In November 1999, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) declared February 21 as International Mother Language Day.
This day was instituted to promote linguistic and cultural diversity, multilingualism and to highlight greater awareness of the importance of mother language education.
The institution of the day was also to bring to the fore strategies nations could adopt to save their various indigenous languages and tap their immense benefits to the fullest.
In Ghana, however, the celebration of the International Mother Language Day has not been given the due attention it deserves, apparently due to the lack of government’s commitment, coupled with the poor attitude of Ghanaians towards their own mother languages.
A legal backing to this declaration is Article 39 Clause 3 of the 1992 Constitution which enjoins the state to “foster the development of Ghanaian languages and pride in Ghanaian culture”.
However, one wonders if the state is really performing its responsibility as far as this constitutional requirement is concerned.
There is little or no commitment on the part of the government to come out with comprehensive policies and programmes to promote our indigenous languages, resulting in some Ghanaian languages going into extinction.
Language is used for identity, communication, social integration, preservation of culture, among others and it is interesting to note that language is a living organism.
This means that language grows and dies. To ensure the growth and continuity of a language, the language must be spoken and put into writing.
However, available statistics points to the fact that some Ghanaian languages are endangered.
Established in 1951 as a government department, the Bureau of Ghana Languages (BGL) is mandated to write and publish books exclusively in Ghanaian languages as a way of promoting local languages.
However, BGL is unable to deliver effectively because of some challenges such as understaffing, insufficient funds and logistics.
The department has been operating in the 11 Ghanaian languages so far studied in our educational institutions, namely Akuapem Twi, Asante Twi, Dagaare, Dagbani, Dangme, Ewe, Ga, Gonja, Kasem, Mfantse and Nzema. However, the once buoyant department engaged in the development and promotion of Ghanaian languages is now a pale shadow of its former self.
The skeletal technical staff, coupled with woefully inadequate budgetary allocation and logistics, is undoubtedly hampering efficient service delivery.
The theme for this year’s International Mother Language Day, “Using technology for multilingual learning: Challenges and Opportunities”, could not have come at a better time, especially in this COVID-19 era where the world has resorted to the use of technology in daily socio-political and economic activities.
The fact that globally, the development of any nation is driven by technology cannot be overemphasised.
It is no doubt that technology has the potential of advancing multilingual education and supporting the development of quality teaching and learning for all.
In view of this, the government should take the necessary steps to promote language diversity by making Ghanaian languages more appealing to the international community, especially investors, and harness our indigenous languages for sustainable development.
This year’s International Mother Language Day must spur us on to promote Ghanaian languages for national development.
The call goes to the government and other stakeholders to ensure that the necessary ICT infrastructure is put in place to encourage the learning of Ghanaian languages no matter the geographical location of the learner.
This will undoubtedly promote our indigenous languages for sustainable development. Let us give prominence to our mother languages as we have given to foreign languages such as English, French etc.
The government should adequately resource BGL to deliver on its mandate.
The Ministry of Education, Ghana Education Service, policymakers, traditional rulers and other stakeholders should rise up to the challenge and save our mother languages from extinction.
To quote the late President Nelson Mandela, “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart.”
In everything we do, let us not forget that language is culture and a neglect of one’s language is a neglect of one’s culture.
The writer is with the Bureau of Ghana Languages. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org