Language Maintenance in the Face of Identity Shift – Some Insights from Ilorin, Nigeria

Yeseera Omonike Oloso∗


This paper investigated the influence of politics on the linguistic and ethnic
identities of some Ilorin people of Yoruba ancestry and showed the variations
that exist in individuals’ degrees of allegiances to that ancestry. It paid
particular attention to ethnic converts; individuals who have crossed ethnic
boundaries while at the same time, maintaining linguistic allegiance to their
ancestral ethnicity. Survey and ethnographic methods were used. Proportional
sampling method was used for the selection of 100 questionnaire respondents
from the three local government areas constituting Ilorin. Structured
interviews which were conducted with 15 purposively selected respondents
with sufficient knowledge of their identities and community were
ethnographically analysed. A uniform pattern of linguistic identity was
established in favour of the Yoruba language but not so for the Yoruba ethnic
identity. A mosaic pattern of identity was established as 53.3% which
constitutes eight of the fifteen respondents, preferred a civic identity; 26.7% of
the respondents preferred their sole ancestral ethnic identity; Yoruba; two
respondents which constituted 13.3% of the respondents preferred hybrid
ethnic identities; Yoruba-Ilorin while there was also the case of an ethnic
converts who claimed non-ancestral ethnic belongingness (6.7%). Heritage
language maintenance did not translate into the maintenance of ancestral
ethnicity for a number of respondents as political allegiance was central to
their ethnic claims. Non-allegiance to an ancestry whose language is dominant
in Ilorin demonstrates that humans are not at the mercy of their heritage
languages even when such languages are the dominant medium of expression
for their community.
Key words: heritage language, ethnic identity, allegiance, belongingness

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