Chapter One



Background of the study

Language is inevitably at the centre of identity construction in multilingual contexts where language choices have to be made. This is so where individuals have to negotiate their identity through their language choice. According to Muaka, Gumperz’s (2015) study helped to contextualize how speakers construct identity in bi/multilingual situations. In this work, he shows how the we-code and they-code represent an individual’s group identity in relation to others. He further stresses that the we-code represents the speaker’s variety as being informal, familiar and proximal in terms of social distance. In multilingual setting, this code would be the local language. The other people’s code which is the code denotes unfamiliarity, formal and social distance. In essence therefore, each language uniquely fulfill certain roles and represents certain identities, and all of them complement one another to serve the complex communicative demands of a pluralistic society (Vershik, 2015). Nkwain (2012) and Hymes (2015), on the other hand submit that language choice in complex multilingual speech.

The existence of all these languages side by side resulted in multilingualism. Knowing two or more than two languages became the need for communication among speech communities as well as individuals. Multilingualism‟ can be defined as an occurrence regarding an individual speaker who uses two or more languages, a community of speakers where two or more languages are used, or between speakers of two languages. Multilingualism basically arises due to the need to communicate across speech communities. Multilingualism is not a rare but a normal necessity across the world due to globalization and wider cultural communication. Also it is not a recent phenomenon; it was prevalent in the ancient time also. This need further resulted in lingua francas, pidgins and phenomenon like code switching.  These are the products of multilingualism. Multilingualism has various advantages: Multilingualism has not been always evaluated in terms of its advantages. Hence attitude towards multilingualism occupies two ends of the continuum. One end of the continuum reflects negative attitude while the other end shows positive attitude. Hence, for some, multilingualism is a nuisance as its acquisition is considered a load and for some it is an asset, as there is no restriction in the choice of languages. In the dominant monolingual countries two languages are considered a nuisance, three languages as uneconomic and many languages as absurd.  Multilingualism can be categorized into different types. There are various criteria and situations, which governs the classification of multilingualism.   The act of using or promoting the use of many languages by an individual speaker or a group of speakers in general. In the world’s population, multilingual speakers predominate monolingual speakers. Polyglottism is yet another term for it. Polyglots are people who are multilingual. This has evolved into a societal phenomenon governed by globalization and cultural openness requirements. In a general way, a multilingual person is someone who can communicate in more than one language, whether actively through speaking, writing or signing, or passively through listening, reading or perceiving. Multilingual speakers have acquired and maintained at least one language during childhood, that is, first language (L1) or mother tongue. This is something that can be acquired without a formal education. Even if a person is proficient in two or more languages, his or her “communicative competence” or “ability” may be unequal. In a typical society setting, linguistic diversity has been viewed in three ways: as a problem, a right, and a resource. Ethnic linguistic minority is considered as a problem that must be solved by assimilation into the majority language from the first perspective. Supporters of this viewpoint believe that minorities should fully embrace the behavior and language of the majority group. The second viewpoint views minority language maintenance as a right, while the third viewpoint argues that a minority language is a resource that can enrich the experiences and perceptions of all community members, regardless of their first language. This third view of multilingualism and linguistic diversity has been advocated in a number of studies, where three main benefits of multilingualism have been identified: improved international relations and trade; cultural enrichment; and social inclusion. Multilingualism is also seen as a key factor through which different ethnolinguistic groups in society can successfully coexist.


Mother tongue largely refers to not only the language one learns from one’s mother but also the speaker’s dominant and home language. It’s also called native language. Learning of a mother tongue takes place in a quite natural way. Regarding the mother tongue, language is learned through input and reciprocal interaction but it’s also believed that kids are born with an innate and special ability to discover the underlying rules of a language system. In essence, each particular language in the world (i.e. Ibibio, Igbo, Hausa, Yoruba, English, French, and German etc.) is a mother tongue of a particular place and time. It is then generally accepted that in teaching and learning processes, the mother tongue of the child is of utmost importance. For one thing, it categorizes a large part of the child’s environment, that is, it has names for most of the objects, actions, ideas, attributes and so on that are so important to him, as well as to any society.  The mother tongue is the child’s environment and is the natural basis on which verbal skills can be built, children learn through communicating in a language, which they understood. Regarding mother tongue, myth is another important element which is vital to explain one’s first language. ”The notion of ‘mother tongue’ is thus a mixture of myth and ideology. The family is not necessarily the place where languages are transmitted, and sometimes there are breaks observed in transmission, often translated by a change of language, with children acquiring as first language the one that dominates in the milieu. This phenomenon concerns all multilingual situations and most of the situations of migration. One’s Mother tongue may also be called in other words as first language, dominant language, home language, native tongue or native language. Mother tongue interference is a phenomenon viewed by many scholars as, ‘mother tongue influence’, which had been an actual response to the applied results of the structural methods.

