Thursday, June 28, 2007

Development in a cultural void

In his seminal and controversial book "After Babel: Aspects of Language and Translation" George Steiner notes that "every people has in its language, a unique body of shared secrecy".

From the book's preface:

"For in fact it is language that speaks. Man begins speaking and man only speaks to the extent that he responds to, that he corresponds with language, and only in so far as he hears language addressing, concurring with him. Language is the highest and everywhere the foremost of those assents which we human beings can never articulate solely out of our own means."
Martin Heidegger, 'Dichterisch Wohnet der Mensch' (GW)

Stakeholders Brainstorm On Language, Culture

By Charles Abah
12 June 2007

Educationalists, language experts as well as linguistics from across the country converged on Lagos for three days last week, precisely from Wednesday, June to the Friday, June 8 to jaw-jaw on the way forward for education vis-à-vis culture.

And in truth, these conference of men and women came in large number, an indication that the first annual national summit entitled: "Language, culture and literary studies for technological emancipation: The 21st century challenges" held a fascination for them.

For on the minds of these stakeholders, the place of language, literature and culture is invaluable in society and therefore there is the need to give the get-together its deserved attention.

Among those who attended the conference put together by the department of Languages of the Yaba College of Technology (YABATECH) included Prof. Segun Adekoya, Dr. (Mrs.) Ranti Ogunbiyi, Dr. Dare Arokoya of North American University, Republic of Benin, Prof. Akinwumi Isola, YABATECH Rector, Mr. Olubunmi Owoso who was represented by the Dean School of Management and Business Studies, Mrs. C. O. Akindele, M. O. J. Ayodele, Ms Ify Marinze and a host of others.

Indeed, they are worried that, in language, religion, dress code, culture, economy and several other spheres of life, that there is crisis and that Nigerians have since jettisioned their own way of doing things.

It is, therefore, not surprising that Prof. Akinwumi Isola who presented the keynote address on the occasion could not hide his disenchantment about this abandonment, as it were.

Delivering a paper, "Development in a cultural void," the renowned academic pointed that there was need to win the citizenry back to their own literature, arguing that it is the only sure way to ensuring sustainable development.

According to him, in language, religion, culture, economy, Nigeria, nay the continent is in dire crisis, requiring urgent solution.

"What writers in African languages need now is a holistic approach to the problem of Africa's endangered cultural heritage. We need to win the people back to their culture by providing riveting stories on radio, television and video films. Another good idea is providing audio cassettes to accompany important novels in African languages to help those who have reading problems.

"We must also struggle to get local languages revitalized by intergrating them into the education system, beginning from the primary level. We can also organize reading system, beginning from the primary level. We can also organize reading competitors of literature in African languages and award good prizes. Established writers' organizations must organize writing workshops to encourage aspiring writers," he said.

Insisting, for instance, that language is the heart of a culture, Prof. Isola noted that God created a unique language for each culture to ensure effective and independent operation.

"When a language dies, the culture atrophies and dies. Language is the hub of the wheel of culture, while other aspects are the spokes operating a robustly effective feedback system . With language the people in a community posses the tool for creating and recording knowledge in memorable fashions to lay the groundwork for acceptable standards in all aspects of life to ensure sustainable development and authentic continuity.

Prof. Isola however, while charging the elite to lead in the vanguard of changing the trend, noted that it was time for all stakeholders to unite to safeguard the nation's cultural heritage.

Individuals, professionals and religion groups, he said can, set worthy cultural examples, speak out against cultural falsehood, seek revitalization of local languages in school as well as ensure the teaching of history to raise culture consciousness amongst youngsters.

"Many aspects of our culture have suffered atrophy. Decay has set in. Before death and petrification arrive, we must all unite in the task of safeguarding our cultural heritage. We can get involved individually by setting worthy cultural examples for our children and students We must fight for the revitalization of local languages by reintegrating them into the education system beginning from the primary level," he stated.

Earlier while declaring the summit open, Mrs. Akindele who represented the YABATECH rector, said the gathering was timely, declaring that language experts are now tinkering on how new words would be readily understood by native speakers.

"There cannot be a better time than now as I am aware that experts in various Nigerian languages are making effort to broaden the horizon of objects, situations, etc that were non-existent hitherto. These new words are now being positively accommodated by language experts to bring the essence of anything and everything under the sun within the general framework that would be readily understood by the native speaker," he noted.


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