Shhhhh! Why Are You Speaking Vernacular To Your Children?

Photo for illustrative purpose only
Photo for illustrative purpose only

It was in 2005 during winter festive season that I got a shocker from a very dear high school friend, M, who had come to town from Lagos with her lovely daughters.
M is a Yoruba woman and in fact an ‘undiluted’ Ibadan girl just like me! She came visiting her affluent elite in-laws, who were then living in one of the highbrow areas in Ibadan – Jericho Quarters. She had invited me over to this place because the in-laws were rolling out drums to celebrate the yuletide.

Being a young mother of two restless little boys, my eyes never stopped roving around the kids throughout and I was also making sure they were well behaved, most importantly to ensure they score good marks from my friend’s bookish in-laws. Then, I was assisting M and her sister-in-law to supervise their retinue of house helps cooking in the kitchen and every now and then I’ll call out to the children in Yoruba language; “e ye se’re pa eyin omo yi” (stop playing rough boys) and also issuing threats of beating if they refuse to heed: “e maa je’gba o” (I’ll spank you).

While I was doing all these, I didn’t realise I was making my friend feel very uncomfortable until she could take it no more. She suddenly dragged me to the guest room adjoining the living area and retorted: (just like you would to your younger sibling): “Lara (she addressed me by the short form of my Yoruba name – Omolara) what is your problem? Why are you speaking Yoruba to your children? Why are you behaving as if you’ve not passed through school at all?”

I was mortified to hear her speak in that manner. And I felt she went overboard. Trust me, I gave her back as I responded in Yoruba: “E jowo arabinrin, omo ilu wo leyin o…America, London? (pardon me lady, where are you from…America, London)? And to add ‘salt to her injury’, I didn’t do what was expected of me throughout the stay as I kept communicating with my children and even her ‘foreign’ children in Yoruba. I was just not ready to become a stooge in the name of friendship.

I call her children foreign because despite that they were born in Lagos, Nigeria and had never left the country’s shores for one day, they were finding it difficult to communicate in proper Yoruba. I needed no further explanation to know that it was their parents’ making.

This is the pervasive and an entrenching situation among many of us Nigerians, especially the Yoruba tribe. Many of us believe that if our children speak our language, they will dawdle in English language. This is a very sad development indeed and it is so sad because the ‘no vernacular’ phenomenon is already a cankerworm that has eaten deep without redemption into the lives of many Yoruba elites. We feel that if we speak our beautiful mother tongue, we are being ‘local’ or ‘loki’ as we used to taunt ourselves when I was much younger and naive.

Thanks to the likes of Mr S under whose tutelage I learnt the importance of wearing my Yoruba banner with boldness and pride. I remember he would say to us whenever we are drifting with the ‘no vernacular’ bandwagon: “Noimot, what’s your fear? If you who was born of ‘unlettered’ parents can be this polished, I don’t see why your children born of graduates can’t speak good English”. That particular admonition as disposable as it sounded then changed a lot in me and I am glad my spouse also appreciates this fact.

If you are one of the parents who are paranoid about their children losing the English language skill if they are taught Yoruba, I’ll plead with you to have a rethink and change your ways. Many parents in diaspora (in the US and the UK particularly) are currently paying through their nose to teach Yoruba to their children because they suddenly realised what they have lost on getting to a foreign land. Of course, there are countless many who still don’t care a hoot! In fact, they are happy to naturalise, especially with the present unpleasant clime in Nigeria.

But, kindly remember these popular Yoruba proverbs: “Eni to ba so ile nu, o ti so apo iya ko” atiwipe “ile la ti nko eso r’ode”. E j’owo e je ka k’omo l’ede o!
PS: Uncle S is a journalist, scholar and an English Language teacher at the University of Ibadan, yet he is an exponent of Yoruba language.

According to http://www.yorubawumi.com, Yoruba is the first language of approximately 30 million West Africans in the South-western area of Nigeria, Togo, Republic of Benin and Sierra Leone. There are many different dialects spoken in different parts, but there is a standard Yoruba language which is understood by speakers of the different dialects. Yoruba Language has also survived in Cuba, where it is called Lukumi, in Brazil, where it is called Nago, in Trinidad and Tobago and the United States.

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19 thoughts on “Shhhhh! Why Are You Speaking Vernacular To Your Children?”

