Language And Culture: Veritable Tools For National Development

This article is published in the Tasambo Journal of Language, Literature, and Culture – Volume 1, Issue 1.

Abubakar, Mubaraq Tola

Department of English Studies, Adekunle Ajasin University, Ondo, Ni


The use of language depends on the level of effectiveness and efficiency with which it is developed and utilised to determine the development of any individual or society. Every society strives to use its language to preserve its culture, shape its thought and worldviews paper aims at identifying how Yoruba oral tradition can be deployed to reflect our cultural heritage, shape our thoughts and conceptual beliefs. Ten Yoruba proverbs and five songs were collected and analysed. Twenty elders from various communities in Oka-Akoko kingdom of Ondo State who are custodians of Yoruba culture were randomly sampled and interviewed. Findings revealed that indigenous language users are influenced by cultural values that help to change their moral reorientation and reduce the menace of social vices in our society and foster national development. The paper concludes that language and culture are veritable tools for national development, especially because of their effectiveness in shaping the speaker's moral values and thus, promoting societal traditional values.

Keywords: National development, indigenous languages, worldview, culture and thoughts

1.0 Introduction

Language and culture are interwoven. Fishman (1996: 80) cited in Alaiyemola (2017: 159), opines that "language is the mind, spirit, and soul of a people". It is pertinent to note that a user of a language naturally adopts the culture of the language they speak. Language becomes an integral part of our life experiences and habits which by extension guides our daily activities and social conduct. According to Selin (2003), culture is linked and influenced by the locally specific relationship between people and language. The importance of language to people who use such language is not limited only to the usage of language for communication and expression of feelings and thoughts alone, it also extends to the transmission of the culture of the people. Language is the vehicle in which culture travels from one generation to another.

One learns language and culture; in the process of learning both, the value system that is known or identified with the people is also learned. For National growth, the value system attached to the indigenous language must be appreciated by its user to shape their thought and conceptual beliefs. This is important especially now that all manners of social and moral decadence, deviance, and other vices have caused devaluation to our national image and international communities perceive Nigerians as criminally minded people.

Indigenous languages are culturally rich in adding values to the moral conduct of their users especially, its proverbial messages, taboos/superstitions, and poetry. Society has always struggled to develop its language to express its interest and thought. Ayodele and Obateru (2017), believe that indigenous languages must be defended to survive because of their ability to contribute to national development through the passage of moral values and reorientation to its people. The ability of a language to shape our thought and worldview as described as linguistic relativism is of great relevance to this paper. Noteworthy is the concept that suggests that the use of vocabulary that is unique to one's native language shapes one's view.

1.1 Language and Culture

Language reflects our culture. According to Boas (1911), "language is an important tool for fieldwork and the study of culture, especially because the categories and rules of language are largely unconscious and thus not subject to secondary rationalization." Language is a practical aspect of human life. It is used to pass culture from one generation to another. It is a way of conscientiously sensitising the speakers about the culture of a particular group of people. When a language is learned and used for a mutual relationship, it becomes the speaker's life addiction. As Sapir (1939) puts it, "language is the symbolic guide to culture." Language and culture are inseparable as both share a potential relationship to express the worldview of a speech community. Culture, according to UNESCO (1982), includes not only arts and letters but also modes of life, the fundamental rights of human beings, value systems, tradition, and beliefs." This definition emphasizes value systems, tradition, and beliefs of speakers of a particular language that is rich in cultural properties; oral literature such as folktales, poetry, myths, legends, proverbs and beliefs and superstitions, spiritual songs, and heroic tales. Alaiyemola (2017: 160). An Indigenous language is identified as one of the most tangible symbols of the culture and group identity. Indigenous languages institute (2002), as conveyed by a group of indigenous language preservationists concluded that without our indigenous language, ‘no new songs could be written in our languages, ancient songs would no longer be understood, we would no longer be able to communicate with the spirit world in our language and no one would be able to understand our sacred prayers.

Indigenous language plays a vital role in preserving our culture to curb the menace of foreign culture, through its language's application, which has caused especially our youths' engagement in cyber-crimes and other social vices. Conscious efforts should be made to educate our children through the opportunity opens up by our languages to shape our way of life to promote and develop nationally in both socio-economic development and value reorientation in individuals and society in general.

