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1.1 Background to the Study

 Languages, with their complex implications for identity, communication, social integration, education and development, are of great importance for sociolinguists. Human languages have changed in the age of Globalization; no longer tied to stable communities, they move across the globe, and change in the process. Most nations in the world are multilingual; speaking more than two languages. They contain ethnic groups in contact and frequently in competition. It is well known that there are basically three possible linguistic outcomes of prolonged contact of ethnic groups: language maintenance, bilingualism or multilingualism, or language shift. Languages influence each other; they expand, contract or die. According to Remysen, Wim, Reinke& Kristin (2012), the impact of one language on the lexicon, phonology, and syntax of another has long been considered vitally important for the understanding of language change, choice, and use. It is very rare that contact is between equals and more or less symmetrical. The characterized differences between communities such as power, size, wealth, prestige, and vitality are significant factors which often make speakers adjust their language- choice patterns during their life time and/ or from one generation to the next, along with the speakers' attitudes towards their languages.

 Migration largely contributes to language contact and change. The community of immigrants faces great challenges whether to keep their mother tongue language actively in use, to shift to the dominant host language, or use their ethnic language side by side with the dominant official language of the host country.

Nigeria is a plural society with diversity in language, ethnicity, culture and people. These various forms of diversity are somewhat related in that the description of one issues gives some insight into the nature of diversity in general. Like many African countries, widespread multilingualism is found in Nigeria. Wolff (2000) explains widespread multilingualism is groups of people who use two or more languages regularly and who often apply the languages they use for different purposes or switch between them in very systematic ways’. Nigerians regularly have to deal with choices about language in different domains and situations as a result of the country’s linguistics diversity or its status as a multilingual society.

However, in multilingual context, language choice at the individual is more complex and is determined by a lot of factors. The bilingual or multilingual person makes decisive choices between languages or codes, which may be perceived as more appropriate or more effective in performing a particular function at a given situation. Several past studies have illustrated the factors that determine language choice in multilingual societies. Some of the factors include government and institutional fiat, regional ethnocentrism and trends in media language (Hidalgo 1998).

Other factors include ‘the speakers’ ideas about the language they speak’ (Gal 1995), ethnicity (Oyetade 1995; Morais 1998) role identification and the projection of social identities (Kristiansen 2004). Also widely identified as factors that do influence language choice are: addressee (MyerScotton 1982; Ullrich 1982), topic (Fishman 1972:439), the situation (Fishman 1965, exclusion strategy (Bamgbose 2003; Oha 2005), gender and age (Wolff 2000), and sociocultural contexts (Adegbija (2004). ‘Speakers make choices from the variety of the expressive means offered in their environment’ (Coulmas 2006). Languages use may occur either to bridge social gaps or to create social and communicative distance as ‘people signal degrees of intimacy, solidarity, respect, taboo, exclusion, discrimination by choice of language and/or by choice of variables of linguistic forms such as intonation and pronunciation, vocabulary and formulaic expression’ (Wolff 2000).

Furthermore, one of the most obvious problems associated with newly formed multilingual communities, for example, in countries such as Australia and Canada which have seen considerable immigration from different parts of the world, is that of cross-cultural communication. Sociolinguistic research has made it clear that to communicate successfully in a language other than your own, it is not enough to learn the phonology, grammar and vocabulary of that language. You also have to learn how to use it appropriately in particular social situations according to the norms employed and accepted by its native speakers. Potential multilingual speakers are people with a strong interest in a foreign language, people who find it necessary to acquire second or third language for practical purposes, such as business, information gathering or entertainment. Multilingual speakers outnumber monolingual speakers in the world’s population. In a multilingual society, not all speakers need to be multilingual. When all speakers are multilingual, linguists classify the community according to the functional distribution of the languages involved.

The researcher observed that before an individual thinks of language choice, there must be some motivational factors. Motivation and investment in this process, by the individual, will depend on the value attached to prospective gains accompanying proficiency in the relevant language. He also observed that language choice is affected by utilitarian considerations. A speaker may feel that the use of a particular language will place him in an advantageous position either within a group or within a wider social context. If his antagonists in a discussion or argument are less fluent than he is, this will clearly serve to give him a valuable edge. The perceived advantage does not have to be in relation to other individuals. It may be for purely personal considerations that a person chooses to speak a particular language. A student of a foreign language may prefer to use that language whenever possible, with the sole intention of improving his ability. Acquiring an additional language, second, third or fourth, will be greatly affected by the social, political and economic environment within which the acquisition process takes place. Learners of additional languages are either born into or transferred to (as a result of migration) a multilingual context. Those born into such a situation usually accept the need for multilingualism as a natural phenomenon and hence can easily see the importance and the gains of achieving a high level of proficiency in the various relevant languages. Those transferred to a multilingual context as a result of immigration, have some difficult choices to make:

  • Maintenance of the heritage language in order to preserve the culture and ethnic identity.
  • Acquisition of the new national language in order to gain equitable access to the new country’s resources.
  •  Acquisition of a language of wider communication, such as English for academic and professional purposes.
  • Finally, acquisition of another local language, which is needed for interaction with neighbours or fellow workers at the workplace. In this kind of situation, language choices may require certain “prices” to be paid by the learner.

