Speakers' Choices in Language Name: Cham or Dikaka

Social Issues

  • Author Jurgoi Saleh Jnr
  • Published May 12, 2023
  • Word count 1,140


I was scrolling through my Facebook page one night when I came across a page bearing a strange name, but the memes and pictures are not alien to me. They are pictures of our people. On that page was an article that spoke about a discovery of a language name. I wouldn’t hesitate to search the language on the Ethnologue’s official website for confirmation. The information I got from the Ethnologue is that this language is called Dikaka from the beginning and that it was mistaken to be called Cham instituted by the local people. I did not know about the existence of a name like Dikaka before the page I saw on the Ethnologue. In fact, with all my stay in the village, I never knew Cham was not the original and the official name for our language.

After the tentative inquiries, my people and I are finding it difficult to call ourselves “Dikaka‘’. Now, I decided to use the name to avoid endangering the future career prospects of our cultural heritage. I found it not easy to change, but then later found out the truth about it, and I have to demand an explanation from the Ethnologue of why the name for our language is Dikaka, and not Cham as generally known and accepted by our fathers.

The Facebook page I found is not the only site that recorded such information, nor was I alone as a witness of this language name. Barr. Ladan Babakodong who is a language contributor also spoke about that, and the history behind the language has flooded the internet in recent months. Dikaka’s reach is spreading throughout the internet and social media.

Who are the Cham people?

Cham is a living ancient language that is native to the people of Cham, who populated a region of Gombe South in Nigeria. The language is officially recognized by the Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL) Nigeria as one of the 500 ethnic groups that existed in the nation. As a spoken language, Dikaka is considered one of the richest languages in Nigeria. Dikaka is a language with multiple speakers all over Nigeria. Until now, the number of speakers that could speak the Dikaka language is still great, and people are making an effort to teach and learn the language from the language literacy groups. Dikaka kingdom spread all over the provinces of Lamurde, Dɨjɨm, and Bwiilɨm. Dɨjɨm province consists of places like Yolde, Dakawal Tɨksɨr, Kʊlo, Fuloti, Bariki, Kwari, and Kwasi, etc.

While Bwiilɨm province consists of places like Swir, Kʊtar, Bukulo, Fumur, Jʊblang, Lojah, Gilengi, Bare, Kwarge, Kwari, Kʊtare, Kenkeni, Lakun, Bekwa, etc. The province of Lamurde is a colony of Dikaka people that lives in Adamawa state, and their targeted location is Lamurde. For more: Check out my paper on “The Dikaka’s Tradition of Burial in Ancestral Tombs and Its Implications for the Church Today”, 2022.

Speakers’ choices in the change of Language name

Each language has a unique name, and most likely languages do not have multiple names. Sometimes when language is renamed, the old form will still be used for a while. If the effort of renaming Cham to Dikaka was successful, the old form of Cham will be used for a while, but it will become old-fashioned and it will be used less and less. As soon as the new name is introduced, the old one will become obsolete. This does not necessarily imply that all members of the community obey the same norm and change their behavior at the same time, of course, but the nature of the norm is that only one name for our language is possible

In most parts of the world, there are no official organizations that fix the names of languages, and there may be disagreements over which is the correct name (or the best name) for a language. Nevertheless, the general expectation exists that Cham as our language name is unique, and when someone we do not know proposes a new name for a language, who says that the name Dikaka should be used for the language that was previously widely known as Cham), they expect that this usage will be followed by our people. However, our people do not know about the name Dikaka in the Ethnologue.

The first time I heard about the new name for the language, I could not sleep. It was new for me because that was the first time, I heard about it. I asked so many questions concerning the validity of this name. I took a deliberate step toward finding the truth about this new name. I made findings, I read historical books of world languages, Atlases, and Ethnoloques, and I visited the Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL) office in Jos. I saw all of them making references to Dikaka. When I was sharing this with a brother, he said, “How do I learn and where do we start?” Another said, “I just learned you and Barr. Ladan created a language name called Dikaka.

In 2021, Barr. Ladan Babakodong presented a paper during Cham Progressive Association’s (CPA) end-of-the-year party in Jos. He spoke about the new name for the Cham people. He publicly declared that our original name is Dikaka. While he spoke on the originality of such a name, our people were confused and argued against the new name.

For a number of our people today, maintaining the name Cham has built a connection to their ancestors and community. However, with the resurgence of Dikaka, some say the language name should remain Cham. When I shared the name with friends around, they called for the name to be taken down. “This should not be public. It’s for our consumption.” Though there are no known restrictions to the language name, some say that not all people would believe me, only the unschooled could. But as the language name continues to travel on the internet, is there any way to stop believing it?

In conclusion, Cham is an African language that needs documentation, I believe the language name should not be kept hidden from other people. “I don’t think any parts of our heritage should be hidden. We are just now, at mass, discovering parts of historical culture that belong to us.” For me, the Cham language and its importance do not diminish by other names people have given, but returning to bases allows others to regard it in a new light. “We deserve and should fight for all aspects of our heritage to be correctly identified and appreciated as ours”. The Ethnologue should explain how they got that name (Dikaka) which is strange and alien to the people of Cham.

Jurgoi Saleh Jnr

Saleh, Jurgoi. Speakers'Choices in the change of a Language Name: Cham or Dikaka, 2023

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