Kluckhohn, (1951), defined value as a conception, explicit or implicit, distinctive of an individual or characteristic of a group, of the desirable, which influences the selection from available modes, means, and ends of action. Individual value reorientation through language and culture has helped to prevent "social misfits and miscreants that exhibit dangerously immeasurably and a consistently high degree of social deviance arising from lack of proper manners and acceptable character in our youth," Babatola (2017: 34). It is on this note that this paper examines how language and culture shape our thoughts.

1.3 How language and culture shape our worldview

According to Bamgbose (2021), language has the most powerful, dangerous, and subversive trait that human beings have ever devised. It has the power to rewrite people's minds. It is a carrier of our worldview, the instrument of ideologies, and a tool for carving identities. Our identities are identifiable in our culture and the image we carry as an individual and a society. Siddiq (2016) cited in Bamgbose (2021), believes that words have a descriptive function and an important role in describing our worldview and are very crucial in shaping the minds and perceptions of speakers who use such language. Benjamin Lee Wharf's hypothesis confirms the influence language has on how we think about events that happen in our world, through the Sapin-Whorf hypothesis of linguistic relativity. To them, language through culture and thought exert a mutual influence; language shapes our experience of the world. The argument that whether language determines thought or that language influences thought opens up which side this paper takes. This present study aligns with the latter which agrees that different languages (because of differences in their culture) can carve up the world in different ways. People's conceptual thinking can be shaped and constrained by available linguistic means made available for speakers of a language. Language influences thought rather than the reverse. Though people think differently because of differences in their languages yet, language influences perceptions, thought, and at least potentially behaviour. The greeting system in Nigeria between the young and the old: prostration, squatting, and handshaking are viewed differently in our three major tribes (Yoruba, Hausa, and Igbo) in Nigeria. Speakers of languages are likely to behave in a pattern made available by their culture which their languages express.

Certainly, language and culture by their linguistic properties; proverbs, songs, superstitions, taboos, and folktales have provided a medium to create rich repositories of cultural knowledge and values to shape the moral reorientation of our youths in Nigerian communities. This paper relies on the use of proverbs, taboos, and songs to shape our worldview, behaviour, and thoughts for national security, value system, and integrity.

2.0 Existing scholarly contributions

Scholars have contributed to the need for the adoption, influence, and contributions of Nigerian languages for national development especially, in our socio-economic growth. Clement (2011), examined strategies in the teaching and learning of Nigerian languages as second languages to foster peace and development in Nigeria. He observes that the Nigerian government has put some measures in place, however, those measures are not implemented to the latter. Wale A. (2011), examined Languages and the challenges of education in Nigeria. He identified educational and linguistic failure as the bane of the development of the Nigerian nation. He opined that while a language policy is crucial to the nation, as language is the basis for human cognitive, social and communicative activities, lingua–cultural policies can be formulated to the integrated aspect of language and cultural experience of Nigerians for sustainable development.

Babatola (2015), understudied Literary Inquiry of Social Value Constructs in Tackling Deviance, Delinquency, and Decadence. The paper examined the rights and proper values in building social structures and endowing good and endurable mannerisms amongst individuals in a society to produce leaders and followers whose attitudinal approaches to life are devoid of dependable and commendable character worthy of emulation. The study concluded that any society that lacks a practical, appreciable, and acceptable rational thought process would be chaotic, crisis-ridden, self-centered, and bedeviled.

Odebunmi (2016), investigated Language, Context, and Society to provide the fundamental orientation for the existence of cross-societal ties. The study concluded that language is the main resource empowering communicative interactions in society. Therefore, the major preoccupation of this paper is to examine how linguistic and cultural properties; proverbs, taboos, and poems in Yorùbá literature affect, determine, and influence the beliefs, and thoughts and shape the moral values of the speakers. This paper concludes that the loss of social values and public morality display resulting from the negligence of speakers of the language in applying the acceptable and appreciable cultural norms fundamental in the language as guides to moral reorientation are the core effects of immorality and social vices in our society which are banes to national development.



