English Language in Education, a Threat to African Native Languages. Case Study: The Mokpwe Language of the Bakweri People of the South West Region of Cameroon
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Language is a phenomenon that can hardly be viewed separately from its very inherent component-culture. This component does by all means play a significant role in enabling the language to gain a global status. There is no doubt that some prominent issues do contribute to this process: political, economic, military supremacy and educational fame. It is for this reason that the English language has gained such fame as a lingua Franca because it is the language of transport, education, business, politics just to name a few.
Since English rules the world, it is very normal that the English language is the language many countries use in their teaching and learning processes. Most especially the third world countries which are underdeveloped, like Africa. In Africa today, the English language has gained such a ground so much that in many African countries the English language education is what the countries use.
For some, it is an English-only system of education, while for others it is a bilingual system of education. For example, in Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, and Cameroon many schools (primary, secondary and university or higher institutes) use the English system of education. For others, they see the English language as some sort of “language of civilization” and national unity.
So they use the language in the teaching and learning process as a means of civilization and modernization. Some African language uses the English language in their teaching and learning process because of political and commercial reasons like wanting to have English support in case of war.
With the campaigns to eradicate illiteracy, many African countries are beginning to take part in research to develop their educational system. This has resulted in the opening of many schools. In Cameroon, there are thousands of schools in both urban and rural areas with the greatest majority in the English speaking zone: the North West Region, followed by the South West Region.
With both Regions using the English-only system of education and a few bilingual schools with little or no purely French schools even though the country is bilingual (French and English)
Background of the Study
Most third world African countries are still suffering from neo-colonialism since their official languages are the native language of their former colonial masters- the whites. That is why Cameroon is a bilingual country officially speaking English and French.
These two languages are the languages used in carrying out the teaching and learning process in the educational domain of the country. But the fact that in the world today, English is the language of education. Many schools use the English language in carrying out their teaching and learning process.
Education in Cameroon is fast developing and Cameroon has a strong system of education as the country is struggling to eradicate illiteracy in order to enhance development. There are basically two sectors that schools fall under in Cameroon, i.e. the government and the private sectors.
Cameroon’s educational system is divided into nursery, primary, secondary and higher education like universities and other higher institutes. Generally, public exams are controlled by the Cameroon General Certificate of Education Board (GCE Board) with its headquarters in Buea.
In the South West Region, the English and bilingual educational system dominate the French. For example, Buea which is one of the major cities in the South West Region has an Anglo-Saxon system of education with a few bilingual schools at all levels of education. In the primary, nursery, secondary levels of education, almost all the subjects are taught in the English language except for the subject French which is taught in the French language.
As a result, exams are written in English and only French as a subject is written in the French language. These have contributed greatly to the spread of the English language in Cameroon since Buea has an Anglo-Saxon state university and other higher institutes that teach the English language to foreign learners from neighbouring countries with a majority from Guinea Equatorial.
Due to the high rate of schools opening in Buea which is the headquarter of the GCE Board, the native language of the people of Buea (the Bakweri ethnic group)- Mokpwe language have become endangered as it is fast losing its values because of the high level of the number of English language speakers and learners in Buea.
Because Buea is one of the major educational centres in Cameroon, the Bakweri people have lost their cultural values in which they were identified. For example: looking at Molyko, the central quarter in Buea, one can hardly believe it’s a Bakweri village. Walking along the streets of Molyko is difficult to find up to twenty people speaking the Mokpwe language daily as their language of communication.
The Linguistic Background of the Bakweri People
Cameroon has about 286 indigenous languages over a population of about eighteen million people and 475.00KM hectares of land. Out of these 286, 280 are living and 2 are rarely used that is they are extinct out of these living languages. 11 are institutional, 96 are developing, 43 are in trouble, 106 are vigorous and 24 are dying.
