Contemporary issues on yoruba nation and their antecedent security implications : Any hope for yoruba language and cultural rebirth ? BY Idris Oladiran Yahaya


If we were privileged to be alive during the period of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, we might still be contending till today among ourselves as regard the type of language used between the Duo.
An Arab man may not agree with Jew counterparts, likewise an English man might not take it lightly with a French man, why?
If this kind of argument ensued here in our country among the Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba. Honestly, it won’t take other tribes longer time to subdue us because we will adopt a foreign language called ENGLISH while the Hausa and Igbo will trade in their local languages, why?
The fact that Adam and Eve lived in the Garden of Eden can’t be disputed, (although Historians and Philosophers are still disputing the religion theory) but for the mere fact that the Duo language was not ascertained then, the Arab, Jew, English and French man will try to justify their position adequately that is why you could easily find their languages in the World map till today.

Our colonial masters supplanted our local languages with English and the Nation called Nigeria adopted that Language as our official language. Section 53 of the 1999 constitution of the federal Republic of Nigeria recognizes English as our official language. In the same country called Nigeria different languages were spoken and one out of the major languages is YORUBA language.
Is the language endangered? Does the language face the threat of total extinction in the next two decades like Roman Latin language?

The phenomenon of language death is real my fellow brothers and sisters, the phrase “language death” may sound stark and unwelcome, but its grappling muscles on the throats of the Yoruba language have terrible, unannounced and unnoticed suffocating effects.
From the above questions, the answer is far beyond saying either Yes or No

One may contend that the largeness of the percentage of the speakers of the Yoruba language cannot thwart the supplanted moves of the language endangerment. The only channel by which human beings abstract reality is language. Language affects the way we think or perceive our reality. If we allow our language to slip away from us because of the various trans-national structural revolutions going on in the world today in the name of globalization, we will begin to think anew, such newness affects our reality and this lead to endangerment. One of such endangerment, a very important complement to our environment, is language endangerment. Moreover, the present reality in the world today is the rapid endangerment and death of many languages, at the extreme end of language endangerment are language Attrition and language death.


It is said that only 600 of the 6,000 or more languages in the world are safe from the threat of extinction. The Nigeria situation is quite alarming because both population and language endangerment complement each other. We want to opine that in the next twenty-five years, most of the languages in Nigeria would be gone. Yoruba is one of the languages in Nigeria. Is the language endangered? Does the language face the threat of total extinction in the next two decades, how many languages will remain in the whole world? English, French, Arabic, German, Chinese, Jewish and Yoruba?

This paper intends to examine the possible answer to the question posed by the title. Language death is real. Is the Yoruba language at the point of death? Apparently why and how will it die? Can anything be done? I shall try to provide some illustrational analysis while answering the questions.


The Yoruba belongs to the West Benue-Congo of the Niger-Congo phylum of African languages { Williamson and Blench 2000:31}. Apart from Nigeria with about 30million Yoruba speakers, Yoruba is still spoken in Togo, Republic of Benin, Ghana, Sudan, Sierra-Leone and Cote D’Ivoire. Outside Africa, a great number of speakers of the language are in Brazil, Cuba, including Trinidad and Tobago. Yoruba is regarded as one of the major languages of Nigeria. The effective speakers of the language in the country are about 35% of the country’s total population. According to the International African Institute [1980:60], the Yoruba language “is used by the media i.e Press, Radio and Television. It is also used as a language of formal instruction in the primary school, in the secondary school and post-secondary level [including University]; it is a curriculum subject. It has a standard “orthography”. The Yoruba language occupies a privileged place within the entire range of African studies. A relatively abundant literature exists on the language both in the EUROPEAN language and YORUBA language itself.


