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Human Beings are social animals and language is an instrument of the society which is acculturated into a given society. Through the instrumentality of language, man identifies and make finding about his environment.

Thus, language, in the hand of man preserves, conserves, transmits and appropriates functions and does so across space and time, thereby enabling him to overcome those physical limitations to human endeavours and achievements.

Armed with his linguistic tool, man appropriates all that others before him have acquired, persuades and convince others to his line of reasoning and action, deceives and dominates others, controls his entire environment and exploits whatever is found therein, and also achieves as much as it is within his capacity.

The problems of man’s development and growth become increasingly complex and intricate when the individual is not monolingual and mono-cultural. The failure of any development programme becomes greater and more dismal when the individual has got to operate within a multilingual and multi-cultural community. It is these problems which Nigeria encounters as a result of her multilingual and multi-cultural composition that this research intends to highlight. At the end of the exercise solutions will be proffered in order to help solve the challenges we have as country.


Inspite of all efforts to unite and develop society such as Nigeria politically, economically and socially, the state remains an under developed state. This is due to her multilingual and multicultural nature. Language pluralism has generated a lot of problems in the state. Prominent among them include;

The communication gap between the various people, each sees his own language as important, thus creating an impediment to commerce and industry. A warped sense of nationhood whereby genuine unity becomes difficult due to suspicion as various ethnic groups pursue selfish and sectional interests. Picking a national language that is acceptable to the people therefore, becomes difficult.

1.2       HYPOTHESIS

The hypotheses of study are

(a)     Language is a hindrance to national unity

(b)        Language is an instrument for National development

(c)        How is language diversity a deciding factor toward national development?


The aim of the research is to discover the effect of linguistic plurality in a given multi-ethnic society like Nigeria, particularly in Nasarawa State where I live and the University of Abuja where I school. It  also intends to prove the success or failure of any society. And if language diversity has helped in national growth and development, such as economic, social, political, religious growth, and educational advancement of mankind. The study also hopes to attempt in resolving the issue of “lingua Franca”


The scope of the research is on the use of language to achieve national development especially in a multilingual environment which is delimited to the sociolinguistics of language and society.


The importance of this study is that it will showcase how to promote ethnic harmony among all linguistically and ethnically diverse communities in Nigeria. The study is also significant because it will contribute to many of the existing works in this regard especially for both academic and social utilization respectively. It is also significant because it will provide the picture of the issue in question from the perspective of a university community.


The methodology of the research is empirical in nature, in which the researcher intends to administer questionnaire as well as an observation within the chosen area of the study being University of Abuja, FCT

The respondents to be administered with the questionnaire are selected through single random selection method of one out of every ten respondents in the delimited areas of the research.




The inadequate level of attention that has often been given to the language situation in Nigeria tends to reflect on the level of general development. Nigeria is one of the countries with the largest number of indigenous languages. This situation should be seen as blessings rather than a curse. Contrary to this expectation, countries of this nature has rather turned into ethnic and religious struggles.

Considering the multilingual and cultural differences, the issue, of adopting an indigenous national language in Nigeria is described as complex in reality. The relevance of language to development of any society cannot be over emphasized.Developmentcannot be achieved in any society unless the linguistics reality of such a society is put into play.

It is evident that different languages in Nigeria coexisted in peace before the advent of the colonial masters which brought together the diverse socio-cultural, backgrounds into one fold through the amalgamation of Nigeria in 1914. This act resulted into the imposition of English language as an official language in Nigeria Adenipekun, (2010).

In reality, there are two possible reasons that neglect language issues. The first reason is that development is often conceived of in a rather narrow turn to the calculation of the Gross Domestic Product and Gross National Product and other economics metrics of income.

The consequence of this quantitative approach to development are that economic indicators are often erroneously equated with national development and societal well-being. In this narrow sense, the role of language in national development may rather be seen as a bit too marginal to be taken into reality.The second challenge is why the language issue has not featured well in Nigeria’s development discourse. This is as a result of the nature and role of language in the society which is often completely misunderstood. Probably, it may be from the irresponsible declarations of some Nigeria writers and intellectuals. However, Nigerian languages can be used for effective expressions, irrespective of the diverse cultural situation.