The Mokpwe language is a dialect of the Sawa language. This variety of languages is spoken by people from the coastal region of Cameroon with the greatest inhabitants living in Buea and Limbe. The Bakweri people speak Mokpwe, a tongue that is closely related to Bakole and Wumboko. Mokpwe is part of the family of Duala languages of the Bantu group of the Niger-Congo language family.
Neighbouring people often utilize Mokpwe as a trade language due to the large spread of the tongue by early missionaries. This is particularly true of the Isubu who are bilingual in Duala and Mokpwe. Also, the Bakweri people speak Pidgin English, the English language and with a few minorities of French. They use a drum language to convey a message from clan to clan and a particular horn language that is peculiar to them.
The Bakweri (Mokpwe) are an ethnic group of the Republic of Cameroon. They are related to Cameroon’s Coastal peoples-the Sawa particularly, the Duala and Isubu. Most of them are settled around the Mount Cameroon Region. They must have migrated to their present home East of the mountain in the mid 18 century. From the foothills of the mountain, they gradually spread to the coast and up the Mungo River.
The Mokpwe language today
The Mokpwe language especially in Buea is fast dying due to circumstances surrounding the native users of the language. Many Bakwerians are educated and in the South West Region of Cameroon, an educated man is expected to speak the English language clearly and not his native language. Many Bakwerians see the English language as a language full of prestige. So they turn to use the English language always even in their villages instead of their mother tongue.
Because many Bakwerians are interested in education, artistic works like music, politics and tourism. Due to the fact that Buea is a touristic centre and one of the educational zones and most especially the headquarters of the GCE Board, every man ones to better the future of their children so they turn to acquire mostly the English language first at home because it is the language of instruction used in most schools in the South West Region both in the teaching and learning processes. If this practice continues, then in the nearest future Buea will turn in to a monolingual community because the Mokpwe language must have died giving way to the English language.
Statement of the Problem
The use of the English language in the teaching and learning processes in post-colonial Africa and third world countries is an issue that has received much debate in the TESOL profession. Opponents of the current global spread of English argue that this language dominance is a form of neo-colonialism and that its expansion should be halted.
Especially in post-colonial countries where English was previously the language of oppression. (“The role of the English language education in developmental context”. 123helpme.com. 13 Feb 2013. 123HelpMe.c) If therefore English language educational system continues, it will be difficult to halt its spread. Because in the 21st century new discoveries that are scientific and economical development is the order of the day.
If in a country like Cameroon with over 286 languages and there is no single school in which the native language of a particular village is used as the language of instruction then this will result in a serious problem of monolingualism or the spread of many English varieties because if an individual speaks three languages and at the end, there will be a lot of interference that will result in many varieties of a single language.
The individual is likely to give up the other languages even though not completely for the other. In a situation where many Bakwerian is getting educated and neglecting their mother tongue for the English language, if care is not taken the mokpwe language will become endangered as it is already dying.
This problem, therefore, needs to be solved because the major cause of this is the fact that English dominates in all (education, international business, international communications, transport, travels, sciences and arts. Just to name a few.) English education, therefore, is a threat to native languages African native languages) and might in turn result in monolingualism in future if this problem is not solved.
This means that the cultural values and identity of many Africans will be lost to the English man. As Bilal and Erdogon (Sep 2010) put it” would be considered pessimistic by some as they suggest that the world is moving into a monolingual hegemony in which cultural threat of other languages are either assimilated or annihilated”. In this light, English education is a threat to the Mokpwe language.
Objectives of the Study
This research work is not only for educational purposes but it seeks to bring a solution to which native languages can be promoted in schools so as to enable their safety. The major concern of this work is to prove that English education is a threat to native languages and in turn, in the future Regions like the South West Region of Cameroon might lose most of their languages given room to monolingualism which is a sort of linguistic imperialism as Philipson (1992) go so far as to term the spread of the English language “Linguistic imperialism” he, therefore, establishes the notion of “linguistic human rights” calling for the preservation of the native languages in the face of the “ global monolingualism”.
This study will be carried out in Buea with the case of the Bakweri native language -Mokpwe language.