1.1       Background to the Study

A national language is a language (or language variant, i.e. dialect) which has some connection – defacto or dejure – with a peopled and perhaps by extension the territory it occupies. The term is used variously. A national language may for instance represent the national identity of a nation or country. National language may alternatively be a designation given to one or more languages spoken as first language in the territory of a country.

”National   language” and “official language” are best understood as two concepts or legal categories with ranges of meaning that may coincide, or may be intentionally separate. Obviously a stateless nation is not in the position to legislate an official language, but their language may be considered a national language.

Some languages may be recognized popularly as “national languages” while others may enjoy a high degree of official recognition. Some example of national languages that are not official languages include Cherokee, and Navajo (and other living Native American languages) Bamgbose, 1991).

In many African countries, some or all indigenous African languages are legally recognized as “national language” with official language” status being to the former colonial languages (English, French, Portuguese, or Spanish). Certain languages may enjoy government recognition or even status as official language in some countries while not in others. Besides the official English (standard Nigeria English), Nigeria recognizes three major or national languages. These are the big three, Hausa, Igbo and Yourba, each with some 20 million speakers or more.

Multilingualism is a sociolinguistic phenomenon that arises as a result of language contact. It is a situation in which two (i.e. bilingualism, specifically) or more languages operate within the same context. Factors such as political annexation, marital relation, economic transaction, cultural association, educational acquisition and religious affiliation bring about multilingualism. All these factors underpin the socio–political landscape of Nigeria today even though the combination of political annexation and economic transaction or exploitation originally brought the people referred to as Nigerians today in contact with the English people. The advent of the English colonialists in the 18th century brought about ‘linguistic imperialism’ a situation by which, according to Asne (1979) as cited in Fanilola (1988:89). “The minds and lives of the speakers of language are dominated by another language to the point where they believe that they can and should use only the foreign language when it comes to transactions dealing with the advanced aspects of life such as education philosophy, literature, government, the administration of justice”.

Through overt and covert means such as trade and commerce, educational, polices and ordinances, missionary activities, schools, literature, constitutions, jobs opportunities and political might, English    was successful entrenched in Nigeria. With the amalgamation of the northern and southern protectorates in 1914 came the needs, in a more crucial dimension to have a common tongue for the country. With the promotion of English in every stratum of national life, including nationalist  activities, arose the subjugation of about 450 Nigeria languages, the major ones of which include Hausa, Yoruba, Igbo, Fulani, kanuri, Ibibio, Tiv, Ijo, Edo Urhobo, Nupe, Idoma, just to mention a few.

When Nigeria attained her political independence, “linguistic imperialism” has to be sustained in the interest of the nation. This is because there was no indigenous language that could perform the function of English because of the mutual suspicion of, and ethnic consciousness among, virtually all Nigerians. Multilingualism which should be viewed   as an asset, an embodiment of the cultured diversity and linguistic enrichment of the country, became a liability and the popular attitude to it is that associated with the “the curse of babel”.

At the risk of being alleged to be aiding and abetting “linguistic imperialism” in some quarters, the incontrovertible truth about the state of the nation today, as it was yesterday, is that no indigenous language is acceptable to all Nigerians. The view presented by Nida and Wonderly (1971:65) is prevalent and correct till today. They content that “in Nigeria, there is simply no politically neutral language. In fact, the division into three major regions reflects the three language poles: Hausa, Yoruba, Igbo. The political survival of Nigeria as a country would even be more three languages were promoted by   the government as being the one national language.

