African Languages Project Topics

Language Attitudes Among Teenagers and Its Effect

Language Attitudes Among Teenagers and Its Effect


This work seeks to explain the attitudes exhibited by teenagers Uyo, AkwaIbom State to their Ibibio language.  Most work done in this field is centered on language loss/death.  Therefore this work will be concerned on the attitudes exhibited by teenagers to their Ibibio Language vis-à-vis English and pidgin and its effect. The framework of this research is based on socio-linguistics approach of Baker (1992) in his work titled: Attitudes and Language.

This study is divided into five (5) chapters; chapter one is basically an introduction of the research to be carried out.  Chapter two is the reviewing of relevant and related literatures, chapter three deals with sources of data collection such as questionnaires only.  Chapter four highlights on language attitude among teenagers in Uyo and its effect (a brief discussion), and findings, while chapter five is conclusion and recommendations of the research, including references and appendix.


1.3     Purpose of this Study

This research aims at seeing why teenagers behave the way they do to language (what influence and inform the behaviour so exhibited to language), see the effect of their behaviour on their indigenous language, and proffer possible solutions aimed at internalizing the language in the minds of these teenagers thereby preserving the language.




2.0     Concept of Attitude

One of the subjects that socio-linguists are most interested in is the study of language attitudes.  Appel and Muysken (1987:16) is of the view that in any society, social or ethic groups have certain attitudes towards each other, relating to their differing social positions.  These attitudes affect attitudes towards cultural institutions or patterns characterizing these groups.  So based on these assumptions, this study argues that the fate of the Ibibio Language will most virtually depend upon a large degree on contemporary local linguistic attitudes.

So from the statement made above by Appel and Muysken (1987), it can be seen that the concept of attitude is the fact that languages are not only objective, socially neutral instruments for conveying meaning, but are linked up with the identities of social or ethic groups which has consequencies for the social evaluation of, the attitudes towards languages.

The concept of attitude is viewed from two (2) perspectives, they are:

  1. Behaviourist approach
  2. Mentalist approach

Accroding to Fasold (1984:147-148) under the behaviourist perspective of attitudes are to be found simply in the responses people make to social situations.  He further comments that this viewpoint makes research easier to undertake, since it requires no self reports or indirect inferences.  It is only necessary to observe, tabulate and analyze overt behaviour.  But for Agheyisi and Fishman (1970:138), they warned earlier that attitudes of this sort would not be quite interesting as they will be if they are defined mentalistically, because they cannot be used to predict other behaviour.  Fasold (1984) claims that the more straight forward behaviourist approach, to attitude is just one kind of response to a stimulus.

Also, the mentalist approach to attitudes is viewed as an internal, mental state, which may give rise to certain forms of behaviour.  It can be described as an intervening variable between a stimulus affecting a person and his/her response.  In this research the mentalistic approach will be adopted in examining the attitude of the AkwaIbom people to their language.  The thought behind the adoption of the mentalistic approach is that it provides interesting results that can be used to predict other behaviour.  Although, the mentalistic approach has been widely adopted by researchers of language attitude, it poses significant research problems because internal, mental states cannot be directly observed, but have to be inferred from behaviour or from self reported data/questionnaire.

2.1     Definition and Explanation of Language Attitude

This work adopts a descriptive research method into the attitudes exhibited by teenagers of AkwaIbomState to their language.  These attitudes are viewed in two ways:

  1. Negative language attitude
  2. Positive language attitude.

The word attitude is a commonly used term, and it is not restricted to only a particular class of people.

According to Bern (1968:68) “language attitude is simply one’s feelings towards language which may either be positive or negative, and which has the ability to affect the life and growth of the language”.  From the definition, it is explicit that if native speakers do not attach importance to their language and negligence begin to set in, then such language is being underutilized and may out of abandonment begin to die.

Ikhimwin (2011:234) defined attitude as “simply a behavioural pattern towards someone or something in a particular situation”.  From this definition it is quite obvious that the behaviour of a native speaker to his/her language is very necessary and it is the main concern of scholars researching on attitudes and language.  These behaviours that scholars center on, if positive will help to further preserve the language but if negative such languae is obviously heading towards extinction.

McGuire (1985:9) defines attitude as “that which locates objects of thought on dimensions of judgment”.  In accordance with this definition Adzen (1988:4) sees attitude as “an object, person, institution or event and as such has the ability of affecting that which it comes in contact with”.  This goes to show that individuals can be affected by economic or social status that will now stimulate a negative attitude or behaviour towards his/her own language thereby endangering the language in question due to social class or economic status.

Furthermore Adegbija (1994:38) says that “it is an evaluative judgment made about a language or its variety, its speakers, towards efforts at promoting, maintaining or planning a language, or even towards learning and teaching it”.

