The importance of language as a cultural tool

By Elizabeth Duve Dziva


Gaston Bachelard once said a special kind of beauty exists, which is born in language, of language and for language. Language is one very essential aspect of culture which needs to be jealously safeguarded.

It is sad to note that present-day parents take pride in grooming a generation which does not really know how to effectively communicate in their vernacular languages. Whoever brought the idea that English speaking is the ultimate measure of intelligence is neither wrong nor right but is mistaken.

Of course, the essence of acquisition of a second language and in our case English can never be disregarded for English is an official language in Zimbabwe which enables us to communicate universally. All the same, the word second should not be undermined. This explains that under normal circumstances, the very early stages of a child’s socialisation should be done in the primary language be it Shona, Ndebele, Tonga, Nambya, Venda, Shangani or any other of our various mother tongues.

It is very unfortunate when a language is lost, for the death of a language marks the death of the knowledge that goes with it. Language is the breath of God for it distinguishes men from animals hence the need to be regarded with the weight it carries.

With language come wise sayings that are essential to humanity. These include proverbs, idioms and expressions with lessons of things that we realistically encounter every day. In fact, language expresses people’s thinking and even Biblically, God created the world by word. Most of us, regret that our language and other facets of our culture are being eroded but at the same time we do nothing to preserve them.

We live in an era of terrible self-denial and rejection and it is a pity that in most cases, individuals subconsciously get into self-denial. Today, the relationship between who someone is and how he expresses himself is worlds apart. Talk of language use in dating and courtship. Back then, a young man’s oratory ability in his own language would credit him the woman of his dreams.

In Shona, demagogic orators would use rich, sweet talk like “svusvura ndadya, mhodzi yechingwa, chigagairwa chemoyo wangu, vachirera nherera” and that would move and melt a lady’s heart. But today try it and all young ladies in the hood will take to their heels and point at you as a mad man or otherwise your male counterparts will label you a disgrace, a backward and barbaric individual (Bhambi/Ubhare). What a pity!

It is time we march towards avoiding a situation whereby our various vernacular languages fall into disuse. After all, we do not need to ask for anybody’s permission to preserve our language, it is all upon us. Ridiculous as it may sound, there shall come a time when we will pay millions of dollars to the very few speakers left in order to resuscitate a once free of charge tool.

As a matter of fact, the government should consider having one indigenous language as a core subject at Ordinary level. Let us make it a priority to impart on our children the ability to communicate in our mother tongue and the knowledge that comes with it. It does not necessarily mean that we need to preserve word for word but the general style and force of the language.

Elizabeth Duve Dziva is an Archaeological and Cultural heritage practitioner, the views in this article are solely those of the author in her private capacity and do not represent the views of any organization email:duveelizabeth@gmaí