Contesting all these positions and challenges, this chapter therefore reviews the concept of “Multilingualism” and other concepts relevant to the topic of the research. It covers; Meaning of Language, Characteristics of Language, Strengths and Weakness of Language Diversity, National Development, National Language and Theoretical Framework.


Language is considered to be a system of communicating with people using sounds, symbols and words in expressing a meaning, idea or thought. Language can be used in many forms, primarily through oral and written communications as well as using expressions through body language.Manyanimals and even plant species communicate with each other. Humans are not unique in this capability.

Language is the means by which man communicates his thoughts and ideas. It is man’s most efficient means of communication it is central and most integral to humanity and as AdegbijiAdesoji (1989) puts it, … “lt is the skin in which aspirations are couched, the skin of thought and the flesh of the mind.” (3) That means language as we can see, is a double edged sword capable of keeping a people together as well as tearing them apart.Languageis therefore both a uniting and disuniting force.According to Bloch Bernard and Trager George (1942) “Language is a system of arbitrary vocal symbols by means of which a social group cooperates’ this definition stresses the unifying function in the society. (5)

To William Labov (1968), language is the institution whereby humans communicate and interact with another by means of habitually oral auditory symbols. (158)Sapir cited in David (2008)

Language is purely human and non-instructive method of communicating ideas, emotions and thoughts by the means of the system of voluntarily produced symbols. (4)

That is, everyday use of language involves several different senses. At its most specific level, it may refer to the concrete act of speaking emotional and thought in a given situation language, however, is a distinctively human system of communication, based on oral and written symbols. It is a Pan-human development a behavoural aspect of human beings which serves as a point of differentiation from animals.

Sweet, cited in Obisakin, (1993) describes language as the expression of ideas by means of speech sounds combined into words. Words are combined into sentences. This combination answering to that of ideas into thought. (17)

Aristotle, cited in Obisakin (1993)

Language is the universal code ofcommunication that fosters exchange

and expression of thoughts feelings andideas among humans (17)

On his part, Obisakin, (1993) defines language as a mode of expression, a manner of expressing thought or feeling which make communication possible (18)

Harold (1981) sees language as the medium through which thoughts are conveyed from one person to another.

TrudgillPeter (1974) argues that:

Language is not simply a means of communicating information about the weather or any other subject It is also very important means of establishing and maintaining relationships between other people (Pp16)

Atchison cited in Yusuf (2006) describes language as

a patterned system of arbitrary sound symbols, whose characteristic features of displacement,            cultural transmission, productivity and duality are rare or absent in animal communication (106)

Although, language is a means of communication yet it is not secondary to It but equally important, Kenneth Kaye, an American paediatrician views language as a vital tool for communication.

Language does not exist merely for the sakeof naming things, nor does it exist for the sake of propositions about the world. It consists of interpersonal communication about shared and sharable intentions.Communication, which is a social need, an economic requirement and a political necessity, is partly achieved through language It may be difficult to precisely communicate ideas without a vocal language, as it may be difficult to achieve development without communication. Hence language is the basis instrument for any recordable development


By characteristic of language we mean the peculiar features or properties by which language can be identified, and how language is seen as away or a medium of communication, Harold (1981) clarified the characteristics of language as follows

2.3.1    Language is a System of Speech Sound

Language is primarily a speech act. One of the basic features of all human language is vocalization that is, production of meaningful organized “noise” or sound verbalization or talking is therefore a feature of all human language. In fact, language can even be seen as “the speech of man” different from other systems of communications.

2.3.2    It is Acquiredfrom Childhood

Another important characteristic of every human language is that it is acquired as the child grows from childhood to adulthood. It is an acquired behaviour from generation to generation, in other word, language behaviours has to be acquired, although researches have proved that humans are born with innate ability to learn any language without being taught. The belief is that nobody is born with the ability to speak a particular language. For example, no child has the ability from birth to learn Hausa language.