The Yoruba language is in contact with many other language groups in Nigeria and in some African countries; so it has several exonyms [outside names] likes Yariba, Yorubawa, Anago, Lukumi and Aku.
It is very disheartening to note that the number of enrolment for Yoruba language is very poor at our universities nowadays. Even the common Yoruba books and literature books of yesterday are hardly found in our modern day bookshop. The memories of those books still occupy a considerable space in our heart but what of our growing children?
Books like
[a] Asa ati Orisa Ile Yoruba
[b] Ogboju Ode ninu igbo irunmole
[c] Aditu Olodumare
[d] Olowo laye mo
[e] Won Rope Were Ni
To mention a few, has no significant value in the face of our growing children. What kind of legacy is this?
Can we even find among this present generation, people of a well sound Yoruba background like J.I Odunjo, Alagba Faleti and D.O. Fagunwa? To mention a few, if not, we have a distance journey to cover.



As impressive as the output outlined above for the Yoruba languages, it has not however been without its dark corners. The most serious is Language Death. Although, a language only dies when nobody speaks it anymore, Yoruba is yet to die even though people are still speaking it. But the threat of extinction is still solidly there. How?
[1] Potentially Endangered, [2] Endangered [3] Seriously Endangered [4] Moribund [5] Extinct.
Classified on the third level highlighted above, i.e seriously endangered, the reasons are not farfetched, they will be enumerated shortly. Meanwhile, the gap that exists between the third, fourth and fifth levels are too fine and thereby become inconsequential. In other words, the last three levels are only cover ups for language death. Any language that crosses the lines of either being potentially endangered or endangered is already passed into limbo of time, Such a language may continue to have existence in a recorded form but has still no fluent speakers. Fluency here is quite pivotal and calculative necessary to prove either the livingness or deadness of such language. Whereas one could easily take the largeness of the number of speaker of a language as away –out of slipping into the last deadly level models of language status. Language with large number of speakers like Yoruba can nonetheless be in danger, Brezinger [1998:93] had earlier noted this when he said “even Yoruba, with 20million speakers, has been “deprived” because of the way it has come to be dominated by English language in Higher Education. Moreover, the suppressive effects of English over the Yoruba language and other Nigerian Languages are too overwhelming and Suicidal. Bamogbose [1997:22] also notes this by saying that the “ endangered languages come to be used progressively less and less throughout the community, with some of the functions they originally performed; either dying out or gradually being supplanted by the other languages e.g Yoruba less use in Educational, Political and other public situation because its roles have been taken over by the English. Such languages have been called deprived. Here, the issue of decline is stressed: Yoruba language is not just vulnerable to decline, but on verge of Extinction.


There are both remote and immediate causes responsible for the threat of serious endangerment staring the Yoruba language in the face.
There are many factors that are not natural phenomenon which are responsible;
[a] Family Identity.
This takes the pattern of sign and symbol adopted within the family and use as a common identity among the family members. The family’s compound name is also a common identity. Sadly enough, the family’s identity has largely disappear ,the issue of sign or symbol has to some extent been replace or rather was not given priority again while that of names has been eroded away by the craziness of religion zeal, imagine Ifasemilore and Ifaferanmi being replace by Oluwaferanmi and Oluwasemilore respectively.
However, names that suggests an origin in Yoruba are endless such as Ogunkoya, Ogundeji, Onofowokan, Ogunsakin, Ayandele, Aborisade, Sangodeji, Ifayemi , Awosina, Esubiyi and Anobusuyi. In the same vein, there are some names that take a uniform pattern from Heaven in Yoruba culture such as Twins [Taiwo and Kehinde], Idowu , Ojo and Ige, people in this category came into this world with their names. Some subplanted by foreign religions such as Yahaya, Idris, Hassan, Suleiman, Isaac Daniel Samson Michael etc.
[b] Family Eulogy.
Today, hardly you find a Yoruba man or a woman with a memorized Eulogy of his family. Even among the family house wives the trend seems to be faded away. The dancing and singing that are always accorded this has suffered a tremendous setback and as such priority is not given the family Eulogy again.
[c] Dressing Pattern: Aso Atijo
It is very painful to note that apart from the lists of clothes such as Gbariye, Dandogo, Agbada, Sapara Dansiki, Buba,Bante,Kenbe, Gbariye, Abeti-ajah ,Biri and Nangudu that we have then, how many of them still in use now, again how many competent Tailors still exists today with knowledge of sowing let alone to catalogue it for the public to see. It is regrettably that the dressing pattern is not fashionable anymore among the present generation.
[d] Women plaits- Irun didi atijo.