3.0 Methodology

The data of this paper were derived from J.F. dúnj's Yorùbá popular poems and the interview conducted on twenty (20) elders who are custodians of Yorùbá cultures and heritage in ̀kà Àkókó area of Ondo State. Ten Yorùbá proverbial statements were collected, sampled, and analysed. Five taboos as well as five poems, published in J.F. dúnj's book titled "Alawiye" (1953), were also analysed. This paper adopted a descriptive-analytical method of collecting data. The proverbs and songs were rendered in Yorúbá language by the interviewees but translated into the English language for easy accessibility of the reader. Most of the proverbs and taboos are also available in some books published in the Yorùbá language.

4.0 Data presentation and analysis

4.1 Proverbs

According to the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English, Proverb is a short well-known statement that gives advice about life or expresses something that is generally true, used in a language, and has a particular meaning." Proverbs are deployed culturally to express the worldview of a speech community through their life experiences to advise on resourcefulness, self-reliance, sagacity, self-control, honesty, plain speaking (against hate speech), kindness to others, and other virtues. To Alaiyemola (2017), "Through the use of proverbs, language as a cultural phenomenon provides possible and rich human interaction and exploration into people's worldview." The interactive enrichment and culturally sensitive benefits of proverbs that are embedded in the collective norm and value system are important in shaping our thoughts and behaviour. They are ancestral wisdom passed down from generation to generation to form society's oral tradition.

This paper presents proverbs relating to concepts that reside in or against hate speech, resourcefulness, caution, patience, kindness, and civil responsibilities.

4.1.1 Proverbial statements against hate-speech

Extract 1: A kìí bú ba onígègè lójú àwn èèyan-án ̀ 

One does not insult a king with goiter in the presence of his people

Extract 2: A kìí ti ojú oníka ḿsàn-án kàá

One does not abuse a physically challenged person in his presence.

Extract 3: Bí etí kò bá gb́ yìnkìn, inú kìí bàj́.

If the ear does not receive bad news, the mind will not be displeased.

The above extracts advocate against hate speech. The proverb discourages careless speech or discreet behaviour. Libeling, slandering and the act of using social media to discredit an individual or government are frowned upon in this context. Yoruba attaches value to personality and integrity so much that whatever someone said about others to reveal his claws is taken seriously and one must be careful to expose oneself to such repercussions. While extract 2 advises that we must be discreet in public speaking about other people's flaws and deformities.

Government and individuals have taken issues to court on cases relating to hate speech, face-threatening, and pulling down one’s integrity/character assassination. Hate Speech has led to many losing their lives and properties also resulting in kidnapping, vandalization, and killing in the past. Extract 3 preaches against verbal abuse, it presents the "ear and mind" (perception and interpretation) of whatever is said against the receivers. Research has shown that the majority of domestic violence, physical abuse, and communal clashes are associated with verbal abuse especially, interpersonal violence in recent times.

4.1.2. Proverb on resourcefulness/industriousness/diligence

Extract 4: Adùn ni ńgb̀yìn ewúro

The aftertaste of the bitter leaf is sweet

Extract 5: Àf́ká là ńf́ iná

Blowing from all directions is how one blows at a fire "to kindle it".

From extract 4, the concepts of perseverance, diligence, and resourcefulness are emphasised. Yorùbá culture appreciates individuals who are diligent and resourceful. The culture discourages laziness and laxity in one's line of duty. "Ewúro" bitter leaf is compared with the bitter exertions during work to achieve target goals and "adùn" sweetness and pleasure that comes after achieving success in doing the job. This encourages youth and people to work and wait for its result which usually succeeds. Extract 5 exhibits the idea of economic diversification and over-reliance on one source of income. "Àf́ká" blowing from all directions is synonymous with the diversification of ideas. "Iná" fire signifies pains, hard work, and diligence before success is achieved.

4.1.3. Proverbs on caution/advice

Extract 6: Ìjàkùm̀ kìí rìnde ̀sán, ni a bíire kìí rìnde òru.

The wildcat never roams in daylight, a well-bred person does not wander around in the nighttime.

Extract 7: A kìí fi ìkánjú lá b̀ gbígbóná

One does not eat scalding stew in a hurry.

