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Documentation in Minimizing the Effect of Language Endangerment


The Use of Documentation in Minimizing the Effect of Language Endangerment: A Case Study of Igbo Language



This work examines the state of endangerment among our African languages, using Igbo language as a case study. It raises alarm on the need for documentation, to preserve the unadulterated form of our Igbo language. It examines cases of revival achieved by the means of documentation and provided certain methods through which this can be achieved. it is already an established fact that Language endangerment is common with the undocumented languages, the process is not a sudden one rather a gradual process. One of the most interesting part of this research is the unveiling of the fact that the Igbo language facing risk of endangerment is not all about language documentation but also the case of group loyalty. From the journey so far, it is worthy to note that language endangerment can be totally erased with effective transmission of the language from parents to their children and their by reduce or erase the preference to the “Whiteman’s tongue”. More so the Nigerian language teachers should be trained in our indigenous language and where necessary, they should be retrained and also trained to use modern technologies, especially in internet facilities.



1.1 Background of the Study

Language documentation have always interested linguist around the world, especially those working on languages typology, anthropology linguistics and sociolinguistics. However, the beginning of language documentation as it known today goes back to the 1990s. Language documentation has established itself as an autonomous research topic within linguistics (Lehman, 2011).

First of all technological development which enable recording, processing and storage necessities for documenting a language, opened up on a new perspective and possibilities for the work in the field, in and with the language communities. The interest in language documentation and more specifically an endangered language has spread beyond the academic world and is now a public issue mainly though the continuous reports on the subject published by the press and well known institution such as the UNESCO with its Atlas of world’s languages in danger, (UNESCO, 2010).

Although language endangerment is not a new phenomenon, currently the process of extinction is increasing dramatically. However, it is also known that historical remains and records tend to be deficient in some ways with regard to modern purposes. Stone inscription and other historic documents with linguistics structure/content, for example, never provide a comprehensive record of the linguistics structures and practices in use in the community at the time when these documents were written (Nettle d Romaine, 2000).

Thus, given that the Hittite record discovered to date mostly pertain to matters of government, law, trade and religion, it remains unknown how Hittite adolescents chatted with each other or whether it was possible to have the verb in first position in subordinate clauses.   As awareness of these circumstances and numbers (that increases as the linguistic research in different areas around the globe increases) is raising and the linguistics community realized the scientific and socio-cultural consequences of language. Put in this way, the task of complying a language documentation is enormous and there is no principled upper limit for it, (pbs.org).

Language endangerment is common with the undocumented languages, the process is not a sudden one rather a gradual process, (Nwobia, 2008).

In this situation where languages are not documented, two things are involved or liable to happen. The first possibility is that speaker of the old language (original form) will continue to speak it, but will gradually import forms and constructions form socially dominating languages until the old one is no longer identifiable as a separate language, this give birth to increase in code switching and code mixing. This is in reality an extreme form of borrowing, (Nwobia, 2008).

The second possibility is more dramatic. The language simply disappears, (Nwobia, 2008).

Certain languages such as English language is among those language that have gained speakers at the expense of smaller language. In relation to the case study, Igbo language is one of the major languages in Nigeria and there are approximately 24 million speakers and yet it is an endangered language. It is in the light of the above discussion that this project discusses the use of documentation in minimizing the effect of language endangerment in Igbo language.

 1.2 Statement of the Problem

            Igbo language has become unavoidably endangered because of the emergence of people from different areas and speakers of different language, like Hausa, Yoruba, Calabar and Idoma etc Just to mention a few; as well as those who are not speakers of the main Igbo language but their languages are variants of Igbo even though most tend to disagree, and those have come to who have come to settle in Igbo land.

These people’s languages appear to influence Igbo language so much. If such a situation continues form goes, due to lack of documentation, the Igbo language may lose it’s loyalty, becomes moribund and then dies by going into extinction.

1.3 Purpose of Study

            Every language is liable to face the threat of language endangerment mostly the undocumented one as a result of social and linguistic factor influencing it.

The main aim of this study is to identify the aid of documentation in minimizing language endangerment among Igbo speakers.

This study also unfolds the different form of documentation and provides some strategies to avoid language extinction.

1.4 Research Questions

            The research questions for this work are:

  1. To what extent is Igbo language endangered?
  2. To what extent does lack of documentation affect Igbo speech form?
  3. To what extent will documentation minimize the effect of language endangerment?

1.5 Significance of Study

            This research will be important to all scholars and students in the field of linguistics as it will increase their knowledge of the socio-linguistic terms such as language endangerment and language documentation. It will particularly serve as a good reference point to those who will do some research on the topic in the future as there are barely a handful research work on this topic locally.

1.6 Scope of the Study

            This work is restricted to the spoken standard Igbo varieties alone and the effects of documentation in Igbo language. There are other Igbo varieties of the Igbo language which are most times refers to as dialects of Igbo language. But the researcher’s area of concentration is strictly restricted to the standard Igbo speech form alone.

1.7 Limitations of the Study

            There were some constraints in the course of this research. One of those constraints is that most of the works that are available to the researcher were written by foreigners who came to Igbo land as the early missionaries for the purpose of trade and preaching the gospel.

The work of these missionaries have greatly favoured the use of standardization of local or vernacular language instead of the main language.

1.8 Definition of Terms

Documentation: Is a set of documents provided on paper or online or on digital or analog media such as auditor tape or CDs. such as user guides, white papers, on-line help, quick reference guides. It is becoming less common to see paper (hard copy) documentation. Documentation is distributed via website, software products and other on-line applications.

Minimizing: To reduce to the smallest possible amount or degree. In other words to represent at the lowest possible amount, value, importance, influence etc.

Language: Is the ability to acquire and use complex systems of communication, particularly the human ability to do so, and a language is any specific example of such a system. The scientific study of language is called linguistics.

Language Endangerment: Is a language that is at the risk of falling out of use as its speakers die out or shift to speaking another language.

Effect: A change which is a result or consequence of an action or other cause, it has to be created by something a cause.

Language Documentation: Is the documentation in writing and audio-visual recording of grammar vocabulary, and oral traditions (e.g. stories, songs, religious texts) of endangered language.


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