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Examining the arguments of experts who want Nigerian radio stations to broadcast in indigenous languages

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Language, spoken or written, is a means of human communication consisting of the use of words in a structured and conventional way.

It is widely considered one of the essential ingredients of effective human communication. However,communication could be ineffective when the message which is channelled through a familiar language is not understood by the recipient. 

And, such cases,result in distortion and misinformation.

Although English is the official language of communication in Nigeria, it is heavily perceived in some quarters that many do not understand the bequeathed language while others understand it to a limited extent. This is evident in Unesco statistics on the level of  literacy in the country.

This reality creates a justification for various advocacies on promotion of indigenous language in all facets of the country. This piece takes a look at the importance of broadcasting in indigenous language in Nigeria.

Indigenous language and broadcasting.

Unlike other media channels,the broadcast is language sensitive owing to the dynamic nature of the  channel to accommodate many languages.

This is accomplished through translations from English to other languages like Yoruba, Igbo, Hausa, Edo, Fulfulde, and Kanuri among others or dishing out all information in local languages.

A research work conducted by Oyero Olusola reveals that indigenous language is significant because it gives good understanding and better meaning of radio messages to the listeners.

“The survey shows that majority of the respondents, 88 percent, understand radio programmes better in their indigenous language (Yoruba), 10 percent do not and 2 percent could not tell.

Also, over 95%, as shown in the table below agreed that they derive better meaning from the Radio messages when Yoruba language is used. Only 3.5% and 1% disagree and undecided respectively”

A similar study by Eric Ogri also emphasises the need for the media to embrace indigenous languages for national development.

It notes that  the  preference  for  English  Language  as  the official  medium  of  expression  and  communication  in  Nigeria, over hundreds  of existing  indigenous Nigerian  languages, does not  speak  well  of  our  national  identity  and  pride  as  Nigerians. 

“English language still dominates the sphere of communication at all levels and can be said to be Nigeria’s truly national language or Lingua  Franca.  The  National  Language  Policy  on  Education (NLPE) and the Nigerian Constitution also recognize the use of English language as the  nation’s Lingua Franca. Even  the mass media  cannot  be  absolved  of  this  linguistic  attachment. “

A study on broadcasting in Tiv language, a language in Nigeria’s north central noted that

radio communication in a foreign language is becoming a source of worry to language experts especially on media contents. This concern is hinged on the belief that the media is the conscience of the society and that people have greater inclination to believe their messages. The study worries further: “The fear is the misuse of language of communication in the mass media in Nigeria and who to make corrections as languages are being used to promote violence and vulgarism.”

The mother tongue factor

In a research work  by Akpan et. al, published in 2012, majority of respondents were of the opinion that Nigerian broadcasters were affected by mother tongue interference in the course of their programmes.

“Majority of the respondents agree that most Nigerian broadcasters are not grounded in the phonological structures of English language, hence cannot pronounce most words .

This indicates that in broadcasting, effective communication is of utmost importance. However, noise, either in grammatical structure or external interference, affects effective communication. More worrisome is the presence of noise in grammatical structure as a result of mother tongue interference. 

The effects of mother tongue on English Language cannot be overlooked. It goes further 

in causing phonetic problems to the second language speaker/listener. In most  cases, every second language user tends to bring elements or structures of  his/her native language in speaking a second language.

Despite efforts made to promote the effective learning of English as the  mainstay of communication in Nigeria, many people, including broadcasters, still find it difficult to effectively manipulate the phonological features.”

The study concludes that, although little,mother tongue interference affects the contents of broadcasts. 

Excerpt from Akpan et. al

Radio for development

Corroborating the aforementioned is the paper published by Olusola Oyero in 2010 in which he submits that with all the numerous potentials of radio for development, the central aim of development messages may not be realised if the messages are not packaged in the right language. 

“Considering the number of people in Africa who cannot communicate in English language, the need to communicate with people in the language they understand well cannot be under-emphasized. 

Because language cannot be separated from culture, this makes indigenous language unique. People’s indigenous languages are part of that culture. Therefore, cultural 

context and intimacy with a culture will give a deeper meaning to the understanding of language and the circumstance in which it occurs will determine believability or sense of reality.

When development messages are communicated to people in their native tongues, it gives better understanding, assimilation and recall of such messages. 

By reducing ‘knotty terms’ of English language in development messages to 

indigenous language, the audience will grasp deep meanings of such messages”. 

All these issues raised by authors mentioned above are pointers to the fact that, though English is the official language, many people; broadcasters and the audience do not possess good command of English language and on many occasions misunderstand the message.

Translation and distortion

Translation is a process, in the media, whereby the language of a program is being encoded in another language to suit the interest of a certain audience.

Since English is the official language, some broadcasters prepare their scripts in English and such scripts are subsequently translated into other languages. This is evident the observation of seven radio stations, including Premier fm 93.5, Amuludun fm 99.1, Pensioners fm 106.7, Lagelu fm 96.3, Jamz FM 100.1, Oluyole FM 98.5 and NTA Ibadan, by this author.

It has been observed that various broadcast organisations refer to the same story in different ways with translators using different, but not always, synonymous words to describe various scenarios or people.One example can be found in the words armed robber and burglar which can be translated to mean “Adigunjale” and “Alonilowogba” in Yoruba. The word “thief” can be used for both words, but “burglar” cannot be used interchangeably with the word “armed robber”. 

Again, for the purpose of getting messages across to the grassroots, BBC introduced pidgin language,a mix of English and local languages to enable more effective communication. 

Research study by Athraa Kitab, in 2017, notes that messages may be distorted in the process of translation.

“Since translation takes place in someone’s brain, it’s inevitable   that   certain   personal   problems   are   likely   to distort the process. Unless one is completely objective in his handling of the message, it is easy for misconceptions about the nature of language, the task of the translator, and the ultimate purpose of the translation to skew the results” 

This fact-check is a republished article from Radio Nigeria Ibadan per our Dubawa 2020 Fellowship partnership with newsrooms and media organisations.

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