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In Ubang, a farming community in southern Nigeria, men and women say they speak different languages. They view this unique difference as "a blessing from God", but as more young people leave for greener pastures and the English language becomes more popular, there are concerns it won't survive, reports the BBC's Yemisi Adegoke. Dressed in a brightly coloured traditional outfit, a red chief's cap and holding a staff, Chief Oliver Ibang calls over his two young children, eager to demonstrate the different languages.

He holds up a yam and asks his daughter what it is called. But in Ubang's "male language" the word for yam, one of Nigeria's staple foods, is "itong". And there are many other examples, such as the word for clothing, which is "nki" for men and "ariga" for women. It is not clear exactly what proportion of words are different in the two languages and there is no pattern, such as whether the words are commonly used, related or linked to traditional roles for men or women. They don't sound alike, they don't have the same letters, they are completely different words.

She says the differences are far greater than, for example, British and American versions of English. However, both men and women are able to understand each other perfectly - or as well as anywhere else in the world. This might be partly because boys grow up speaking the female language, as they spend most of their childhoods with their mothers and other women, as Chief Ibang explains. By the age of 10, boys are expected to speak the "male language", he says.

Nobody will tell him he should change to the male language.

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If does not switch to the correct language by a certain age, they are considered "abnormal", he says. Ubang people are immensely proud of their language difference and see it as a of their uniqueness. But there are different theories about how it happened. Most of the community offer a Biblical explanation. God's plan was to give each ethnic group two languages, but after creating the two languages for the Ubang, he realised there were not enough languages to go around, he explains.

That's why Ubang has the benefit of two languages - we are different from other people in the world.

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It's like they're in separate worlds, but sometimes those worlds come together and you see that pattern in the language as well. She notes that her theory does not have all the answers. There are concerns about the survival of the different languages.

Neither the male nor female language is written down so their futures depend on the younger generation passing them down.

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But these days, few young people speak either fluently. In the Linguistic Association of Nigeria said that 50 of the nation's languages could disappear in the next few years if drastic measures were not taken. Yoruba, Igbo and Hausa are Nigeria's major languages, as well as English - used to foster unity in a country with numerous ethnic groups. The three major languages are taught in schools as part of the country's National Policy on Education, which speaks of the importance of preserving culture.

It also states that "every child shall learn the language of the immediate environment". But this is not being enforced in Ubang, where children are discouraged from, and even punished for, speaking their language in school. Mr Ochui says he is worried about the consequences of "demonising" the mother tongue in an attempt to encourage students to speak English instead.

Mr Ochui says more needs to be done to preserve Ubang's languages. Stella Odobi, a student in Ubang, agrees more need to be done to stop the languages dying. But she says she is among many young people within the community who plan to pass the languages down to their children even if they leave Ubang.

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Chief Ibang has dreams that one day a language centre will be set up in Ubang, showcasing the uniqueness of the community's two languages. Nigeria country profile. Africa Today podcasts. You may also like:. Ms Undie has an anthropological theory. This mirrors what is happening across Nigeria. And he is confident that the languages will survive. Related Topics. Language Nigeria. More on this story. Published 18 February Published 30 August Published 31 August Around the BBC.

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