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The outlook of olden days women plaits is a symbol of friendship and as well promote the culture of Yoruba land, the lists are endless such as, Ipako elede, korokoso, patewo, suku, moremi and layipo but the records today shown that China and America fashion braids has replace the olden days type and to a large extent those pattern name above has gradually been eroded away and larger percentage of our stylists are not trained to promote this.
[c] Animals and Birds Name.
The name of birds and animals like Odidere, Efon, Agburin and many more could not be easily identify by men and women of Yoruba descent anymore.The Hunters functions/activities is not widely promoted like before again and as such it has a negative effect in promoting the culture of Yoruba land.

Likes of Baata drum, Gongan, Ilu- Egunmo, Omele and Iya-ilu and many more were not primarily design for only social functions alone. Many of the present generation nowadays didn’t have much knowledge about the functionality of the drums and as such it has a negative impact on Yoruba culture. Some of this drums also perform certain functions.
The age-long Yoruba prohibition of “vernacular” is still firmly operational in a large percentage of Yoruba elite homes. The children must learn and always speak ENGLISH. Apparently, Yoruba still exists in Nigeria today because of high-level of illiteracy. If we have a low percentage of illiteracy,, the language will be gone. Parents want their children to speak and learn English. Whereas, language gives us the ability to think differently and to retain our mentality. Total abandonment of the Yoruba language brings total dislocation and loss of identity. Some basic aspects of the Yoruba, especially different forms of greetings, are now completely foreign to many elite families.
[a] Eku afemoju o -{ Early Morning greetings}
[b] Kaaro, o jire bi -{ Morning greetings}
[c] Eku iyale ta o -{ Mid –day greetings}
[d] E’ kaasan o -{ Afternoon greetings}
[e] E’ ku irole o -{ Evening form of greetings
[f] E’ kale o -{ Night- fall greetings}
Some elite find all these greeting forms unnecessary and time wasting. Instead of these, a simple greeting pattern- Hi/Hello is preferable. The children too imbibe their parents’ attitude, their personalities then become not only divided, but also totally shattered; they become localized foreigners.

The negative negligence and negligible use of Yoruba by the elite, has spilling over effects on Yoruba as a discipline. The language is a curriculum subject at all levels of education in Nigeria. But how many children of the elite do go to the university to study Yoruba as a discipline? If it is not zero percent, it will not exceed 0.999%.
At the same time, a greater number of the elites’ children do go to study English or French or German in the university. According to Krauss [1992:4], “languages which are no longer being learned as a mother tongue by children are moribund” Therefore, that the Yoruba language will become moribund, is just a matter of some little distant years.

It will sound paradoxical if we intend that the present high level of illiteracy in Nigeria should be sustained. Its sustainability seems to aid the Yoruba language while combating the threat of extinction. Nevertheless, that the literacy level should be high does not mean that the indigenous languages like Yoruba must die.


This factor directly relates to the attitude of the elites. Among the elites in Nigeria, the ultimate reasons for embarking on any educational discipline are financial inducement and economic well-being of the person pursuing such a discipline. Anything outside these pursuits is worthless. As a result going to a tertiary institution to obtain a degree in the Yoruba language is not considered lucrative. Job opportunities for degree holders in the Yoruba language are too narrow in scope. As of now, such graduates can only either work as teachers in higher and lower schools, or as mass media practitioners. A fragile number of the degree holders in the language do find their ways into the so-called big money spinning commercial ventures like institutions, telecommunication, banks and oil companies. Nevertheless, in today’s globalized village, the major dictate of the trans-national global market economic policy is self-reliance. A greater number of the elites will never permit their children to study Yoruba as a discipline because of the lack of financial self reliance. To them, therefore, of what use is the language if it cannot meet the dictates of the global economy. If anything, this assertion is again strongly responsible for the endangerment of the Yoruba language.
Presently, if we take any market setting of buying and selling in Yoruba land into consideration, the traditional Yoruba knowledge of some market transactions vocabulary is completely gone. For instance, words like:
[a] Eni in Yoruba language means [a discount] in English
[b] Aarun in Yoruba language means [Every five days] in English.
[c] Eele in Yoruba language means [Interest] in English
Just to mention a few, have virtually disappeared, and taken over by English loan words. So, there is an alarming increase in the amount in the amount of code switching and code mixing among the people.

