Magnus Eze, Enugu
Maazi Ogbonnaya Mark Okoro recently made history as the first translator for the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) Igbo Service. By this, he formulated the rules of Igbo grammar that guide editors, broadcast journalists and every member of the BBC Igbo.
The Ebonyi State-born grammarian speaks on his experience translating about 30,000 words in few days, developing content in Igbo and the UNESCO prediction of the likely extinction of Igbo language among others.
On observance of International Day for mother tongue in Nigeria
When it comes to mother tongue speaking in Nigeria, it’s problematic. We value foreign languages more than our language because we want to sound exposed. This I can call linguistic-inferiority-complex. English language is seen as saviour. Because of this self-disdainful look on our languages, observance of international day for mother tongue is highly unnoticed. Many people have expressed their thoughts that they know nothing about 21st February; the day set aside to mark indigenous languages. Igbo language has been subjected to the state of apathy; many Igbo parents are to be blamed for this. They take pride in seeing their children speaking English–whether correct or not instead of Igbo. It is quite disheartening that children living in Igbo land do not know about the International Day for mother tongue. They are not taught about it. So, even on this special day, they are found speaking English and taking pride in it.
UNESCO prediction of Igbo language extinction
I agree and disagree at the same time. As a linguist, I believe in language death and language shift. When a people fail to speak, communicate and write using their language, such language is liable to die and go into extinction. If the Igbo people fail to appreciate their language and make use of it, the UNESCO prediction will be fulfilled.
I disagree to such assertion too because by looking at the current linguistic and cultural consciousness sweeping around by most youths to propagate the Igbo language, there is hope. We have young Igbo writers and cultural advocates, media houses, entertainment industries, etc. Igbo is spoken in the villages, market squares, name it. With this, I don’t think it’s possible for the language to go into extinction. The fate of Igbo language is in the hands of the Igbo. Their attitudes toward the language will indicate whether it will go into extinction or not.
Involvement in BBC Igbo Service
I was involved in laying the groundwork for the BBC Igbo Service. Long before the public noticed about it, I translated all the BBC editorial guidelines into the Igbo language. That was in the middle of last year. I wrote the rules of the Igbo grammar that will guide the journalists and editors. Everything that BBC staff needed to know about journalism, I did them in Igbo language–ways to write, report news, write headlines, and translate in Igbo.
It was a hard task. Rome wasn’t built in a day. The job got me tied down as I was working to meet up the deadline. At the time I started it, Yoruba and Pidgin had done theirs. But Igbo was left behind. The interest I have for the Igbo language made me leave everything I was doing to meet up despite obstacles. After working on files for days, they would get deleted from the computer I was using. I would start afresh. After working again, my computer hard disk crashed and all the works gone to nowhere-to-be-found. I ran mad. I killed myself but couldn’t die. I wanted to stop. But asked myself, if I should, who would continue it? This is Igbo. I saw the need to use this medium to create things for the future and survival of our language. Without this work, there would never be any recruitment in the BBC Igbo Service because this is a guide and template.
I finished and worked on about 30,000 words. I saw the whole world in the work. I travelled around the continents of the world while sitting in my room. After translating, I made a report. I reread. I now formulated the rules of Igbo grammar that will help the editors, broadcast journalists and every member of BBC Igbo Service to fit into the modern Igbo grammar and language. I stated rules for Igbo translation; how to translate names of places, people, companies, etc. Despite all the obstacles; overworking, file missing, file corruption, hard disk crashing and reworking, BBC Igbo Service is here live. I am glad my experience added to the possibility of the project; that my services and night restlessness have caused our people to smile.
Igbo content of Nollywood
Nollywood contents are very poor; extremely poor and thoughtfully disengaging. The problem of Nollywood presently is hastiness to carryout projects without considering the psychological and cultural implications. Our culture has been abused. Little or no research is being carried out about the Igbo culture before producing movies and calling them Igbo cultural-based. The projects as well are poorly funded. I weep whenever I am watching any Nollywood movie subtitled into English Language. The texts are poorly proofread and run three or more lines on the screen. There is no way one could comprehend that. As a trained film translator and subtitle specialist from the Newcastle University and the University of the West of Scotland, I have come to realise that problem of Nollywood lies in professionalism. They do not use professionals or pay them well to create contents or translate their movies. Their contents are not professionally vetted. They do it anyhow they like. Because of this, our cultural values are blindly packaged and sold out to the world mocking market. People mock our culture and see it as primitive and wicked culture.
There is serious need for the experts to create digital contents that will bring more opportunities for others to participate in the imminent digital explosion in broadcasting.
What does it mean to you that at this young age, your books are read everywhere?
It means to me that the Igbo language will never die. In every generation, there must be someone who will grab the Igbo language by its horn. Other young ones are seeing the examples too and will definitely imitate it. I have written over 50 manuscripts in Igbo language. I have published over 18 books too in Igbo-all genres of literature. The books are used in all the south-eastern states for Junior WAEC and other classes. The books are used both for undergraduate and postgraduate exams in various universities in Nigeria. They began getting prominence when I was still an undergraduate student in the University of Nigeria, Nsukka when some of my lecturers were using the books for their Postgraduate exams. This means that Igbo will never die and age cannot prevent one from attaining some height in preservation of Igbo language.