2.3.3    Language is Dynamic

Like all other aspects of human culture, language is subject to change. Our material culture like tools, utensils, cloths, does change with time. The non-materials aspects like language will also vary from one generation to another. Change should be seen therefore as a general attributes of all language In other words, all languages are creative and openended New words come into being and some die out Thus language indeed is dynamic, this change is sometimes fast or slow, radical or superficial but it goes on all the time.

2.3.4. It is Conventional

All human languages are codified. They have a code, a kind of unspoken or unwritten public agreement by the community which uses the language that certain things should be done in certain ways. In other words, every language has grammar. Grammar here is used to mean the description of the ways in which the language uses patterns of structure to convey meaning. The essence of language is communication, that is, communication cannot take place where everybody insists on using his own arbitrary names for things, objects or ideas. Every language therefore, must have a code that is acceptable and meaningful to all users of that language.

2.3.5  It is Complex and Systematic

Every human language is complex and systematic. Every language has very complicated yet systematic multiple structures to enable it communicate infinite number of messages made up of a small number of vocal signals.

Human language is also unique in the sense that it has its own structure, its own system of organizing its component units, into a meaningful pattern. In other words, there are rules governing the organization of sentences such as rule of tense and concord.Language as a social phenomenon.  Thus, it is considered in the social context as the basic ingredient of social interaction, however, the importance of communication to human has however been emphasized by American writer Paul Goodman……. “Speaking is a commitment not only to a human relationship with the one spoken to, but also to the existence of the thing spoken about.

2.4       Multilingualism (Language Diversity)

Multilingualism is taken to mean the same with language diversity. Multilingualism or language diversity is sociolinguisticallyused to describe situation where two or more languages exist within the bounds of one society.Elugbe Ben (1990) says multilingualism        involves balanced, native-like command of all the languages in the repertoire is rather uncommon.         It is a purely sociolinguistic and socio-cultural phenomenon in which more than one language exists in society.

The term given to the linguistic situation where two or more languages co-exist within the bounds of one society, or are kept in constant contact by politically and economically determined interest (p170-176).

In line with the above definition, Akindele Femi and Adegbite Wale (1992) see Nigeria as a typical example of a multilingual and a diverse society. According to them, Nigeria is made up of “more than 250 ethnic groups, with a conservative estimate of languages, each with its culture and behavioural pattern”. Despite a recent history of tribal rivalry among some of the ethnic groups, they all continue to exist within the bounds of the country. Based on this argument they conclude that Nigeria is therefore a multilingual and multi-cultural speech community where, apart from the different indigenous languages, there are foreign languages and cultures such as English, French and even Latin (the CatholicChurch Hymns).

Since ethnic lines follow linguistic diversity, the great variety of languages in Nigeria tends to suggest that Nigeria is an assembly of ethnic nationalities.

It is in recognition of Nigeria’s multilingual and multi-ethnic nature and attendant problems that a veteran Nigeria nationalist, late Chief ObafemiAwolowo, advocated strict federation for Nigeria and highlighted the linguistic factor in shaping the federal structure. (16-17)

Dada (2001) quotes Awolowo further:

“We are not only diverse in language and in racial affinity, but we are also diverse in manner of our political evolution, there was not that political cohesion in our relationship, and there was no relationship of a political type between all the ethnic groups and linguistic groups in the country until the European came.” (4)

Scholars and language researchers working within the field of inter-group relations and speech variations have their own opinions’ and views about language and ethnicity. Fishman (1977) and Giles (1980) contend very strongly that language plays a dominant role in inter-group and ethnic relation. They assert that it is expected that members of an ethnic-group seeking social and psycholinguistic distinctiveness will invariable accentuate the ethnic marketers in  their speech by exhibiting remarkable speech “divergence” Instead of “convergence” in a similar VIEW, lfeinKlevian (1979) further confirms the interrelation between language and ethnic identity, He observes that members of any speech community that share one common language usually have a feeling of belonging to a particular ethnic group and all other speech communities with whom direct linguistic communication is not possible are automatically regarded as aliens.

