Can Liberia’s Media Help Curtail Language Extinction?

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Few years from now, Liberia will witness a decline in linguistic diversity for the first-time in history; and yet, most people seem not to care about this growing problem. And worst of all, some are even happy about it.

When minor languages like the Dei, Belleh, Gbi and Doru (ones that are seriously in danger) become extinct, it is possible that the major ones will soon follow suit because globalization has increased the demand for English, thereby creating a situation where parents and even people of the older generation don’t care about teaching the young their mother tongues.

Except in remote part of the country where the presence of globalization has not been severely felt, children are compelled to learn Dei, Belleh, Gbi, Dorlu and other unpopular dialects. But in Monrovia and other major city centers across Liberia, things are quite different.

When we allow languages like those mentioned above to die, we also lose the knowledge and ability to understand the culture and people who spoke them, including the proper teaching of the custom, oral tradition and other inherited knowledge about these cultures.

Not only that, as each language dies, science in linguistics, anthropology, prehistory and psychology loses some diversity in data sources as well.

Worst of all, this kind of neglect results in a cultural identity and cultural information crisis, which brings about the loss of a vital part of the culture that is necessary to completely understand it, even in its entirety.

A solution is, however, not far off hand. If the Liberian media start raising awareness on the issue of language extinction and language preservation, things will change, and these endangered local languages will live on.

How can the media help? First, every television and radio station in the country needs to allocate at least four hours every day to programs that support linguistic diversity and expression, creation and dissemination, in every language.

Likewise, the print media needs to create columns for the use of local languages (in writing form) highlighting traditional stories, poems, among others.

By doing this consistently, the media will be erasing the idea that speaking local languages or teaching the young generation about them is backward or obsolete. This will return the pride in these languages, which would be a welcomed asset, and make secondary dominant languages like English and French.

Also, our linguistic, intellectual and cultural diversities and identities will be saved.

In addition, media houses should create a library of audiovisual materials from traditional communities, documenting the oral traditions and preserves such languages for future generations. In fact, talk shows and live interviews should be translated into these local languages as well.

Furthermore, such policies must not be seen as promoting or supporting the already dominant local languages to the exclusion of others, especially the minor languages. There should be balance.

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