Is Kinyarwanda facing extinction?
According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), it is estimated that if nothing at all is done, half of 6,000-plus
languages spoken today will disappear by the end of this century.
With the disappearance of unwritten and undocumented languages, humanity would lose not only a cultural wealth but also important ancestral knowledge embedded in particular indigenous languages, according to UNESCO.
The aim of UNESCO’s Endangered Languages Programme is to support communities, experts and governments by producing, coordinating and disseminating tools for monitoring, advocacy, and assessment of status and trends in linguistic diversity, services such as policy advice, technical expertise and training, good practices and a platform for exchange and transfer of skills.
One of those endangered languages could be Kinyarwanda, a language so often spoken with a blend of French, English, Swahili or Luganda.
Kinyarwanda is spoken by approximately 40 million people in the region. But could our mother language be one of those endangered languages? And if so, what can be done to protect the language from extinction?
That is the question that was put to the public through The New Times Facebook page recently.
According to Jean Baptiste Iradukunda, due to Rwanda’s history, more people mix Kinyarwanda with other languages from places where they sought refuge during the Genocide against the Tutsis. In order to protect our language, Iradukunda argues, the government should reintroduce Kinyarwanda courses in our universities.
Pascal Iremishaka said that the solution is to use Kinyarwanda as the language of instruction in primary schools – at least from Primary One to Primary Three – and then switch to other languages from Primary Four. This way, he says, kids won’t forget their mother tongue.
He also suggests that Kinyarwanda should be one of the languages taught in secondary schools.
However, Monique Ineza, a 28-year-old mother of two, disagrees with Iremishaka, saying the world is moving forward so there is no need to be conservative and rigid, clinging onto only our mother tongues, which might never be needed at the work place after all.
She avers: “It’s good to keep the Kinyarwanda legacies and it should be taught for at least two years in primary schools but let’s also focus on the languages that might be more helpful in advancing our careers and studiers such as English and French,” she said.
Cyamatare Munyakayanza said preserving Kinyarwanda should start from “above”, with leaders being exemplary in using the language.
“I don't know if anyone has noticed the syndrome among some of the leaders of this country. You know you're communicating to people, most of whom don't speak either French or English, and you're using those languages almost 80 per cent of the time. They may not understand the message you’re trying to convey to them,” Munyakayanza said.
According to Munyakayanza, Kinyarwanda must be re-introduced in our schools. It’s a shame, he says, how there are many people who don't know how to write their own language perfectly. He adds that it’s impossible to preserve a language that one is unable to write.
Kinyarwanda is at a high risk of extinction if nothing is done, says Vet Kurawige. However, “the new generation needs to learn foreign languages so that they don’t fall behind in the emerging integration within the EAC as well as globalisation.”
However, even though written Kinyarwanda could be on the verge of extinction, all signs are that spoken Kinyarwanda is still very much alive. The government currently runs a Kinyarwanda culture academy aimed at strengthening the learning and ability to speak the language.