Pidgin English: Nigeria’s unofficial lingua franca

by Toyosi Yusuff

Abeg, How far? How you dey? Na wa for you o! These are commonly used phrases, in pidgin English – a language most Nigerians are familiar with. In many parts of the country, Pidgin English already functions as the unofficial means of spoken correspondence. For instance, my friend walks up to me and says, “how you dey, hope you are fine, Abeg can you give me this pen?” (Do you notice the transition from Pidgin English to English?)

As a nation, Nigeria comprises of over 200 ethnic groups, with Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba as the three major languages and English as our lingua franca. Still, because English is not any Nigerian’s mother tongue, major and minor errors are made by people on a daily basis; sadly, this case looks far from ending with the current state of our educational system. In schools today, especially government-owned schools, many students speak more of Pidgin English than English.

Growing up, I was exposed to English and Yoruba, my parents prevented me from speaking pidgin English because of the effect it may have had on my English later on, but as time went on I mingled with my peers and gradually got exposed to Pidgin; thanks to the kind of background I had, I’ve been able to balance my usage of both languages.

I remember once in Secondary school during a discussion with my English teacher Mr Apeh, he shared his view on Pidgin English; stating that he liked the fact that with our diversity as a nation, we still had something in common, something we could call our own. He also added that it would be good if the Nigerian educational system was strengthened, so that students would have the ability to strike a balance between their use of both languages.

Recently, in a discussion I had with Jamilu- the Hausa ‘Aboki’ on my street- he said, “I like to dey speak pidgin because e dey easy, my papa no send me go Makaranta (school), on to say him no get money and we plenty for my house. I for like sabi how to speak English o, walahi because na people wey fit speak am well well dey get money pass, see Dangote and Sanusi”.

One of my course mates Samuel, believes that pidgin English should be encouraged because of the way it is accepted by a variety of people and it’s really easy to learn and speak, he also thinks it would be nice if a good curriculum is developed to balance the use of Pidgin and English. He says efforts should be made to formalise the Nigerian Pidgin English (NPE) just like Afrikaans in South Africa and Namibia. He added that it would be a great idea to package Pidgin English and export it to other countries; citing an example, he said: “imagine you buy a new mobile phone in the UK and at the back it says ‘Made in China’; at the translations column you see GBR, ESP, FR and NPE (Nigerian Pidgin English), obviously the fact that your language is there Toyosi, I tell you, you would be happy”.

Pidgin provides a good platform for communication and relationships, in the sense that it unites people of different social status, ethnicity and academic background. A very good example is when you meet your fellow Nigerian in a foreign country where there are few blacks or Africans.

Looking at the negative aspect, Pidgin English, if spoken too often can affect an individual’s spoken English; this is as a result of its freedom of diction and word formation – everything said in Pidgin is correct.

As a Nigerian, you don’t learn Pidgin English, it just comes naturally from the environment; and as a foreigner its one of the easiest languages to learn. The humour in Pidgin is that grammatical blunders are absent and words cannot be mispronounced (Don’t worry, Pidgin 101 will teach you all that). Everything that seems wrong in English seems right in pidgin.

It would benefit Nigerians to see Pidgin as a platform for unity, a reason why we are one Nigeria and not different ethnic groups; just the same way we unite when watching the Super Eagles play (now, that’s a topic for another day).

God Bless Nigeria.

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Toyosi Yusuff is final year student of Mass Communication at Babcock University.

Post Author: Y! Editor