The Influence of Yoruba Mother Tongue on English Language

 The Influence of Yoruba Mother Tongue on English Language

Yoruba – Mother tongue on English language has influences its’ user as a means of manifesting it’s relevance to the real owner. This situation has projected a phenomenon of language and people’s culture as a way of attracting so much importance when we begin to look at it from the implication it has for language learner and the argument in literature about what is African literature.

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In a situation where Hausa, Igbo, and Yoruba are the three main languages, the Yoruba have homogenous entity; the Hausa is a language propagated by religious conquest and the Igbo have a particular cultural quality.

In order to boost this influence, the Yoruba land is a typical example of where a bilingual situation exists. This has shown the people’s competence in two languages and is usually prevalent in an environment where two languages exist side by side. In such a society, the person that uses this means of communication reaches out to two languages at his disposal to serve his communication purpose.

Today, as means of social survival, a person who finds himself in a foreign environment would advance to acquire competence in the language used in that environment.

This is very important if the individual must communicate with his follow human being in the same society.

The concept of bilingualism came as a matter of educational demand in which Nigerian students are taught in the first three years in school, after which they receive lessons in English up to higher level. Thus, this policy is found among the Hausa origins.

Bernsein, (1965:59) believed that

“the compound bilingual is one who to a greater extent uses both languages, in domain and who, more often than not, will have learnt both languages at the same time, most usually perhaps two languages were spoken in the home”(p.59)

Therefore, a Yoruba co-ordinate bilingual is likely to use his mother tongue which he has acquired as first language on every occasion, not minding the audience in the environment. Ideally, all Yoruba learners of English will become bilingual speakers.

We cannot talk about language either first language acquisition or in second language learning society without identifying F.D. Saussere theory of language.

Leech and Short, (1985:10), “Lange being the code or system of rules common to speakers of languages (such as English) and parole being the particular uses of this system, selection from this system, that speakers or writers make this or that occasion Saussere described language as “langue” in terms of cultural base of a particular people which provides the norm governing that language”.

Moreover, Fries (1945:5) defines correctness of language as:

“The only correctness there can be in nay language is the actual usage of the native speaker of the language. In learning English, one must attempt to imitate exactly the forms, the structures, and mode of ulterance of the native speaker of the particular kind of English he wishes to learn”.

This theory confirmed the fact that a Yoruba learner will encounter mother tongue influence on the targeted language.

 Instances of Phonetic and Phonological Influence of the Mother Tongue (Yoruba) on English Language.

The influence of the mother tongue is in effect part or the development of the learner’s personality and intelligence. So, phonetic and phonological influence do not just manifest in their (Yoruba speakers) mother tongue but also in their learning of English. Psychologically, the process development of the child is closely with the continued use of his mother tongue which is at the same his first language. To ignore this familiar language (MT) and begin to teach the child in a foreign  and unfamiliar second language is like taking the child from home and putting him among strangers. Most of what is said as soon as he comes to school he cannot understand half of what he wants to say at this stage when he is most talkative he cannot express, and so the child becomes tongue- tied and inhibited. The Yoruba speaker as he thinks in his mother tongue tries to express himself in the target language, and where he fails to represent his thoughts phonetically and phonologically correct, such a learner has the problem of mother tongue interference on his learning of English.

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The Significance of the Mother Tongue

The significance of the mother tongue  influence on a Yoruba second language  learner is on the aspect of speech which includes the phonology. It is divided into segmental and supra-segmental. While segmental features begin with the consonants and vowels of s language, supra-segmental features are described as stressed and unstressed syllables, pitch, rhythm and intonation. The supra-segmental feature in phonology is where a break-down in communication occurs between a native speaker or a learner of the language. This problem of mother tongue influence of a Yoruba learner of English occurs  mostly as a result of the failure to realize the supra-segmental feature in English.

The partially assimilated English words exhibit some phonological features which they have brought into Yoruba and by which they could be distinguishes as loans, examples are upstairs, pot, and street whereas in Yoruba language we have Kpeteesi, kpoo and titi

Assimilated English words are generally accepted as part of Yoruba vocabulary and help where necessary to highlight some aspects of the Yoruba language in general.

