Home > General > The slow death of Zimabwe’s beautiful vernecular languages

The slow death of Zimabwe’s beautiful vernecular languages

Do you know that one language dies every 14 days. By the next century nearly half of the roughly 7000 languages spoken on earth will have disappeared. What is lost when a language goes silent?

Vakawanda vedu vakatamira kumhiri kwemakugwa. Muchiri kugona kutaura chiShona here kana ChiNdevele, kana kuti ‘Shona inokhu nhetsa’, zvakataurwa mu drama re gore riya ‘Ziva kwavakabva’. Chirudzi chedu chinotibatsira kuti tirambe takabatana uye kuti tsika nemagariro edu se maZimbabwean dzirambe dzakasimba. Tinofanhira kukoshesa magariro ne tsika dzedu dzataka dzidziswa. Handisi kutaura zvekudzokera kunopfeka nhembe asi tsika dzedu dzechivanhu, dzekukudza vakuru, dzekukoshesa hukama, dzekbatsirana patinokwanisa.

I shall go back to writing in English because I am sure a good number of my readers are struggling to read these few lines. It is amazing how Shona was a compulsury subject in school. Even the white guys did L2 Shona. A few black Zimbabweans, did L2 as well, one thing I could never understand. In my view it is not something to boast about that you can no longer speak Shona or tha your children cannot speak Shona. I think it is a shame. Somehow explain to me, how you can unlearn a language when it is spoken around you quite often. I often wonder if all people do at home is watch tv and talk in English.

I was talking to a Nigerian guy and he asked me where I came from and I said I come from Nigeria. He looked at me and laughed and I asked him why he was laughing at me. He said, No Nigerian cannot speak their native language.I told him I had grown up abroad and he said, still, there is no way! I have watched Nigerian families abroad and I could understand what this guy was saying. The children can have deep scottish or cockney accents, but when they get home to mama, they begin to speak in pigin or yoruba or whatever home language they speak. I think this is so beautiful. To be able to blend in wherever you go. When in Nigeria they blend in and when at school with their friends they will still blend in. What is fascinating is the ability to change from one tone to the other in a split second.

I attended a baby showe a few years ago and a lady encouraged all mothers to consider teaching their children Shona. She went to her child’s private school in Johannesburg to pick up her daughter. As she arrived there a Chinese mother was also picking up her daughter. The children were in the playground all talking in English. When the Chinese girl saw her mother, she immediately ran to get her bags and started greeting her mother in Mandarin. Obviously the Zimbabwean mother was greeted in English. She immediately made plans to take her daughter for Shona lessons so that she could start learning Shona. Her advice to futur mothers was not to despise our own native languages and to pass on at least one language to the next generation.

Children have an amazing ability to learn many languages at the same time. They may have a little bit of a delayed progress due to learning many languages at the same time, but once they master all the languages they will be even more eloquent than those who speak one language.

I hear countless reasons why children are not being taught Shona in homes anymore. I think it started of with the desire to breed, ‘masalala’, as they same in Zimbabwe or ‘ajebutter’ as they say in Nigeria. Both translate as those who eat salads and those who eat butter. Often they can be distinguished by their strong command of the English language, in Zimbabwe they would be called, ma-nose or ma nose brigade, meaning they speak through the nose like the white men. It is amazing how parents and society have placed such a huge premium on speaking good English at the expense of learning a local language. I do not see why children cannot do both. In my generation we learnt both English and Shona and were eloquent in both.

Another reason why children are not being taught vernacular languages is because there is a view that they will not perform well in school when they meet with ma-nose who cannot speak Shona. In my opinion it is a lot easier to

In America, Five Senate Democrats this week introduced a bill to offer financial incentives to classes from pre-kindergarten through graduate school that immerse students in Native American languages.The Native Language Immersion Student Achievement Act cites reports from the Bureau of Indian Affairs and educational institutions “that use primarily Native American languages to deliver education” and “have indicated that students from these schools have generally had high school graduation and college attendance rates above the norm for their peers.”


“There is a critical need that requires immediate action to support education through Native American languages to preserve these languages,” states the legislation, which would establish a grant program to fund Native language educational programs.


“Preserving Native American languages is crucial to protecting the culture and heritage of our nation’s First Peoples,”
said Alaska Sen. Mark Begich, a member of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. “Through no fault of their own, our Nation’s First Peoples have suffered from various policies and reform efforts aimed at terminating Native languages. Fortunately, Alaska Natives are a resilient people who have worked hard to preserve almost two dozen various indigenous languages.”


Begich’s co-sponsors are Sens. Tim Johnson (D-S.D.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Max Baucus (D-Mont.), and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii).


“Today immersion schools and programs offer students tremendous learning opportunities and are indicators of student achievement and success,” Begich said. “I’m honored to join my Senate colleagues in this effort and will work hard to advance this important legislation.”


Schools eligible for the grants would be “using Native American languages as the primary language of instruction of all curriculum.”

We can take this cue from our American friends and begin to promote our own native languages. We have often despised anything in vernecular, Radio Two, Mvengemvenge- Izomgido and inclined more to Western and English programmes on TV. We prefer schools that produce ma-salad as opposed to some really good schools that produce all rounded students such as St Augustines and the so called ST Nyoka’s. There is nothing wrong with our languages, they define who we are as people. They are beautiful and need to be preserved.

Learn Shona Online – Write or Speak in Shona Language Exchange

Maybe we can start in our homes and show our children we love our native languages and begin to promote the use of Shona and Ndebele in our homes. I cannot imagine going to a family gathering and talking in English all day. I hope that that day never comes.

Categories: General
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