Volume 47, Issue 1
  • ISSN 0272-2690
  • E-ISSN: 1569-9889



As the most populous African nation, with one of the most diverse, and problematic, ethnolinguistic profiles in the world, Nigeria provides a case study for the potential introduction of indigenous languages in (higher) education delivery in once colonised territories. We argue that increased enrolment in higher education will become necessary for Nigeria to attain its developmental goals. We then discuss the limits to what the Nigerian educational system can be expected to achieve using English as the medium of instruction. Once these limits are surpassed, the gradual addition of a limited number of Nigerian languages will become inevitable. We propose to make use of a distinction between languages as designed (or intellectualized) and languages as discerned, inspired by the terminology of ‘Ausbau’ and ‘Abstand’ languages as used by Kloss. The article briefly reviews the complex linguistic makeup of Nigeria and outlines a number of principles that could guide rational language choices in this area, such as ease of acquisition and inclusivity. It ends with suggesting a number of concrete steps that should be taken over the coming years in order to make the introduction of indigenous languages into higher education in Nigeria a practical possibility.

Available under the CC BY 4.0 license.

Article metrics loading...

Loading full text...

Full text loading...



  1. Adegbija, E. E.
    (1994) The candidature of Nigerian Pidgin as a national language. International Journal of Applied Linguistics105/1061, 1–23. 10.1075/itl.105‑106.01ade
    https://doi.org/10.1075/itl.105-106.01ade [Google Scholar]
  2. Adegbite, Wale
    (2008) Macro-Language policy and planning and lack of proficiency in language learning and use by Nigerian students. Forum on Public Policy. Retrieved19.09.2019. https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1099066.pdf
    [Google Scholar]
  3. Agbedo, C. U.
    (2007) Problems of Multilingual nations, the Nigerian perspective. Nsukka: Ace Resources Konzult.
    [Google Scholar]
  4. Akinnaso, Niyi F.
    (1991) Toward the development of a multilingual language policy in Nigeria. Applied Linguistics12(1), 29–62. 10.1093/applin/12.1.29
    https://doi.org/10.1093/applin/12.1.29 [Google Scholar]
  5. Alexander, Neville
    (2012) The centrality of the language question in post-apartheid South Africa: Revisiting a perennial issue. In: South African Journal of Science (108)9/10, 1–7. 10.4102/sajs.v108i9/10.1443
    https://doi.org/10.4102/sajs.v108i9/10.1443 [Google Scholar]
  6. Bamgbose, Ayo
    (2011) African Languages Today: The Challenge of and Prospects for Empowerment under Globalization. In: Selected Proceedings of the 40th Annual Conference on African Linguistics, ed.Eyamba G. Bokamba , 1–14. Somerville, MA: Cascadilla Proceedings Project.
    [Google Scholar]
  7. Brock-Utne, Birgit
    (2017) Multilingualism in Africa: Marginalisation and empowerment. In: H. Coleman (ed): Multilingualisms and Development, 61–77. London (UK): British Council.
    [Google Scholar]
  8. Djité, Paulin
    (2008) The Sociolinguistics of Development in Africa. Clevedon (UK): Multilingual Matters. 10.21832/9781847690470
    https://doi.org/10.21832/9781847690470 [Google Scholar]
  9. Eberhard, David M., Gary F. Simons, and Charles D. Fennig
    (eds.) (2021) Ethnologue: Languages of the World. Twenty-fifth edition. Dallas, Texas: SIL International. Online version. www.ethnologue.com
    [Google Scholar]
  10. Fafunwa, Babs
    (1975) Education in the Mother-Tongue: A Nigerian Experiment--the Six-Year (Yoruba Medium) Primary Education Project at the University of Ife, Nigeria. In: West African Journal of Education19(2), 213–227.
    [Google Scholar]
  11. Fafunwa, Babatunde
    (1989) Education in Mother Tongue, Ife Primary Education Research Project. Ibadan: University Press.
    [Google Scholar]
  12. Fakuade, Gbenga
    (1992) Guosa – An Unknown Linguistic Code in NigeriaLanguage Problems and Language Planning16(3), 260–63. 10.1075/lplp.16.3.06fak
    https://doi.org/10.1075/lplp.16.3.06fak [Google Scholar]
  13. First European Survey on Language Competences – Executive Summary
    First European Survey on Language Competences – Executive Summary. European Commission, Brussels 2012.
  14. Grin, François
    (2003) Language Planning and Economics. Current Issues in Language Planning (4)11, 1–66. 10.1080/14664200308668048
    https://doi.org/10.1080/14664200308668048 [Google Scholar]