It has often been stated that there are probably as many Nigerian varieties of English as there are primary Nigerian languages because features of native language interference on English are seen as the main characteristic of Nigerian English. Stevens’, for instance, states that “one would expect a description of the pronunciations of English which may be heard in West Africa to beat a close relationship to description of the phonetic characteristics of the language spoken as a mother tongue by the Yoruba people. This is, in fact the case”. Bamgbose2, sees interference features as being phonologically significant in English.

Yoruba does not have high lax vowel. That is, Yoruba is the only one lacking the opposition tense/lax in the high vowel series. There is identify in terms that make up the Yoruba system with those of English system.

The Palato-Alveolar Fricative       

Nigerian English Accent has // which corresponds to RP // in words like shoe, and short. However, there are few phonetic peculiarities. For example, the use of {s} in shoe words by some Yoruba speakers in Oyo/Ibadan areas may be accounted for by an accent-specific phonological interference. The use of /h/ has been reported in RP, it is limited to uneducated speakers. The rule is commonly operated by educated and uneducated speakers alike, especially the speakers of Yoruba English. Besides, it has also been found (see Awonusi 1985) that most of those who have.

In terms of pronunciation, the Yoruba native speakers pronounce heart as art, house as aus, heaven as evun, etc and in term of education, the emphasis is given to pre-primary or early childhood education has effected a change in the traditional approach to education at that level. Hitherto, kindergartens in most parts of the country were not recognized as part of the formal system, as evident in the Yoruba name for such institutions-‘je ‘le o sinmi” (let there be peace at home). This attitude to early childhood education has, however, changed and the modern-day nursery school is an integral part of the proper school system and a lot of English spoken, particularly in the Urban areas. It is perhaps interesting to note that in rural area, where there is language homogeneity, teachers occasionally transfer explanations of issues considered tough into the indigenous language medium. This practice makes the problem of the L2 learner more profound as they cope with learning English while operating their thought-processes in the local medium.


The term ‘bilingualism’ literally means two-tongued, ie; an individual may be described as having two tongues if he is described as a bilingual. Tongue, here, has its traditional metaphorical meaning. It is not only an individual that can be said to have two languages. Indeed, we know that there are societies, countries, in which more than one language is spoken. Thus, a bilingual is that person who has the ability to function in two languages. Bloomfield identified the bilingual as somebody with ‘native-like control of two languages’. Since then, there have been several attempts to type bilingualism based on one criterion of a bilingual. Chief of these is the fact that competence and performance in two languages may in fact be measured in terms of the degree of proficiency shown by the speaker in the two languages. This has led to the typing of bilingual according to how proficient they may be in one or both languages involved.

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Who is a Bilingual?

So far, we have assumed that “two languages” means exactly what it says-two different languages. Would we call anyone who speaks Ijebu and Ondo a bilingual? Both are dialects of Yoruba and may will say you cannot call him a bilingual. However, an Igbo man who speaks Yoruba will qualify as a bilingual. We have three types of bilingualism ie the co-ordinate bilingual, the compound  bilingual and the subordinate bilingual by which the compound and subordinate bilingual are to be treated in this study.

The Compound Bilingual

This type does not function as a native speaker of either of the languages that he speaks. In this case, the languages involved are so integrated at a deep level of organization that one language is equated more or less with the other. Here, lexical items may be conceptualized as having the same referent and the choice of the one or the other will be conditioned by the factors that inform the language. For example, it a Yoruba he may find it difficult to label Chinkule in English and hence may be tempted to dray this word into English since, for him, both languages are integrated.

Whereas, the subordinate bilingual is the one who is proficient in his first language and acquires the second for various reasons. He may need it for school or other purposes, like a native, but has an accent in speaking the second and third as the case may be. He sees the world through the eyes of his first language and interprets what he sees in the second language if he has to.

The major point is that a bilingual has been discovered to use the two codes he has ie. The languages, interchangeably, sometimes moving from one to another and yet at others substituting words in one language for another in the same speech effort. Here are some examples in Yoruba and Igbo:

1.            Se o ti essay ti won fun wa?

( Have you written the essay given to us?)

2.            Mo fe ra iresi

(I want to buy some rice)

3. Nigbawo I’ ema a find out reason yen

(When will you find out the reason?)

4.            Se mo ti so fun e?

(Have I told you?)

5.            E needili m somebody di very supportive

(I need somebody who is very supportive)

In (1) we have the introduction of a foreign word which has no equivalent in Yoruba and which can only be understood at a fairly high level of literacy in English. Obviously, several such technical terms may be introduced into discourse in Yoruba or any receiving language for that matter, at appropriate times depending on the interactions and the need to use such words.