Languages interact and influence one another and are not separate entities but are on a continuum. Just as various languages are not separate entities, there is no separate competence for separate languages as viewed from a traditional perspective. Competence is seen as being integrated and not constituting separate monolingual language systems (Cenoz, 2013).  The current global multilingual situation is due to globalization, easy mobility and the rapid increase in technology, and dominant economic and political powers. In comparison with the past, individuals are currently no longer limited to specific geographical areas and communication is now immediate and multimodal. Multilingualism is also no longer only associated with specific occupations and practices but is a phenomenon that is present across different social classes, occupations, and community practices (Cenoz, 2013).

Another reality is that multilingualism, although beneficial, also provides many challenges, especially in the classroom (Viljoen, 2015). Acquiring more than one language is a form of human capital because of the cost of linguistic resources, as well as the time taken by the individuals, parents, and educators to develop linguistic skills in the various languages (Okal, 2014). Multilingualism is only beneficial when a language is learned and the home language is still developed and maintained. It is essential to grow skills in all languages so as to develop cognitive, linguistic and academic abilities. Those societies that embrace linguistic diversity provide an environment that is accepting of language minorities and immigrants, which encourages a more positive outlook and acceptance of these individuals (Aronin & Hufeisen, 2015).

Concisely, code switching can be detailed as the ability to mix more than one language within the same statement or speech. Despite the fact that the mother tongue is said to form a natural and easy means for a child’s further intellectual, emotional, social, and linguistic development, it (the mother tongue) interferes in the efforts of students to learn a second language. Linguistic / language interference occurs whenever an individual uses features belonging to one language while speaking or writing another. Such an individual is known as a bilingual. In these days, learning a foreign language has been a growing need globally, but since learners express themselves best in their mother tongue, that calls for a special effort because they face different challenges that result in errors with the interference of mother tongue with the foreign language learning. Mother tongue influence is an important aspect to keep in mind in the learning process of a foreign language.

There are certain questions which need to be answered before establishing the types. In simple term a person who knows two or more than two languages at a time is known as multilingual. But what does knowing of two or more languages mean. A person who can understand more than one language, will he be considered multilingual? A person who can read more than one language but is unable to understand them, will that be considered a multilingual? For being a multilingual is it necessary to have command on all the four skill of language, i.e., listening, reading, writing and speaking. If yes, then he should have native like command on all the languages he knows. But that sounds too vague. Multilingualism serves the necessity of effective communication and for that it is not necessary to have competence in all the languages.

Multilingualism is not a rare, but a normal necessity across the world, due to globalization and wider cultural communication. Almost 25% of the world’s approximately 200 countries recognize two or more official languages with some of them recognizing more than two languages.


Statement of the problem

It is pertinent to note that, Languages must come into contact with one another, since language cannot grow in isolation. Through this interaction one language usually exercised its influence over another. By coming into terms with other languages.  However, in the multilingual setting of the present Nigeria, the ability of selecting a language amidst other languages can be daunting. Hence in due course, a number of language contact phenomena such as borrowing, diaglossia, interference, code switching are constantly establishing within the speech exchanges of bilinguals in Nigeria, to the extent that  (bilinguals) in certain scenarios can hardly maintain a conversation without shifting back and forth between languages. On the other hand, code switching is the most widely studied language contact phenomena (Lin & Li, 2015). Because the phenomena is vigorously appears in various formal and informal contexts within a single speech or utterance. Such social backgrounds comprise of official meetings, religious sermon, and commonly during conversation between peers or at times among family members. Bilinguals who are proficient in two or more language varieties usually switch between the languages in a single sentence or statement to share communicative meanings then to effectively express their intent. Though, the bilingual speakers at times may not conscious that they recurrently switch between the access codes within their statements (Milroy & Gordon, 2015). As they may not possibly recount the code they have selected in a series of communicative exchange (Wardhaugh, 2015). Hence this study seeks to explore language choice in multilingual families using festac town, Lagos state as a case study.



Aim and objectives

The main aim of the study is to examine language choice in multilingual families.


1. Analyze the pattern of language in different domain in a multilingual family.

2. Examine the influence of multilingualism on the choice and preference of language.

3. Examine the consequences of language choice in a multilingual family


Research questions

1. What are the multilingual patterns in the Nigerian family context and society?

2. How does multilingualism influence on the choice and preference of language?

Significance of the study

This study will be of significance in the following ways, it will be of benefit to linguistics and language experts on how Multilingualism can influence the choice of language and lingual switch, this study will also be of relevance to the Nigerian societal setting on the importance of adopting multilingual patterns and its influence on the choice of language, it will also be of relevance on evaluating the factors that influence changes in accent.

Scope of study

This study focuses on examining language choice in multilingual families. Hence this study adopts the use of descriptive survey approach to examine language choice in multilingual families. Questionnaires are distributed to randomly selected families with a multilingual setting.


Definition of terms


Multilingualism is the ability of an individual speaker or a community of speakers to communicate effectively in three or more languages


Language choice

The language choice describes a situation where communities that speak more than one language can choose which language to communicate with.