Extract 8: Aḱyinj ò m̀ pé ìdí ńro adì.

The person who gathers eggs to eat does not know that the chicken's orifice hurts.

Extract 6, emphasises the cultural cautiousness placed on night/late-hour engagement to perpetrate unlawful acts. In the face of insecurity, a curfew is usually imposed on late-night movement (Dust to Dawn Curfew). Here, a character comparison is done between wildcat (ìjàkum̀) in Yorùbá culture, it is a predator that feeds on other animals and poses danger to domestic animals and well-bred person (ni a bíire) who watches and calculates his/her steps (avoid night outings). This proverb is used by Yoruba elders to warn or advise the youth/young ones against late-hour/night clubbing.

Extract 7 is on the cultural value attached to patience in Yorùbá culture, especially during delicate or difficult, personal or national matters. Elders exhibit this trait of patience on communal issues that concern marriage, chieftaincy, land boundary demarcation, and other important issues of national interest. The warning language resides in the phrases "Scalding stew" and "a hurry". Finally, extract 8 shows that one should never be so preoccupied with one's pleasure that one does not care about what one costs others. This inculcates national unity and consciousness in individuals to see the act of collective bargaining for national development rather than the idea of individualism.

4.1.4. Proverb on civil responsibility/ collective efforts

Extract 9: Bí a rán ni níṣẹ́ rú, a fi tm j

If we send a person on a slave errand, he should run it like a freeborn.

Extract 10: A ní iṣẹ́ yii, ise re nii, o ní ò ńl sóko; bó o ba toko de, ò nb̀ wá bá a níbé.

You are told that a job is your responsibility and you say you are on your way to the farm, you may be on the way to the farm, but the job will be there on your return.

In extract 9, cultural importance on legitimacy and freeborn is placed on the pedestrian to civil responsibility while discouraging the act of thuggery and hooliganism. These acts are condemnable in Yoruba cultural heritage. This proverb shows how Yorùbá ancestral background and child upbringing in discharging their civil duties. In the face of political engagement, during elections of politicians onto offices, supporters of political parties would be reminded to carry out political assignments in a more civil manner/caution.

Extract 10 preaches collective efforts to develop one’s community with his potential. It discourages running away from one's responsibility, leaving it for others. An individual may decide on strategies to differ in carrying out one's duties, but they are likely to make others carry them out. Speakers urge listeners to advocate self-reliance to promote national development.

4.2 Taboos

Culturally, taboos are traditionally regarded as sacred and sacrilegious acts that are forbidden by people that share common knowledge and cultural heritage. Google search defines taboos as "a social or religious custom prohibition or restricting a particular or forbidding association with a particular person, place or thing. This paper restricts its area of research on taboos to its socio-cultural application to the behavioural disposition of the people who are guided by their ancestral language. Taboos are used to preserve, educate, guide, and create a restriction on moral decadence in society. Through the protection of our moral values system and heritage, Yorùbá acculturates taboos to place certain restrictions on how people think or view acceptable public behaviours and social norms. The following are taboos in Yorùbá;

Extract 11: A kìí fi ìgbál̀ tàbí m odó lú m kùnrin.

Beating a male child with a broom or pestle is forbidden.

Extract 12: ba kìí ńṣẹ́jú wo inú adé ìṣẹ̀m̀báyé

A king does not look into his crown.

Extract 13: A kìí pa igún

One must not kill a vulture

Extract 14: Awo kò gbd̀ sán bàǹt́ awo

The initiate must not wear another initiate's underwear

Extract 15: Èèyàn kìí gbé ìyá r̀ níyàwó

One must not marry his mother

Extract 11 restricts people and discourages child abuse. Yorùbá places restrictions and forbids parental abuse on their children. Before civil law, Yorùbá people frowned at this act and discouraged it especially, to protect a male child whose population was or is lower compared to a female child. Extract 12, discourages suicidal and autocratic leadership. Leaders are checked by elders for their autocratic rules. Elders use this act to curb the power misfits and abuse of office. Extract 13 restricts an individual from killing vultures in the community. Vultures are scavengers that usually pick carcasses in the community. They serve as environmental vanguards against a filthy environment. It is also to restrict people (young and old) from going near the bird whose body carries harmful insects that are inimical to human health; for environmental protection.