Ogbulogo (1991) views language diversity as a result of multiple languages which Nigeria has and he further says that with the diversity of language, it has brought unity to our country, because a Yoruba man, who is from the western part of the country, can be accepted in the eastern part because of his ability of speaking their language. He further says that Nigeria could be a very great country, in any way some persons have described her as the “United States of Africa” This is no exaggeration, but often seems appropriate as a description of her potentials in terms of resources, Nigeria is potentially one of the greatest countries in the world The resources of men, languages, materials and money are sufficient to place her among the top twenty nations of the world.Unfortunately, she is not tapping her potentials. This is because among other problems such as indiscipline, Nigeria has language problems which have dwarfed and drowned her progress. This negative aspect of Nigeria is well brought out by Professor Tamuno,

Tekenathe former Vice-Chancellor of the University of lbadan in his valedictory address;Kayode (1987)

“From one Institution to another, from one sector of our national activities to another, from one community to another, we observe this pathetic phenomenon all things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small, all things wise and wonderful, Nigeria kills them all,”(1)

On Nigeria multilingual problems, Adejo(2002)        in “Journal of faculty of Arts Seminar Series” BSU, MakurdiVol 1, reviews Adam (2002).. ……

“God in His infinite Wisdom made our dear country a rain-bow collection of tribes and tongues. The rainbow in the sky is a thing of beauty. But we seem blind to the beauty in our rainbow collection of tribes and tongues. Instead, we find mutual suspicion, hate and fear in other tongue and tribes. Consequently several parts of our country are today convulsed in inter and intra-ethnic conflicts leading to loss of lives as well as the destruction of private and public property. The gun is beginning to rule and ruin our country” (248)

Indeed, the gun is beginning to rule and ruin our country as past and present ethnic crisis have shown, for example, the Nigerian-Biafra War, Plateau and Nasarawa and the subsequent invasion of Benue State by Nigerian Army in 2001. The Udi problem and other ethnic Militias disturbances, OduaPeoples Congress (OPC), ljaw-Egbesu, and lgbo’sBakass, Boys are all signs of inherent tension in the polity.

2.4.1 Plurality (Origin)There are many myths and theories on the origin of plurality and some are discussed below.

One of the earliest accounts of the origin of language plurality is the Biblical story of the “tower of Babel” According to this myth as captured in Genesis Chapter II, verse I – 9, the whole world at that time had only one language. The people then decided to build a tower that would reach up to heaven, but this did not please the Lord who reasoned that because the people had a common language, it was easy for them to join together to do anything they wanted to. In terms of modern political thinking maybe they could even have attempted a coup detat so the Lord decided to confound their language and scatter them all over the face of the earth.Bamgbose, Ayo (1994).

The second account of the origin of language diversity is captured by Karl Marx and Fasold Engels (1949). In their work entitled “The origin of the family, private property and the State”, Engels lays down the three stages in the development of man: savagery, barbarism and civilization.(6)

Describing the lower stage in the development of human society vagery (the infancy of the human race), Engels points out that the formation of articulate speech was the main achievement of the period. The era of barbarism followed, when more progress was made in production than in all the previous stages put together. The emergent tribes came within this period.

Under the tribal system, language was closely connected with the tribe, the highest organizational unit of which the members were aware of their mutual kingship. Engels points out that “infact, tribe and dialects are substantially coextensive” and the tribe is identifiable by its peculiar dialect.

At this stage there also came a rapid increase of the population and dense population in small areas. In quest of a living, the tribesmen had to go to other grey able and pasture lands. Those sections that have severed relations with their tribe eventually began to speak a bit different from their former kinsmen This split in tribes led to splits in their languages (9-12).


Since Nigeria is a diverse state in terms of language and culture, a language in a diverse society like “Nigeria” also performs both administrative and official needs. Where people working together even though they are not of the same ethnic background, but because of the speaking of other languages which is not their own, they can communicate without using English language.

Language diversity brings unity, increase awareness, it foster understanding and encourages partnership both economically and politically.