  1. Madam , e see gan fun akitiyan yin lori ede abinibi waa! Oluwa yio tunbo ma fun yin Ooye ati opolo. This is an opener Ma, thanks for your encouragement. Oro lati gbo yii o eyin omo kaaro o jiree, ki eeku ile gbo k’oso fun t’oko, kii adan k’ogbo koo loo ro f’oobe! E maa gbagbe wipe ati kekere lati npa e’etan iroko t’oba d’agba tan apa o ni kaa o.

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  2. Hmmm! This is another very unfortunate issue the Yorubas have not still found a way around. The other major languages, Hausa and Igbo as you rightly noted do not have this problem. So one has to wonder why it should be any different for the Yorubas. Could it be too much of civilization considering the fact that we are ahead in that area? Or could it be just that we are simply……?
    Well done!

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  3. You just hit the nail on the head. An older sister (a graduate in English) will continually remind us that, she sent her kids to school to learn and understand the English Language. Thus, she communicates with them in Yoruba. I speak my local dialect with “le dauta” but she understands english via her cartoons and educational apps on the Ipad.

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  4. Hmmmm! “Oro”

    Mo ki gbogbo eyin omo kaaro ojiire ooo, la ta ri oro isi’ti ti iya afin olaiyiwola pe akiyesi gbogbo omo yoruba sii.

    Mo fe ki a mo wipe ede yoruba, asha ati Ise wa je owun tio dara lopolopo. Laisi asha ati Ise wa yi, tio mu wa darawamo lawujo, ko ni si owun ti aba ma pe ni “ile”

    Ejowo melo ninu omo yoruba lo so fun omo won l’okunrin ati l’obinrin wipe “tia ba ri eni keni to juwa lo, Ise okunrin ni, Ise obirin ni, wipe a ma n kun’le tabi doba’le ki won ni” kia se eyi leni? To ja si wipe omode aafe ki agbalagba, won ama n’owo si won to tunmo si “hand shake”.

    Emi dupe oooo, nitori wipe mio gbagbe asha ile yoruba mio si daapo mo esin temi.

    Ejo wo eje kia mu ede wa looooooo

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  5. It’s just very pathetic especially when a Yoruba teenager intend to shake hands with an elderly person as a form of greeting……. SMH, where do u start from with such and who is to blame the parents or the teenager? Some have really really lost it sha!

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  6. And that’s why I am proudly associated with you Ma. I am proud of you. Keep doing this. U have my support all through. Thanks for being such a role model. Hugs and kisses.
    With love.
    Miss. Yvonne

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  7. Emi oni fowo osi juwe ile baba mi; though the temptation is always there to ensure our kids learn to speak in foreign tongues; that still isn’t still a justification for our inferiority complex. Oun ani loye kama gbe laruge

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  8. True talk. Many are still struggling with this today. I got a shocker sometimes ago when I went to my kids school and I realise almost all her Non-English classmates parents spoke to their little kids in their local languages and the kids were responding. That was a reawakening for me. Just like many of us on this post, my kids struggle with speaking Yoruba and on that day, I knew something has to change in my communication at home. I asked myself, why are these kids called Yoruba? it is their tongue. We owe them the responsibility to teach them the language. If they could not speak, they have not failed, we have failed as parents. If we are not careful, the language will soon go into extinction.

    We also need to work on our educational system. I remembered while I was in primary school. We were being punished for speaking vernacular in class. Imagine, if that was happening then, what will be the situation today?

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  9. You have truly said it all……….omo ti o ba so ile nu, o ti so apo iya ko. No translation required! I pity those out there with the blinded mentality of not speaking or encouraging their wards to speak their language. Igbeyin ni i dun oloku ada. Majority, if not all of us, are children of illiterates or half educated parents. We never enjoyed the affluence of speaking English at home nor the opportunity of attending “Omolewa Nursery Primary School” yet we are who we are today. Whoever that is not proud of his/her color is not fit to live, so says the legend. Our language and color forms our unique identity. An Irish man will boldly and proudly lay claim in the presence of his English counterpart. Same is known of the Welsh and Proud Scots. French man will refuse to engage in english conversation even at international level. An Arab man, Polish, Jew or Chinese always identify robustly with their dialect. Reason Hausa language is regarded as Nigerian language borders on the fact that an Hausa man is always proud of his language and do speak same at Burckingham Palace or Westminster Abbey. When our Yoruba elders are called to the podium, they tend to speak English better than the Queen of England and that is where the inferiority complex set in. If it’s not too late, our dear Baba Hubert Ogunde’s warning need to be re-visited…….Yoruba ronu.