The life, growth and spread of any language, depend on the attitude of the speakers of the language.  For a language to be preserved or restored, then the attitude of its speakers must not be over emphasized.  The study of language attitude is important as it serves as the only measurement for language growth, decay or death, since language attitude cannot be observed directly.  People’s attitude or feelings is a yardstick to show the line in which their language is going (in terms of language growth or language death).  A positive attitude towards a language will encourage its growth, development and its chances of survival are wide.  On the other hand, negative attitudes towards languages have been recognized as the major causes of language endangerment or language death.

2.2     Determinant of Language Attitude

Some of the factors that determine the attitude of people (teenagers) to their language are many.  Some of these factors may be internal/close and others external/far.  They are:


2.2.1  The Home/Family

It has been observed over time that family is a major factor that affects the life of everyone both academically, religiously, socially and otherwise.  The choice of religion to practice, course to read, and life style to practice is mostly determined by the kind of family that one comes from.

According to Kulich (1992:12), he says that “children are rather encouraged to learn a language of wider communication in order to participate fully in the society”.  This is the case of most Nigerian families where children are forced to learn the English language, for parents have the notion that it is when one speaks a “prestigious” language that he/she can attract other social and economic benefits.  And it is obvious that English is the most widespread language in Nigeria because of this kind of attitude that has been exhibited over time.

For Herbert Igboanusi (2001:11) he says that “the parents ignorantly will go as far as to scold their wards that they do not speak ‘good English’, thereby unknowing,ly abandoning their own indigenous languages”.  This is because it is believed that it is more prestigious to be proficient in English than in their mother tongue.

2.2.2  The Government

According to Iroko (1989:38) says that “government now insist that most of their messages be sent in Nigeria pidgin.  Thus Nigerian pidgin has become the primary language of health campaigns, public sensitization, AIDS awareness, advertisement, etc”.  At everylevel of negative attitude towards a language, it should be noted that ignorance is always evident.  Unknowingly to the parents, the government, the mass media, etc, they underutilize, marginalize and exhibit a negative attitude to our indigenous Nigerian languages at one level or the other.  From the statement of Iroko, it can be seen that even the government unknowingly to them are promoting the use of foreign languages (English and Pidgin) ahead of our indigenous languages.

Also Webb (1994:181) says that “government of minority states have not helped matters, in respect of the attitude of people to minority language status and development.  Their encouragement of the use of English and Pidgin (in Southern minority states) in state radio and television broadcasts could enhance the marketability of programmes, by enabling them to reach wider audience, but the resultant loss of air time for other languages would have far-reaching implications for the development of minority languages”.

The statement above made by Webb is buttressing the point made by Iroko, where indigenous Nigerian languages are being neglected.

2.2.3  The School

Herbert Igboanusi (2001:19) says that “the situation is so serious that in primary and pre-primary schools, English rather than mother tongue is used as a medium of studies”.  Here it should be noted that Nigerians have seem to believe that it is when one is enlighten in the formal colonial languages that he can be well placed in the society.  Due to this belief our indigenous languages have been relegated to the background, thereby upholding the English language in high esteem.

Also, when I was discussing with a secondary school student during my data collection, I was made to understand that during Ibibio Language classes, English language is still used as a medium of communication between the teacher and the students, which should not be the case.

Baker (1992:9) says that “in the life of a language, attitudes to that language appear to be important in language restoration, preservation, decay or death”.  Firstly, in schools In Uyo, AkwaIbom State, it is usually the case that students are made to speak only English language because of its official status thereby punishing any student expressing his/herself using vernacular (indigenous Nigerian language), with this the urge to want to learn and imbibe the Ibibio Language is reduced and gradually crushed.  This is an exhibition of a negative attitude towards language and its effect is widespread.

2.2.4  Negligence/Ignorance

Attitudinal dispositions like negligence has also been noted by other researchers of language attitude in Africa.

Adegbija (1994:8) and Batibo (2005:18) observe that “most parents wish their children to have proficiency in the former colonial language, to improve their chances of social promotion and economic advancement even at the expense of their mother tongue”.  Both the parents and children who have internalized another linguistic system, to the point of using it quite well for communicative purposes, may become cultural hybrids on the verge of two different patterns of group life, not knowing to which of them they belong.  Such people are described as being marginal by Christopherson (1948:8) where he claims that “nobody can know a language perfectly without associating himself to a large extent with the people who speak it”.  Here he holds fast to the claim that as one begins to associate himelf to a large extent with the people who speak the language that he/she wants to learn, he/she begins to marginalize, neglect and ignore his/her own pattern of life.  So, he referred to people involved in the marginalization of indigenous languages as “marginals”.  For him, such act do not contribute to language growth or development, rather a phenomenon known as language shift will occur – a shift from language one (L1) to language two (L2), which in turn leads to the endangerment of (L1) and if not retrieved may gradually die.

Also, Ikhimwin (2011:233) says that “languages are endangered if they have very weak political status, few users and/are no longer taught to children.  It is disheartening that most people feel inferior using their local languages and as such people discourage their children from using them even while at home”.