  15. Igbineweka, A.
    (2007) The Complete Dictionary of Guosa Language. Guosa Educational, Scientific and Cultural Ins., Inc. and Guosa Publication Services.
    [Google Scholar]
  16. Kamwangamalu, Nkonko
    (2016) Language Policy and Economics – the Language Question in Africa. London (UK): Palgrave MacMillan. 10.1057/978‑1‑137‑31623‑3
    https://doi.org/10.1057/978-1-137-31623-3 [Google Scholar]
  17. Kloss, Heinz
    (1967) Abstand Languages’ and ‘Ausbau Languages’. Anthropological Linguistics (9)71, 29–41.
    [Google Scholar]
  18. Mann, Charles C.
    (1990) Choosing an indigenous official language for Nigeria. British Studies in Applied Linguistics (Language and Nation): 91–103.
    [Google Scholar]
  19. Ndubuisi, J. K.
    (1998) Language and National development the Nigeria experience. WilbestEducational Publishers.
    [Google Scholar]
  20. Nigeria National Policy on Education
    Nigeria National Policy on Education (1981) Lagos: Federal Ministry of Information.
  21. Nigeria National Policy on Education
    Nigeria National Policy on Education (2014) Lagos (Nigeria): NERDC.
  22. Oloruntoba-Oju, Taiwo
    (2015) Communication and the colonial legacy in Nigeria: The linguistic and affective domainsRALL: Research in African Languages and Linguistics (2015)141: 1–33.
    [Google Scholar]
  23. Ouane, Adama; Glanz, Christine
    (2010) Why and how Africa should invest in African languages and multilingual education – An evidence- and practice-based policy advocacy brief. Hamburg (Germany): UNESCO Institute of Lifelong Learning.
    [Google Scholar]
  24. Pinxteren, Bert van
    (2020) Is Iraqw an easy language to learn?In: Wal, Jenneke van der; Smits, Heleen; Petrollino, Sara.; Nyst, Victoria; Kossmann, Maarten (eds): Essays on African languages and linguistics: in honour of Maarten Mous133–155. Leiden (Netherlands): African Studies Centre.
    [Google Scholar]
  25. (2021) Language, Education and Identity in Africa. Amsterdam (Netherlands): LOThttps://dx.medra.org/10.48273/LOT0595
    [Google Scholar]
  26. (2022) Language of instruction in education in Africa: How new questions help generate new answers. International Journal of Educational Development (88), 102524. 10.1016/j.ijedudev.2021.102524
    https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijedudev.2021.102524 [Google Scholar]
  27. Prah, Kwesi
    (2017) The Intellectualisation of African Languages for Higher Education. Alternation (24)21, 215–225. 10.29086/2519‑5476/2017/v24n2a11
    https://doi.org/10.29086/2519-5476/2017/v24n2a11 [Google Scholar]
  28. Sibayan, Bonifacio
    (1999) The Intellectualization of Filipino and Other Sociolinguistic and Education Essays. Manila: The Linguistic Society of the Philippines. De La Salle University Press.
    [Google Scholar]
  29. Smith, Lahra
    (2013) Making Citizens in Africa – Ethnicity, Gender, and National Identity in Ethiopia. New York (USA): Cambridge University Press. 10.1017/CBO9781139547468
    https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9781139547468 [Google Scholar]
  30. UNESCO
    UNESCO (1953) The use of vernacular languages in education. Paris: UNESCO.
    [Google Scholar]
  31. UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning
    UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning (2010) Why and how Africa should invest in African languages and multilingual education: An evidence- and practice-based policy advocacy brief. Hamburg: UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning.
    [Google Scholar]
  32. Wichmann, Søren, Eric W. Holman, and Cecil H. Brown
    (eds.) (2020) The ASJP Database (version 19).
    [Google Scholar]
  33. Wolff, Ekkehard
    (2016) Language and Development in Africa – Perceptions, Ideologies and Challenges. New York (USA): Cambridge University Press. 10.1017/CBO9781316105023
    https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9781316105023 [Google Scholar]
  34. Yevudey, Elvis; Agbozo, Edzordzi
    (2019) Teacher trainee sociolinguistic backgrounds and attitudes to language-in-education policy in Ghana: a preliminary survey. Current Issues in Language Planning20(4), 338–364. 10.1080/14664208.2019.1585158
    https://doi.org/10.1080/14664208.2019.1585158 [Google Scholar]

Data & Media loading...

This is a required field
Please enter a valid email address
Approval was successful
Invalid data
An Error Occurred
Approval was partially successful, following selected items could not be processed due to error