Monday 19 April 2021
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Indigenous Mother Tongue Instruction is Redundant

Except perhaps for serving as a relic of history to be preserved for cultural identity and celebratory ritualistic practices, indigenous languages have somewhat become an impediment rather than a facilitator to the early childhood development of the Namibian child. English as a medium of instruction for all public schools and institutions is an ideal for the full and proper development of a learner.
Mother tongue as a secondary or foreign language can serve the purpose of preserving the cultural heritage and identity of indigenous groups who were the last to enter the epoch of human civilization which is characterized by the ability to read and write in one’s own language.
The English language has emerged as the dominant lingua franca in cross border trade, international treaties and conventions.
As well as medical, technological research and development. A child who can only speak, read and write an indigenous language fluently and is unable to be conversant in speech and writing in the English language is at a major disadvantage in contrast to a child who is fluent in reading, writing and speaking English with absolutely no knowledge of an indigenous language.
Advocates for mother tongue instruction cite idealistic constructs of pride, custom, heritage and ancestor worship when pursuing the agenda of keeping indigenous mother tongue as a first language in the school curriculum.
But ignore the cost of teacher training, translation, transcription and printing of text and the limitation of the existence of words in the indigenous language as a justifiable reason to abandon indigenous languages in favour of English which is highly developed, sophisticated and convenient to speak, read and write both at home and abroad.
At surface level it is romantic to advocate for one or other indigenous language to be incorporated into the school curriculum; but reason ought to take precedence over passion in accepting that indigenous languages are too limited in vocabulary and comprehension to be of meaningful contribution to a Childs learning, growth, improvement and understanding of the world.
The English language provides for terminology for various categories of mental health issues such as, psychosis, schizophrenia, and dementia. In Oshindonga these are lumped up into one word Onkwengu, meaning a person is crazy (madness).
There are many other examples where the Oshindonga word for the English equivalent is non-existent from the basic level when describing insect body parts such as the abdomen, thorax and antenna. In Oshindonga the abdomen is referred to as eepuunda when eepuunda is a stomach not an abdomen.
In the absence of a recognized and accepted authority on the Oshindonga language, it is impossible to distinguish which is the right spelling or even word to describe or name such and such a thing. Making the language undeveloped in its current format and not respectable in terms of recognized world language standards and benchmarks.
It may be inconvenient to acknowledge that languages over time are incorporated into other languages or cannibalized altogether.
Historically there were two distinct Aawambo dialects that were far more advanced in terms of being written and widely spoken. Oshindonga and Oshikwanyama from the time of the earliest Christianization of the Aawambo people served as the recognized and developed (written) language of the Aawambo people.
But due to the numerical dominance of the Kwanyama and the level of ease with which their language could be spoken, written and translated when compared to Oshindonga. Oshikwanyama became the lingua franca for all the Aawambo and other ethnic groups living in exile in Zambia and later Angola.
This came about by operation and no one dictated that Oshikwanyama and later Oshiwambo would be the recognized lingua franca for all Aawambo people in northern Namibia and the wider diaspora of Uushimba (urban) and Kombanda (exile/diaspora).
Those who find solace in arguing from the so-called “de-colonial” perspective should be reminded that African languages are written and spelt using the English alphabet, which is adopted from the Latin alphabet, which came from the old italic script, which came from Greek, which came from the Phoenicians, which came from the Proto Sanaitic, which came from the Egyptian Hieroglyphics. So how the English language is written and spelt has its roots in the great ancient African empire of glorious Egypt in the time of the Pharaohs. So English is our mother tongue.
To argue otherwise is to distort history. It is regrettable that indigenous Namibians only learned how to read and write less than 200 years ago when the more developed languages like English were first written in the 5th century over 1500 years ago. But like all other things in life, languages also come full circle and it is our duty to embrace the English language because it is our own.
Fact remains that if you are writing an indigenous language using the A.B.C alphabet.
You are writing that language in English. It is not political but common sense that if English is the national language of Namibia as expressly stated in article 3 of the Namibian constitution, than English is our mother tongue.

Vitalio Angula is a socio-political commentator and independent columnist.

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