In a new move to preserve and promote an old and challenged indigenous language, the organisers of the first Igbo spelling bee underlined the importance of creativity in sustaining native languages in the face of increasing globalisation. It is the first indigenous language spelling bee in Nigeria.
Fourteen-year-old Oluebube Ogbonna won the maiden edition of the novel contest held in Anambra State, involving 356 public and private secondary school students in Awka, Nnewi and Onitsha educational zones. A student at Divine Rays British School, Obosi, Idemili North Local Government Area of the state, Ogbonna got N300, 000 for her performance. The second and third runners-up got N100, 000 and N50, 000.
The event tested contestants in spelling, Igbo syllabication and punctuation, and was organised by City Speller Bee, in collaboration with Onitsha Business School. The project manager, Chinedu Aniagboso, said the competition was designed to make Igbo language attractive to youths. He praised the participants, observing that “they not only understand English, they are also proficient in Igbo.”
There are more than 500 native languages spoken in Nigeria, including Igbo, which is dominant in the country’s Southeast geo-political zone. But the country’s official language is English, which was inherited from British colonialists.
There is no doubt that the English language in particular is a threat to indigenous languages in the country. Modernisation has created a situation in which more and more natives aspire to achieve mastery of English because of its status as a so-called international language, to the detriment of their own indigenous languages.
It is noteworthy that more than 40 per cent of the estimated 6,000 languages spoken in the world are considered endangered. Languages that are given a place in education systems and the public domain, and used in the digital world, have more chances of survival as the world evolves.
According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), “Languages, with their complex implications for identity, communication, social integration, education and development, are of strategic importance for people and the planet. Yet, due to globalisation processes, they are increasingly under threat, or disappearing altogether.” The global agency, therefore, supports and encourages all moves to promote mother tongues.