The English Language, a Sine Qua Non for Nation Building

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The English Language, a Sine Qua Non for Nation Building


Nneka Umera-Okeke (Mrs)
Department of English Language and Literature
Nwafor Orizu College of Education, Nsugbe
P.M. B. 1734, Onitsha
Anambra State, Nigeria


A Paper Presented to the Students of the English Language and Literary Studies Department , Nwafor Orizu College of Education, Nsugbe during their 2010 NASELS Annual Festival held in Hall A this 28 Day of July, 2010

Studying languages is a vital tool in building the competitiveness of a nation. For a nation to be globally competitive and secured, the study and knowledge of foreign languages is important. The vexed issue of language question in Nigeria has continued to promote the use of the English language in Nigeria. Given the role English plays around the world, it is not surprising that a substantial and growing number of schools choose English-medium instruction at the secondary and tertiary level. English for Nation Building or for developmental purposes should be given to encourage students to understand their roles in the educational and social development of their nations. Though the continuous use of English as the nation’s lingua franca is tantamount to perpetuating colonialism/imperialism, yet there is no alternative indigenous language that can assume the role of English. It is maintained that, given the prevalent and ever-increasing mutual suspicion of, and linguistic rivalry among, the various Nigerian ethno-linguistic groups, English will continue to be vibrant. This paper examined the notion of nation building, the role of education in nation building and finally the role of the English Language in Nation building with particular reference to the Nigeria nation.

“Whoever controls the language, controls the culture.” (Dennis Peacocke). The role of the English language in nation building cannot be over-emphasized. . Language, being a potent vehicle of transmitting cultures, values, norms and beliefs from generation to generation, remains a central factor in determining the status or nature of any nation. Language affects and indeed structures virtually all aspects of human behavior. Liberman (1975) states that it is impossible to think of any aspect of human culture or human behavior that would be unchanged if language did not exist. This informs the submission of Isayev (1977) that “language is a nation’s most obvious and most important attribute. There is no such thing as a nation without a common linguistic basis.” The dominant inference from Isayev’s observation is that for national integration, cohesion and development, there must be a language acceptable to all in running a nation’s affairs.

Known for its “extreme linguistic diversity” (Elugbe 1990), Nigeria is home to languages numbering about 400. Although its land mass is less than 7 per cent of the total area of the African continent, most scholars concur that about 20 per cent of Africa’s more than 2,000 languages are spoken in Nigeria. Official language policies have variously been enunciated in documents such as the National Policy on Education (1977, revised in 1981), and the 1979 Constitution. In Nigeria’s multilingual society the problem of ‘forging ahead’ is of crucial import. Among the competing languages that scramble for national recognition or official status, whether indigenous or foreign, one must emerge as the official language (the language of administration and education at some levels), the language of relevance, from the competitors for the purpose of uniting the nation. Fortunately or unfortunately, English has emerged as that privileged language without which the unity of Nigeria as a nation is mostly improbable, if not out rightly impossible.

On the Notion and Dimensions of Nation Building
We have various dimensions to nation building which include economic, political and socio-cultural. Under the economic perspective, the following...
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