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6.0 Conclusively
In Yoruba language, God is upholds in a very prime position and his attribute are countless and incomparable, his names has no rivals such as; Olodumare, Ele-dua, Olorun and Kabi-o’osi. The Yoruba people believe in God and worship him in a highest standard before the advent of both Christianity and Islam.
The arrivals of Christianity and Islam within our domain hurriedly replace the tempo of those names such that Muslims will prefer to call God as ALLAH while the Christians will also call him JESUS.
Kudos to late Bishop Ajayi Crowther who translated Bible to Yoruba language and the Islamic Scholars lead by late Al-sheik Adam Al-Ilory who also translated Quran into Yoruba language.
Jealously, this wonderful effort connotes that, there is a language call Yoruba.
If the Yoruba races are not too much in hurry to abandon everything for religions and something else, the story might be different today in terms of Governance and development.
The Tokugawa and Shogunate Dynasty in Japan existed between 1600 and 1868 and did everything possible to protect the interest of the Japanese citizens and the generation yet unborn from the influx of foreign languages and religions.
They consolidate on their local power and strengthening their local language. The efforts of those days were manifested in their Technological development and Technological transfer.
Indian as a country was colonized by Britain and got their independent like we did. They stuck to their local language and developed it to a standard where there are leading in the area of Information Technology today.
China followed suit around the period, today China’s economy is arguably the biggest in the world with Chinese as the official language.
Israelis too developed the Jewish language and banked on it. Today, either anybody likes it or not Israel is a World power to be reckoned with, no student of history or international relations & strategic studies will query my assertion.
Peugeot Assembly Plant in Kaduna, Volkswagen Assembly Plant along Badagry road Lagos and Leyland Assembly Plant in Ibadan, Oyo state was a s a result of technological transfer. French developed Peugeot, Germans developed Volkswagen while Leyland [Land rover] was developed by Britons and none of these countries ever abandoned their local language for something else. The Chinese also embrace their local language and spring up rapidly in terms of Technology development and Technology Transfer.
My brothers and sisters nothing like technological transfer without mother language. The countries mentioned above are enough to prove me right.
Where is PAN in Kaduna today, Leyland in Ibadan & Volkswagen in Lagos? All gone with technological transfer.
The European Union was formed as a result of political and economic consideration of their members’ state. In 1999, a monetary union was established and came into full force in 2002 with Nineteen [19] member states which use the Euro currency.
Despite accepting a common currency standard each [19] member states speaks their own language.
I will not be comfortable without asking my audience of where are the artistic/metal works of olden days?
Skilfully our fore-fathers developed Aso-ofi, Arrow(Ofa) and Ile-Ife Bronze just to mention a few
[a] Did our fore-fathers consulted foreigners for developing it?
[b] Do we consolidating on their previous efforts?
[c] Then who is to be blame?
Interestingly, former and present World leading countries never jettisoned their local language such that;
France- speaks French language
German- speaks Dutch language
Russia- speaks Russian language
Britain-speaks British version of English
USA- speak America version of English while China speaks the Chinese language.

Honestly speaking, why is Yoruba race abandoning their language and culture for anything foreign?
Imagine this beautiful chorus in Yoruba language [Our national Pledge]
– Mo jeje fun orile-ede mi Nigeria
– Lati je olotito ati olododo
– Ati lati fi ara mi sin Nigeria
– Late gbe iyi ati ogo-re ga
– Ki oluwa ki o ran mi lowo .
It is my candid opinion that Yoruba nation need to retrace our history.
I rest my case for now.
Thank you for listening.


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