No (2) is a case of introducing a loan word which has become completely assimilated morphologically as well as syntactically into the Yoruba linguistic system. Indeed, iresi is not recognizable as an English word, although it will not take too much imagination to tell that it is from rice. There are many such words in Yoruba as well as other language which have had contact with English. Obviously, that will quality as an example of switching or mixing but of a Yoruba word whose etymology can be traced to English. Other examples in Yoruba are, sadini, pepa, panu, buredi, bia, banki, etc.

In no (3) we have a case which we can, for want of a better word, describe as a sense group injected into a Yoruba sentence. The sentence preserves the Yoruba syntactic organisation and the Chunks that is included is necessary because it expresses, perhaps more economically, an idea which is alien to Yoruba.

No (4) is a complete switch from one language to another on the same speech event. This is very common among bilinguals with a fairly high level of competence in the second language and who indulge themselves in conversation with colleagues who share a similar knowledge in the second language. This can be described as a mental somersault from conceptualization in one language to realization of the concept in another. Many will even say that at a certain point, conceptualization is done in a neutral language and realize in which one surfaces first. Others will say that the brain is capable of conceptual framework in as many languages as possible, thus testifying to its complete the choice of the one code, rather that the other, being a function of the situation and the addressee.

Result of Bilingualism           

Since bilingualism may not necessarily result from contact between people speaking different languages, a second language may be learnt miles away from its source. It does help, however of interaction takes place between speakers of different languages.

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Three general results are identified by Lieberson (1972). Bilingualism may create a situation in which a single language may result in pushing out the first language. This is akin to Haugen’s type seen in South America where, once again, the black population replaced their languages with Spanish or Portuguese. Again, several non- English immigrants to America eventually and up monoglots as they gradually, wittingly or unconsciously, pass on only English to their children. Bilingualism here is only an intermediate stage in the linguistic life of such people.

Bilingualism may be first accomplished in other situating where there is a sufficiently strong motivation to learn the languages concerned. In the Cameroon, for example a knowledge of French an English is desirable for advancement.

We may classify countries like Nigeria and other Anglophone Francophone countries where a cyclic process of acquiring two languages get into motion fairly early. There are different mother tongues which enable people to maintain a social system peculiar to themselves, while at the same time requiring the second language not only to socialize, give appropriate social settings, but also to communicate across linguistic learners. The important point here is the bilingualism does not head to the loss of the other tongue, although it may be affected by it. This is usually a direct result of contact situations and is replicated wherever bilingualism of the type just described exists.

However, on the Aknapim region of Ghana, we can identify a group of people who, as a result of contract, had to acquire a second language, Akan, but retained their own Guan-source of language over the years, insisting on passing it down to their children. Such people Lartch kyerepony, etc-retain their own languages of wider communication. This shared code makes them rather clannish as they use their own language for intra-group communication, cultural activities and generally for group solidarity.

Again, the third result is the emergence of what they called simplified forms of the second language. Some insist that this is the beginning of pidgin which, when passed on the children and become first language are classified as creoles. Indeed, there are few language in the world which have been insulted against contact with other languages. English and practically are the European and Asian languages have been influences by other languages. English, as we have it today, evolved from what some would go on to described as a pidgin.

The evolution of language has been seen in terms of a continuum which moves through a process of pidgin to natural languages and starting the process all over again, but no one can tell where exactly the process starts and where it ends, if it ever does.

This process can be seen in the Nigerian situation in which an English-based pidgin has evolve over the years, and gradually being creolized in certain parts of the country, Edo, Delta, and Rivers state particular with the emergence of native speakers of the language. How long it will take to complete the continuum process is a matter for conjecture.

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  1. ojedokun samson femi says:

    good work, keep it up.

  2. Nwanchor, Fredrick E. says:

    Please, can I get materials for my from you. The topic is: “The phonological problems of a bilingual learner of the English Language: A study of Ikwo L.G.A.”

  3. Rasheedat says:

    Nice job, bt pls where is the reference

  4. Bidim Apollos says:

    wishes the of luck in your business. that’s good of you.

  5. Adugbo Rotimi George says:

    Well, this is a very educative Piece but some things are still hidden.

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