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  10. This is awesome! We Yorubas have a lot to do. The language is fading gradually. Gone are the days we read yoruba text books in our primary and high schools, such as Alawiye, Ogbojuode ninu Igbo Irumale, Ireke onibudo etc. Which helped us alot to develop our Yoruba grammatical and reading skills. We need to do something to ensure that our children knows how to speak and write our precious Yoruba language. Yoruba adage says ” Ati kekere lati n peka Iroko”. Thanks a lot for your beautiful reminder. Ese eku ise opolo.

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  11. Language reinforces our identity and we should be able to operate from our afro centric point with confident. The question is, as parents what language do we think in – English?. The language you think with, is the one you best expressed yourself in – sadly I am one of them

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  12. Inu mi dun gidi gan, especially to read the above message, i am so proud to be a Yoruba man and i can speak my language anywhere anytime ati ni ojo ki ojo. we must always proud of our culture and language and we must also pass it on to our children, gege bi eti so pe ile ni abo isinmi oko, ako ni gbe si ajo ooooooooo.

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  13. I always say it anywhere that no matter the situation,I will continue to speak my language (YORUBA) to my children, because the more they can speak your mother tongue, they will be able to communicate in English. So let’s promote our own culture before others.

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  14. Akiyesi Pataki! Kere oo Kere oo, Please let educate our self and in turn educate our children most especially about our culture. “E seun Iyaafin Noimot Olayiwola, fun akiyesi Pataki yi”

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  15. Noimot, what’s the most important in life (for parents towards their children)?
    I presume you’d want your kids to turn out as responsible humans later in life. Is language a factor? Lemme hazard a reply: I don’t think so.
    I’d assume to say whatever language is appropriate to aid a child in moral, academic and professional suasion should suffice.
    It’s a different thing why certain individuals wouldn’t want their kids speak Yoruba (or, whatever the mother tongue is); for some, it may be for academic reason, for others it’s environment.
    For me, the bottomline is: Whatever language my child speaks (acquired or mother tongue), he’s got to be responsible, respectful, honest, God-fearing, generous, empathetic and gracious.
    I don’t really care if speaks Swahili.
    I just want my child to speak to people’s hearts. And no particular language has monopoly on that.
    Is there?

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    1. Bayo, you have raised many salient points. Yes, I’ll want my kids to turn out to be the best and Godly citizens of the world but at the same time, I don’t want them loose touch with their ancestral origin due to that because they will be connecting with and embracing other cultures as they grow towards that. You see, individual language is very important, in combination with all those virtues you have highlighted, for many of us in diaspora (that’s those that really value it of course). Because you suddenly feel lost in the sea of many other cultures if you don’t have or clearly define your own personal identity beforehand. Come to Qatar and see children born here to other expatriate communities (say Indian, Pakistanis, Filipinos, French and Italians etc) speak their languages so fluently and in almost the same manner as those born on their soils. You need to have a rethink brother…our languages in Nigeria, not just Yoruba, are going into extinction due to this kind of attitude of many of us. Thanks for stopping by here and you are always welcome back!

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  16. Thank you. Let’s look at this issue from Bayo’s experience: Bayo was born and raised in Lagos by a father who’s a certified Ibadan ‘boy’ (he’s got the facial marks and Ibadan slur). My parents aren’t educated. They didn’t even have the luxury to chat with me while younger in English -broken or straight.

    I learnt my Yoruba (in the best way a Lagos boy can learn…maybe). Acquiring English language was due to few efforts by formal education and much personal development.

    While I respect local (you read Yoruba) norms, I’ve grown up to prefer a worldview of matters. Do you need a mother tongue to excel?

    “Because you suddenly feel lost in the sea of many other cultures if you don’t have or clearly define your own personal identity beforehand” Those are your words.
    How does one define one’s own personal identity? By sticking to a mother tongue?

    I think what’s sauce for the goose may not sauce for the gander.

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