Moreover, killing them would amount to nothing because they are not edible. Extract 14 places restrictions on immorality (sexuality) and promiscuous acts amongst Yorùbá people. It further prevents people from contracting sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) such as HIV/AIDS, Syphilis, and others. Finally, extract 15 forbids incest between family members. Incest is highly prohibited and frowned upon by the Yorùbá culture. The culture does not encourage immorality either within the family circle or in the community.

The final stage of this paper presents selected J. F. dunj's popular Yorùbá poems. These selected poems were published in the popular ‘Alawiye’ books for pupils in pre-secondary schools. The poems are existing literature that interpolates morality, and social values, and conducts into the subconsciousness of the Yorùbá youths. According to Babatola (2017), “they serve as mediums of interaction to rekindle and impact the desired values on the younger generation.” Poems are memorized, and committed to the heart where they create an imaginable picture in the mind of the reader. Poems operate at the sub-level of human consciousness and serve as a reminder of the readers’ reality of life.

According to English Dictionary, a poem is “A piece of poetic writing, that is with an intention or depth of expression or inspiration greater than {sic}is usual in prose.” The following poems serve as inspiration, encouragement, reminder, and sermons to youths and whoever wants to exhibit excellent character and reputable achievement worthy of emulation in the society for national development;

 4.3.1 IṢẸ́ L'OÒGÙN ÌṢẸ́ (Work is the antidote to penury) (J. F. dunj, 1953)

Iṣẹ́ l'oògùn ìṣẹ́, múra síṣẹ́ ̀ŕ mi

Iṣẹ́ ni a fi ń dni gíga

Bí a kò bá ŕni f̀yìn tì

̀l là á rí.

Bí a kò bá ŕni gb́k̀lé;

A tra ḿ iṣẹ́ ni...


Work is the only antidote for poverty

So, my dear friend, you have to work hard

Hard work is the only key to success

When one has no helper

It's like we are lazy

When there is no human to put our hopes on

You had better focus more on your work…

This poem encourages hard work, self-reliance, dedication to one’s duties, and being focused. Ise logun Ise is a popular oral literature that was committed to the hearts of pupils in pre-secondary school education in the west. It was used to encourage independence and discourage over-reliance on those who are rich in society. Hard work pays, but laziness does not. ‘Success, they say, does not come easy. People who are successful today, have their stories attached to persistent hard work which later earned them self-sufficiency and financial independence.

4.3.2 T́JÚ ÌWÀ R, ̀Ŕ MI (Be cautious of your behavior)

Bí o lówó bí o kò níwà ńḱ?

Tani j́ finú tán ohun rere?

Tàbí kí o j́ obìnrin r̀gb̀d̀;

Tí o bá jìnà síwà tí ̀dá ń f́,

Tani j́ f́ sílé bí aya?

Tàbí kí o j́ oníjìbìtì ènìyàn;

Bí o til̀ m ìwé àm̀dájú,

Tani j́ gbéṣẹ́ ajé fún e?

T́jú ìwà r, ̀ŕ mi,

Ìwà kò sí, ̀ḱ dègbé;

Gbogbo ayé ní ń f́ni tó j́ rere.


What if you are rich without any moral principles?

Who will confide in you for a worthy cause?

Or if you are a woman of paragon beauty:

Yet far away from people’s expected moral standards,

Who will marry such as a wife?

Or if you are highly educated,

Who will entrust you with business?

Care about your character, my friend

In the absence of character, education is futile,

Everyone loves a person with good character.

This poem puts the principle of integrity into a front banner of humanity. Morality and moral standard are watchwords in this poem. Yoruba language speakers, in general, are encouraged to always put up good character and try to display these virtues in the public domain. People are often chosen by society into positions of leadership because of their moral values and integrity not based on their display of ill-gotten wealth or high certificates.

4.3.3 GBÉ J́́ KÍ NÍYÌ (Be cautious to be respectable)

Gbé j́́ kí o níyì, ̀ŕ mi

Igbá agbéj́́ kì í f́ kíákíá

Àwo agbéj́́ kìí fàya b̀r̀b̀r̀

ùgb́n èrò tó fi wàdùwàdù

Kó ayé ḿyà tí kò gbé j́́,

Bó ṕ títí á dni ayé ń t́ kiri

Ỳỳ ĺnu ayé, ỳỳ ĺnu ènìyàn.


