Digital activist discusses why native Yoruba speakers should embrace their Indigenous language in online spaces

Mikaeel Sodiq Adesina, right, speaking to participants during a Wikimedia photo walk project. Photo provided by Mikaeel Sodiq Adesina.

Meet Mikaeel Sodiq Adesina, a Yoruba language digital activist, photographer, videographer and the community lead for the Yoruba Wikimedians User Group. Since he joined the Wikimedia volunteer community in 2017, he has been actively contributing content on the Yoruba Wikipedia.

Adesina has participated in and led several training workshops and projects in the Wikimedia movement. He continuously contributes content on Yoruba Wikipedia because he does not want automated bots to write any articles there. He said that he prefers articles on his Indigenous language Wikipedia to be written by humans because he believes articles created by bots may contain false information as they lack the cultural context, experiences and knowledge of his language.

Adesina will be managing the @DigiAfricanLang X (formerly Twitter) account from August 17–23, to highlight his story about using Wikimedia platforms to share knowledge in the Yoruba language

Yoruba is a language predominantly spoken in the southwest of Nigeria, comprising six or seven states. According to World Data, there are approximately 41 million Yoruba speakers worldwide, with communities of speakers also living in countries like Benin, Togo, and other nations through migration.

The Yoruba language holds significant cultural and historical importance. It has a rich tradition of oral storytelling, proverbs, poetry, and music, all of which play a crucial role in passing down the Yoruba heritage from one generation to another. Additionally, Yoruba is classified as a tonal language, meaning that the pitch or tone used while pronouncing a word can alter its meaning.

Despite the challenges posed by modernization and globalization, some language activists like Adesina are working tirelessly to preserve and promote the language in digital spaces.

Rising Voices (RV): What is the current state of your language, both online and offline?

Mikaeel Adesina (MA): Online, the status of my language is average because many people prefer to use a foreign language instead of their native language, particularly English, which is the official language in Nigeria. This has been affecting the use of Yoruba online. Also, there is minimal content online in Yoruba as compared to other languages like Hausa and the colonial languages. This is because there are a lot of people who do not know that they can write in Yoruba. Moreover, most universities allow students to write their project theses in English, even when their research or projects involves the Yoruba language. All these challenges have significantly contributed to the decline in the use of Yoruba language online. But when it comes to offline, I will say the use of Yoruba is high because many people, especially the natives, often prefer to communicate in their Indigenous languages like Yoruba. They are able to communicate fluently in their own language.

RV: What are your motivations for seeing your language present in digital spaces?

MA: My motivation for promoting Yoruba in the digital spaces is to eliminate the idea that Yoruba is a minority language. Yoruba does not have to be a minority language. In as much as we have a lot of content online in English, German, Spanish and other colonial languages and these languages are thriving and promoting their cultures, Yoruba should not be left behind. I see this as is a gap that needs to be addressed. So this is what motivates me to promote Yoruba language in the digital spaces. I want to see Yoruba competing with the colonial languages and other African languages that have more content online.

RV: Describe some of the challenges that prevent your language from being fully utilized online.

MA: Some of the challenges that Yoruba is facing on the digital spaces include, one, people do not know that they can create content online in Yoruba. Also, people feel they will be looked down upon for speaking or using their native language online. So they feel inferior using their Indigenous language online. And I think the panacea to this is to create awareness and let them know that they can can make use of their  mother tongue without shame and the feeling of inferiority. English and French are other people's languages while Yoruba is our language so we should promote it like they promote theirs. Another challenge, is the lack of digital skills. Many people do not know they can install a Yoruba keyboard on their phone which they can use to type in Yoruba. So we have to educate people about this.

RV: What concrete steps do you think can be taken to encourage younger people to begin learning their language or keep using their language?

MA: There are several methods or ways that we can use to bring young minds into using their language online but if they are not aware that they can really do amazing things with their mother tongue online, how will they do that? So first of all, we need to create strong awareness among Yoruba speakers and internet users to let them have a sense of belonging in knowing that their language and knowledge deserve to be represented online. After that, then we can begin to equip them with the required skills. For example, how to use Yoruba keyboards to create content in Yoruba language. So first of all, we need to create awareness because awareness is the key. Without awareness nothing can be achieved.

RV: Why should people care about their Indigenous language?

MA: First of all, Yoruba people have rich cultures and practices that have been existing for thousands of years ago. Some of these cultural practices are still being practiced. One of these are festivals. We have a lot of festivals including Igogo festival, Olojo festivalEyo festival and many more. These festivals are celebrated to remind the Indigenous people of their history and heritage. In terms of literature, the Yoruba language has two distinct forms: Oral literature which relies on vocal sounds to express visions and opinions, encompassing poetry, eulogies, music, chants, and drumming. This form of literature is passed down orally through generations, preserving the wisdom of their ancestors. And the written literature, on the other hand, emerged after Yoruba people adopted writing, allowing them to document their oral traditions that have been cherished in their hearts and memories for centuries. These written forms of literature can be found in books and libraries all over the world. These and many other things distinguishes Yoruba people from the other tribes in Nigeria.  But many people are beginning to forget all these rich and important cultural aspects of Yoruba, so we need to remind them of their rich cultures. If one wants to continue to be known as Yoruba, your culture and your identity must be seen in you.

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