an entire cultural and intellectual heritage.” In Africa alone, over three hundred are on the verge of extinction. For example, Sudan has over 60 languages listed in the endangered category.

In Kenya, the Yakunte language is on the brink of extinction. Spoken fluently by only seven elderly members, the language faces a huge threat from Maasai. Although the Yaaku (speakers of Yakunte) community is estimated to have a population of 10,000, there seem to be no interest in the language among the youth. Lack of interest among the young generation could be the proximal cause for the deteriorating interest in the languages. Another reason could be the assimilation of cultures especially by the dominant and boisterous cultures like that of the Luo community in Western Kenya, through the Luo language the community has almost subsumed the Abasuba community into their own language group.

With an estimated population of around 300,000 people, the Suba language would be rescued with the annual celebration of the Abasuba culture in what has become the Rusinga Festival. According to Rusinga Festival founder Anne Eboso Okongo the festival has had a positive impact on the Abasuba people.

“More and more Abasuba who were previously introducing themselves as Luos are now saying they are Abasuba (even if they still don’t speak the language,” Eboso said.

Various government agencies have also come in to help revitalize the Suba culture e.g. the National Museums of Kenya and Bomas of Kenya which have initiated programs geared towards appreciating the Suba culture and language. More and more Suba groups are coming forth to equally create their own platforms for celebrating the Suba language and culture.

“Groups like the Abasuba Walamu Lobby Group which is today celebrating the Mother Language Day at Nyakiamo Stadium in Sindo, is now working towards hosting an Abasuba Tourism Expo annually,” Eboso added.

Eboso observed that it is too early to say if the renewed tourist interest in the areas occupied with the Abasuba like the Rusinga Island and how this was contributing to the social economic growth of the region would affect her attempts to grow the Suba culture.

Although Rusinga has re-energized the Suba culture, Ann believes that a lot still needs to be done. According to her, there are 5 key Suba regions in the country – The islands of Rusinga and Mfangano and the mainlands of Gembe, Gwassi and Kasingiri.

“Rusinga Island where I started my revitalization efforts was the worst hit Suba region, In that close to 99% of the population cannot speak or understand the language, and this population has always introduced themselves as Luos,” she observed.

Anne echoes the sentiments of Kenyan renowned novelist Ngugi wa Thiong’o, who called for the introduction of vernacular languages in schools. She observed that the festival had only managed to make the Suba proud of their identity. However, for the growth of the language requires different stakeholders including county government and the ministry of Education to forge policies towards that end.  So far Rusinga Festival is a success story of how a culture can be reclaimed from the claws of extinction.

Yaaku language too has its own enthusiasts who are trying to resuscitate it from its deathbed. According to Mediamax Networks Kenya, a Yaaku teacher Leitiko, has taken it upon himself to educate young people vocabulary and pronunciation of Yaaku words. He also commits most of evening to re-educating the elderly the art of Yakunte communication. Besides Leitiko’s efforts the Information Communication Technology (ICT) Authority of Kenya plans to embrace application technology and design an audio visual app backed with a Yaaku dictionary to facilitate posterity of the language.

As some call for the introduction vernacular subjects in Kenya and with the introduction of Competence Based Curriculum in schools, one hopes that the government will relent and help the fledgling languages.  

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