Therefore, communication is only possible if both speakers share the same language, and there is little to gain from addressing someone in a language which they do not understand. There is an almost universal taboo upon the use of a language which might exclude one or more members of a group from a discussion, even if the subject of that discussion has no direct relevance to that person or persons. For example, a group of Igbo speakers may be discussing plans for a farewell party for one of their work-mates who is about to retire. Another person, one who does not work at the same company, who does not know the gentleman in question, and who will not be invited to the party, joins the group. This new comer, moreover, does not speak Igbo. It is now incumbent upon the group to continue their discussion in a language which that person can understand. Having to change the language of the discussion to one which may be a second or third language for a majority of the members can, of course, have a stultifying effect upon the course of the discussion, making it more difficult to express thoughts and ideas. In this case, however, the exclusion constraint takes precedence over the language preference of the group majority. In extreme cases, the requirement for a common language might force all of the speakers to adopt second or third languages. The search for a common language may sometimes prove unsuccessful, and a group will have to choose the language which allows participation of the greatest number of people.

1.2 Statement of Problem

With over 250 ethnic nationalities and about 400 indigenous language (Adegbija 1997) existing alongside English (the official language) and Nigeria Pidgin (NP), it is to be expected that language choice in Nigeria will be complex. Patterns of choices in language are not static and it may affect individual states or the nation, and caused from time to time by sociopolitical developments within a society. The present study examines the factors affecting language choice in a multilingual society, using Benue State as a case study to which socio-political activities, ethnic reawakening, regional creation, migration and economic consideration may affect drift in language use.Keen observation and study have shown that there are many things that make people to think of language choice.

1.3 Purpose of Study

The aims and objectives of this research work are to identify those things that affect people’s language choice in a multilingual society of Benue State. Specifically this study attempts to:

  • Identify the factors affecting language choice in multilingual society of Benue State.
  • Find out whether multilingualism affects the educational system in Benue State.
  • Find out whether the use of the mother tongue aids learning and enhances academic performance of students
  • Find out the merits and demerits of multilingualism 

1.4Research Questions

These questions have been posed to guide this study:

  • What are the factors affecting language choice in multilingual society of Benue State.?
  • How domultilingualism affects the educational system in Benue State?
  • How the use of the mother tongue aids learning and enhances academic performance of students?
  • What are the merits and demerits of multilingualism?

1.5Significance of the Study

To fill this gap, this project is on “Factors affecting Language Choice in a Multilingual Society.” Language choice of this nature will be beneficial to English learners, teachers, theory formulators, and curriculum planners.

  • A study of this nature will enable the learner to know factors affecting language choice in a multilingual society. Knowing this influences his learning because it deals with choices about language in different domains and situations as a result of the country’s linguistics diversity or its status as a multilingual society.
  • It helps the teacher to focus on those factors that determine language choice in multilingual societies so as to enhance understanding among the students.
  • The curriculum planner will incorporate the factors oflanguage choice in curriculum and also in the teacher’s workbooks for practical application and learning in the school system.
  • Publishers of books on the English language may find this work helpful because it could help them to identify the factors that determine language choice in multilingual societies so that they can focus attention on such areas in their publications.
  • Above all, this study may stimulate the minds of scholars to explore more comprehensively the issues and findings that have been brought to the fore with a view to tackling decisively the factors affecting language choice in a multilingual society.

The beneficiaries may come to know about the finding through journals where the findings of the study would be published. The published work will be placed in the public and academic libraries for easy accessibility. The study may also be uploaded online where members of the public may have access throughout the world.

1.6Scope and Limitation of Study

This research work will cover the concepts of multilingualism and the problems in Nigeria. It will also discuss some of the multilingual countries and their language policies and the ways to encourage multilingualism. The research is limited to factors affecting language choice in a multilingualism society like Benue State and its positive and negative effects on our educational system. It is restricted to factors that affect language choice in this kind of society mentioned above. The constraints associated with time shall not allow the researcher to stretch his hands to evaluate all the factors.

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