The first problem of language diversity is that, it kills indigenous language, it causes regional variations in language, it destroys the tendencies of Lingua Franca and there will be no ethnic unity. When a society has many languages and dialects like the tower of Babel, mutual understanding becomes very difficult. This has been one of the causes of bitterness and suspicion in almost every part of Nigeria, as what one says, is often misinterpreted and misunderstood by his neighbours It also breeds faviouritsm, nepotism, tribalism and other social ills which will result to disunity, because many in Nigeria have the propensity to favour their own linguistic group No wonder, it is a common place to see and hear people greeting an occupant of an office in their native language in an attempt to win favour.


Recent events across Nigeria’s geo-political zones have shown anIncrease in ethnic agitations activism and militancy. The ethnic minorities in the multi-ethnic Nigerian nation have suddenly found fresh zeal to express their long standing grievances. National development is one of the improvement in a country, is an umbrella term which is used to mean a situation where we can adequately utilize our diverse resources.

Most times, it could be natural or human resources with the aim of benefiting things. It is a situation where people have the resource at their disposal to have a meaningful development, the people may be from different cultural backgrounds with diverse language and different values sentiments are put aside in a bid to work together towards the national development for the betterment and growth of their economy.

Scholars in the field of language have variously defined development, and one of such definitions is that which sees it “as economic growth and social change” Opubor (1985) views development in human society as a many sided process. At the individual’s level, it implies increased skill and capacity, greater freedom, creativity, self discipline, responsibility and material well being.

The achievement of any of those aspects of personal development is very much tied to the state of the society as a whole. That means national development has much to do with how people are united in a country.

Economic development is an improvement in material welfare,  especially for persons with the lowest incomes the eradication of mass poverty with its correlates of illiteracy Kindleberger and Herrick, (1977). And in social development, we see how it has improved the social wellbeing of the citizen especially as a nation. Although, national development used to be measured in terms of increase in the Gross Domestic Products (GDP) of a country.Emphasisis now placed on the content of the GDP as well as other indicators of the quality of life to see how and whether our economy has increased or decreased such indicators. Manley, (1991), summarizes development as constitutes about development as it has to do with the development of the productive forces. It has to do with the harnessing of those forces to build viable societies. National development rangesfrom growth in areas of politics, economy, science and technology, education, health and securityand also the aspect of language.

Language plays an important role in national development as it fosters understanding, unity and sense of belonging among the various members of the different ethnic and social groups that constitute a nation.

Language development is a multi-disciplinary field that has as its central question how is language learnt because language is highly complex yet universally acquired; the answer to this question has profound implications for understanding the essential nature of the human mind.


Writing on the importance of a national language in the educational development of a nation, Umaru .B. Ahmed in his article entitled: “the cultural content in Nigeria Education: The Language Curriculum in Ekeh Peter and Ashiwaju, G. (ed), Panel on Nigeria since independence History Project (1989) quotes SekouToure, the late President of Guinea as saying that:

The use of national language is the most efficient means to make it educationally operative         the use of national language makes it possible to extend education to all people. (32)

Similarly, he quotes Babs Fafunwa, a onetime Minister of Education in Nigeria as saying:It is universally accepted except in most African countries that a child learns best in his mother tongue and that mother tongue is natural to him as the mother’s milk. (32)

It is in line with this belief that the education of the child is meaningless without his mother tongue that the federal government of Nigeria came out with some pronouncements as evidenced in the National Policy on Education. According to (NPE 1989), the government appreciates the importance of language in the educational process and as a means of preserving the people’s culture. (19)

A nation without a language of its own will lose its self-respect in the eye of the world. If this is anything to go by, then Nigeria should be the most respected country in the world, because of her many languages for a nation to function properly she has to choose a national language, this is what Nigeria has failed to do since independence because of her multilingual and multi-ethnic composition. The mechanisms for implementing national policy on education are only sound, their successes are unrealistic in the face of multiple languages to choose, secondly, the use of all the languages simultaneously is not possible, thirdly, if the choice is easy to make in the rural areas, it is

not possible to do that in urban centers because of the multilingual nature of the society that reflects in the society that reflects in the urban schools population.In the face of this dilemma, coupled with the reflection of colonial English, many Nigerians have proposed Pidgin English as an alternative, but pidgin has its own problems. For one, it lacks standardization ordinarily, the pidgin spoken in Lagos has a Yoruba flavour, while that of Enugu differs from that of Kaduna according to Akinyele, R. F. (2000), DejiOlaiya’s love for “pidgin English” once compelled him to compile and publish “A Dictionary of Broken English in 1995. But while reviewing it, TaiwoAmodu, the reviewer said “the text, though enduring, generates some linguistic puzzles”.