Be cautious to be respectable, my friend.

A long-lasting effort does not fly quickly

A patient initiate does not gallivant without care

But those who are clueless or crude in reaction

Embrace the world without taking caution,

However long it may be, they will be disdained by the world

The views of the people often change the word of men are unreliable.

This poem advocates and prepares the listeners to apply caution in every personal or national dealing. Youths are the focus here because of the nature of their restiveness. It shows that patience is a virtue that can lead to success. Rural-urban migration and leaving one own country for greener pastures in foreign lands(Jápa) mentality, because of the economic conditions of the country is discouraged by the poet. Long-lasting effort does not gallivant without care.

4.3.4 KÍ NI N Ó FOLÈ E (Why should I be a thief?)

Kí ni n ó folè e láyé tí mo wá?

Kí ni n ó folè e láyé tí mo wá?

Láyé tí mo wá kàkà kí ng jalè

Kàkà kí n jalè ma kúkú drú,

Kí ni n ó folè e láyé tí mo wá.


Why should I be a thief in this world of mine?

Why should I be a thief in this world of mine?

In this world of my creation rather than steal

Rather than steal, I will choose to be a labourer

Why should I be a thief in this world of mine?

Stealing, arm-robbery, and other forms of illegal possession of other people’s properties are condemned by this poem. The persona prefers to be a slave/labourer rather than a thief. It creates in the mind of the reciter that being self-sufficient is a key to not only self-development but also national growth. Hardworking workers are tools that promote the industrial growth and socio-economic development of a nation. The issue of cybercrime has dented the image of Nigeria in the international communities. Therefore, this poem is apt in correcting the act of stealing public funds.

4.3.5 KÀKÀ KÍ N BÍ GBÀÁ ̀BÙN (Instead of I beget a lazy child)

Kàkà kí n bí gbàá ̀bùn

Ma kúkú bí ̀kan oo ̀gá,

Ma fi yán aráyé lójú,

Ma róhun gbéraga,

é ̀kan oo àràbà,

Kì í e gbọọgba irúnbí m,

Àkúkúùbí sàn ju ràdàràdà;

Ká kú ĺmdé kó yni

Ó sàn ju ká dàgbà ká tr j l.


Instead of breeding two thousand filthy ones

I would procreate an exceptional child

I would have something for the world to envy

I would have something to be proud of

A single cotton tree

Is appreciable than two thousand cane shrubs:

An outstanding child

Outstrips multitudes of unproductive broods

Infertility is better than begetting hopeless progenies:

To die reverentially at a young age,

Is better than begging to eat in old age.

This poem advocates the importance of hard work in the Yoruba race. It shows how the people revered those who are hardworking and reprimanded those who are lazy. Industrious sons and daughters in the community are appreciated and proud of in this context. Reference to an outstanding child by the poet shows the difference between hard work/industrialization and laziness/unproductiveness, hopeless progenies. Yoruba people believe that having an outstanding child is a pride for the nation. When this act of hard work is ensured, the issues of insecurity, unemployment, cybercrime, and other social vices would reduce and gradually minimize in Nigeria.


Our language shapes and consciously directs our actions and thoughts. Therefore, Yorùbá proverbial statements, taboos, and the selected Odunj's poem are necessary tools to shape and interpolate societal and acceptable norms in the sub-consciousness of our youth to establish the desired moral reorientation and shape their thoughts for national development. According to early research, first language learning creates a foundation for all learning, and everything is better assimilated if delivered and processed in the mother tongue of the child. This paper concludes that language and culture are veritable tools for national development, especially because of their effectiveness in shaping the speaker's moral values and thus, promoting societal traditional values. The study, therefore, advocates the use of the Yoruba language as a medium of instruction in our pre-secondary school education to catch the pupils young and interpolate them into the Yoruba culture and customs to breed the desired goals for national development.


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DOI: https://dx.doi.org/10.36349/tjllc.2022.v01i01.027

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