Also Gardner and Lambert (1972:44) made it explicit “that a person’s position in his original group may be modified if he/she becomes so proficient in the second language that he/she later finds it more convenient to identify with this group”.  It is made explicit in the statement above that in the quest to acquire another language, we make ourself part of the community that possess the language that one strives to acquire.  And in doing this all efforts will be geared towards the language that is about to be acquired, thereby abandoning our own indigenous language and group life (culture).

Babangida (2001:2) asserts that people tend to accept and use a language that has:

  • A considerable national and international coverage of users.
  • A metropolitan or cosmopolitan status
  • A considerable numerical strength and some measure of economic and political power.
  • A sufficiently reliable codified form.

Any language that possesses none of the integrative or instrumental forces as highlighted above, the attitude of its speakers towards it will definitely be negative.

Nigerian languages in general and Ibibio Language in particular has to be preserved, and this can only happen if the speakers develop a positive attitude towards the language.

Ibibio Language is a minority language due to the underlisted factors:

  • The size of its speakers (numeric strength)
  • Ibibio Language is a language spoken in only one state in Nigeria, i.e. AkwaIbomState.
  • This language is not the only language spoken In Uyo, AkwaIbom State. Other languages spoken in the State include Etsako, Ora, Owan, Esan, etc.

So, AkwaIbomState is multilingual in nature due to its internal language structure.  It is inhabited by diverse cultures, beliefs, and traditions.  The language In Uyo, AkwaIbom State exist side by side English language – which is an official language in the state and pidgin which is a language born out of contact situation of all the indigenous languages that co-exist in the State.  In AkwaIbom, it has become necessary for the people to acquire them, but that is not the reason why the indigenous languages should be made to suffer.

Uwajeh (2003:105) states that “the use of Nigerian pidgin English is an intrusive or diversionary problem for the proper use of indigenous Nigerian languages.  It exacerbates the already bad language situation in Nigeria created by the use of English”.  He also says that “the effect of the use of English language on Nigeria’s indigenous languages is therefore oppressive. English emasculates indigenous Nigerian languages by simply reducing more and more the need to use our indigenous languages”.  This is very realiseable and it is the case of the Ibibio Language, because the language has suffered from the oppressive role played by English language and the tyranic part played by Nigerian pidgin English.

Uwajeh (2003:104) shows us four factors that may lead to the endangerment of Nigrian indigenous languages, they are:

  • The oppressive role of English language
  • The intrusive functions of the Nigerian pidgin.
  • The depressing impact of the absence of any national language.
  • The deliberate attacks mounted against the use of our indigenous languages. These attacks can be seen in our schools and homes.

Ikhimwin (2011:234) added one more factor to the already existing four which is:

  • “Speaker’s unwillingness to even attempt speaking the language.

From the factors outlined above, it is observed that both English language which has been given the status of official language and pidgin which is a result of language contact are seriously relegating the use of our indigenous languages to the background.  Also, teachers’ attitude to their pupils is a deliberate attack on our indigenous languages for they tend to punish students who speak indigenous languages thereby making them at that tender and teenage level to shift away from their different indigenous languages towards the English language.  This attack on indigenous languages by both parents and teachers alike gave rise to the factor mentioned by Ikhimwin (2011:234) “speaker’s unwillingness to attempt even speaking the language”.

Students become so reluctant about speaking their indigenous languages.  This unwillingness on the side of teenagers create an adverse effect on their language thereby ranking the Ibibio Language among the endangered species of languages which in no time will die out of disuse.

Also, teenagers feel shy to speak their language not because of the fact that they do not speak it well, but they seem to imagine how people will see them, that is they fear being looked upon as local people and so they kill their own language unknowingly to them by neglecting it.  If every other set of teenagers in any given community continue to have this same negative attitude to language, the language in question will gradually lose relevance and will definitely die.


  • Adegbija, E. (1994).  “English and indigenous languages in Kwara State (Nigeria)”.  The bottom-line Attitudinal Factors in Watts Richard (ed) Multilingual Journal of Cross Cultural and interlanguage Communications, Vol. 13.3. Water de Gruyter Berlin.
  • Adegbija, E. (1994).  Language attitudes in sub-Saharan Africa:  A sociolinguistic overview.  ClevAkwaIbomn Multilingual Matters.
  • Adeyemi, B. (2001).  Language attitude patterns of Nigerian. In Herbert Igboanusi (ed) Language attitude and language conflict in West Africa.  Enicrownfit Publishers, Ibadan.
  • Adzen, I. (1988).  Attitudes as self descriptions:  Another look at the attitudinal behaviour link in A-G.  Greenwald, T.C. Brook and T.M. Ostrom (eds) Psychological Foundations of Attitude. New York, Academic Press.
  • Agheyisi, R.N. and Fishman, J.A. (1970).  “Language attitude studies: A brief survey of methodological approaches”.  Anthropological linguistics, 12 (5), 137-157.
  • Appel, R. and Muysken, P. (1987).Language contact and bilingualism.London: Edward Arnold.
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