Also in 1982, one Mr. Alex Igbineweka of the Nigeria Television Authority (NTA) Lagos, invented an artificial language called GUOSA and hastily recommended it for Nigeria in his belief, that GUOSA could redeem the nation from oppression, tribalism, sectionalism and hatred, Punch 22nd October, 1982. But an expert opinion suggest that the energy expended on “GUOSA” was misdirected, Bamgbose (1985). The observation is thatGUOSA is an amalgamation of words of existing language and that the author fails to indicate that each time we want to form new sentence or pronounce words, we have to run helter skelter, looking for Mr. lgbineweka, the language originator.

In the language debate of 1977, Wole Soyinka also suggested “Swahili” as the lingua franca for Africa during the festival of Arts and Culture for Black Africa (FESTAC). His argument was that since “Swahili” is not associated with any ethnic group in Nigeria, the danger of ethnic domination is automatically eliminated Bamgbose, (1985) has observed that the superimposition of the proposal is not compatible with the idea of policy of education in mother tongue (100). It is also in the belief that Nigeria would not make any meaningful strides without adoption of an indigenous language, or national official language that calls .have also been made by more Nigerians to adopt one. In the National House of Assembly, debate of 21 November, 1961 M. Al-batanYerima, called on the federal government to introduce Hausa, Yoruba and lgbo and other languages into institutions of learning with a view to adopting one of them as a national official language. The motion was seconded by Mr. G. D. O. Eneh who stressed the role of a national language in promoting harmony in “multilingualand multicultural society”. The same consideration encouraged M D. N. Orosanye and Baba Shehu Ibrahim to propose the adoption of Hausa as a language of unity. But these parliamentarians had hardly finished the proposal when opposition reared its ugly head. The minority ethnic members of the House feared that the majority ethnic groups were planning to dominate the country. Chief Anthony Enahoro, a minority champion vehemently condemned the majority of the proposal extolled the value of English language as a unifying factor.

2.8       THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK.            .

In linguistics, different approaches are used in the study of language. Those approaches include the functional approach, systemic approach, traditional approach and the socio-linguistic approach.

We believe that no one framework can be ideal to a study such as this. Thus, much as we may want to adopt an ecleptic approach to this research, we are however better placed to accommodate or use the ethnography of communication theory whose main proponent is Dell Hymes (Babatunde and Adeyanju, n.d.)

According to Dell Hymes (in Babatunde and Adeyanju, n.d. the ethnography of communication theory is:

how the conventions of language use relate to other aspects of social behaviour. It refers to a speaker’s knowledge of what variety of language to use in what situation, how to vary style with the audience addressed, when to speak or remain silent, when and what kinds of gesture are required with what speech.  P(32)

Furthermore, looking at the theory, we would see that language and culture are inseparable, they are interwoven. This of course, is the major preoccupation of this field of sociolinguistic, to which this theory is one among others that are used to discuss sociolinguistic findings (see Babatunde Shola and Adeyanju,  Dele(ed)(527 —534).

According to Babatunde Shola andAdeyanju Dele(ed): (2002) the ethnography of communication theory revolves around the various factors that affect speaking a language in an ethno-linguistically diverse society like Nigeria. Therefore, the theory is encapsulated into the word SPEAKING which is seen as an acronym for the following:

S          –           Setting of a speech event, i.e. the time and place of the

communicative event.

P          –           Participants in the communicative content i.e. speakers and

hearers (interlocutors).

E          –           Ends i.e. the conventionally recognized outcome of a linguistic        exchange as well as the goals of interlocutors in a particular     communicative context.


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