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Prevent Indigenous Languages from Extinction Through Language Engineering - FUTA Don

A Professor of Terminology Development and Language expert at the Federal University of Technology, Akure, FUTA Funmilayo Olubode-Sawe has advocated language engineering to arrest language endangerment and the possibility of some indigenous languages going into extinction in Nigeria  

Professor Olubode-Sawe who spoke on the topic, “Paradigm Shift in Language Engineering and Advocacy: From Language Rights to Inclusive Development Communication.” while delivering the 158th inaugural lecture of the university on Tuesday August 1, 2023 said “in recent decades, linguists and language planners have focused their attention on the grave issue of language endangerment. Many speakers of smaller, less likely spoken languages switch from their native tongue to another for a number of reasons.”

She said the endangerment is further compounded by the fact that, “ Parents, wishing to give their children a head start, start speaking English, the official language to them at home. The intergenerational transmission of the heritage language therefore reduces, and the populations using the heritage language as their first or primary language reduces gradually (becoming dormant), until it is no longer used or understood by anybody. Language engineering is required to arrest language endangerment.”

Dwelling on language advocacy, she said in countries where indigenous languages have already been allocated important functions such as official language or language of education, it is easy to deal with shortfalls in vocabulary through comparative terminology work. She therefore recommended that the capacity of the indigenous languages to express specific content must be enhanced adding that to speed up the process of learning delivery, automated systems, including distance and e-learning have to be considered.

The don, whose research endeavor in language engineering span decades said for ease of communication and proper identification of numerals and objects, languages must be developed to express modern-day concepts, so that those who have to or chose to access information in indigenous languages can do so with ease. To achieve this, she recommended that a stakeholders’ forum for the standardization of Yoruba numerals be convened to include linguist-revisors, terminologists, Mathematics experts and other scientists, with the Mathematical Association of Nigeria and the National Mathematics Centre invited as collaborators.

Professor Olubode-Sawe, currently the Director, Institute of Technology-Enhanced Learning and Digital Humanities (INTEDH) and a long standing University orator, also recommended the establishment of Language boards to coordinate the efforts of different workers in the field, manage standardization efforts, and serve as a clearing house for terms.

Acknowledging the existence of organisations on terminology creation and language revitalization, she said most of them operate in isolation with occasional competing goals, and advised that such language boards could be patterned after the Pan South African Language Board, an organization in South Africa established to promote multilingualism, to develop the eleven official languages and protect language rights in South Africa.

Making further recommendation, Professor Olubode-Sawe, who has coached the University Debating Team and guided them to win several laurels, said terminology development projects should involve subject-matter specialists and linguistics experts and other users. She added that specialists are a very important resource bank in language documentation and terminology planning process for any language. She further said that technological discourse must include more people because for people to take part in the technological maintenance, they must have technology in their own languages.

The don also recommended that entry qualifications into craft training programmes need to be revised and designed to be taught in the language of wider communication (LWC) of the locality in which the programme is based. She said this will enable a mature student with either a primary school leaving certificate or a practitioner wishing to learn new skills/technologies to be admitted into such programmes without requiring a pass or credit in the English language adding that in Akure, it will be Yoruba, in Onitsha, Igbo and in Warri it is likely to be Nigerian Pidgin or Naija, as it is known by the speakers.

Professor Olubode-Sawe, a member of the Nigerian Academy of Letters and an editor par excellence who has Chaired several Editorial teams in the university, further recommended preparation of special textbooks in the language of wider communication (LWC) which can begin as translation into the LWC of textbooks, manuals, workbooks and handouts currently in use. She added that as expertise in the use of the indigenous languages for science and technology increases, the textbooks will be written in these languages which can be later translated to foreign languages depending on the importance.

She also called for training and retraining of “Pop tech” teachers in the use of Nigerian languages for science and technology.

In her remarks, the Vice Chancellor and Chairman at the event, Professor Adenike Oladiji, described Professor Olubode-Sawe as a thorough-bred academic who has contributed immensely to the body of knowledge and mentored many in her area of expertise. She added that the lecture which was well researched, well packaged and well delivered is apt for our nation, especially in the effort to prevent our indigenous languages from going into extinction.