The observation of Nida and Wonderly receive further justification in the submission of the fore most nationalist and prominent Nigeria, Chief Anthony Enahoro recently. Enahoro (2002:18-19) remonstrates the status quo constitutional recognition of even Hausa, Igbo, Yoruba. He contends that such official recognition is tantamount to brazen – faced discrimination and ipso facto is unacceptable. The illocutionary force of Enahoro’s views clearly reveals his attitudinal   disposition to the three major Nigeria languages. It further shows that whether we like it or not, call it ‘linguistic imperialism’, ‘colonial mentality’, ‘inferiority complex’ or pessimistic prognosis’, the fact remains that the English language will continue to triumph, and the language policy will continues to be a paper affair. To quote Enahoro at length is not superfluous or impertinent:

All the languages of Nigeria have equal validity, or if you please equal lack of validity, before the laws and under the constitution. No linguistic group has the right – the moral or constitutional right – to impose his (sic) language on any other linguistic group in the country. One might even go further to say that no collection of linguistic groups have the linguistic right to impose their separate language on the other linguistic groups in the country. Any attempt to impose any particular tribal language or language on the country is fraught with grave danger for the peaceful development of the federation. Government should not confer on some Nigeria languages the potentiality of instrument of domination over other Nigeria groups. Over one billions people speak chiriese and nearly one billions people speak hidi, yet it has never been suggested that these two mass languages should there fore be imposed on the rest of the would or that UNESCO should promote them as world languages in preference to English or Arabic.


1.2       Statement of the Problem

The term multilingualism may be used in the description of a nation, a group or an individual. A nation or a group (of speakers) that regularly uses more than two languages in communication national or group needs may be said to be multilingual.

The problem multilingualism in Nigeria is by far much felt in linguistic arena than in any other aspect of national life. The near chaotic linguistic situation created by multi-ethnicity in the country has adversely affected efforts made by initiate and effective language policy in the country and implement same. Initially, it is observed that majority of Nigerians speak their indigenous languages and at least one other language since English is the language of instruction in a in a large number of Nigeria schools.  English as the language of instruction in schools global importance of English, but at the same time, this situation makes it difficult for Nigerians to evolve an indigenous linqua-franca for the nation.

As a result of the intense inter – ethnic linguistic rivalry among different ethnic groups no single indigenous Nigeria language has emerged as a national language in the country. This issue of a national language for Nigeria has been politicized to such an extent that is has become a very delicate and sensitive matter.

Another problem that is observed as a result of the issue of multilingualism in Nigeria is that of disunity. Speakers within individual Nigeria languages. Tend to see each other as relations and friends particularly, outside economics and material issues. They tend to consider other as foreigners within the same country. Also, each Nigeria linguistic groups tends to see it self as superior to other     (Eka 2000) in Nigeria, the situation is quite complex, as it is seen in Elujbe (1990:11) for instance, the country is seen as being thoroughly multilingual, having between 394 and 400 languages which indicates that there are, (in one view point) more languages in Nigeria than some authorities have indicated. Bamgbose (1978:65) as shown above, has however tended to be 513. Of this number, the three large ethnic groups: Hausa, Yoruba, and ethnic groups found all over the country. Some of the 513 languages probably mutually intelligible.

In Jos area   for instance, we have Arabic, Hausa, Yoruba, Igbo, Birom, Jarawa, Angas, English – based pidgin and sometime French and other foreign languages. In Akwa Ibom State we have Ibibio, Ekid, Oron, Ibeno, Anaan, among others.

In addition to disunity there is the fear of dominance of one ethnic groups if choose as national language. Ethnicity rivalry or royalty, the language situation also discourages the development of indigenous Nigeria languages. In spite of the efforts of the national educational research and development of orthographies of the indigenous languages.It is against this background that the researcher seeks the prospects of the issue of the multilingualism in Nigeria.


1.3       Purpose of the Study

This research project is aimed at carrying out a library research on multilingualism in Nigeria as a bane of the National Language question the study will specifically address.

  1. Investigation in a the concept of multilingualism
  2. Examining the effect of multilingualism
  3. Problems of multilingualism in Nigeria
  4. Prospects of multilingualism in Nigeria


Originally posted on April 29, 2021 @ 2:23 pm

About Peter Lawson 2732 Articles
Peter Hezekiah Lawson (Sir Pee). The CEO of A reputable researcher, Web Developer, ICT Instructor and a publisher of many research works in Education.

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