The Popularity of Pidgin English

Pidgin English is fast becoming the alternative national language spoken by every Nigerian irrespective of social or cultural standing

By Vincent Nzemeke  |  Feb. 10, 2014 @ 01:00 GMT

TRANSPORTATION is one of the many challenges facing residents of the federal capital territory, FCT, Abuja. But with the introduction of the Abuja city mass transit buses, many residents of the city now commute to their destination with ease. But aside from the comfort of the city buses, one reason why it has become the first choice of transportation for many residents is the opportunity it affords them to laugh while they are on board. In many of these buses, there are usually marketers of various items who sell their wares and at the same time thrill passengers with hilarious jokes.

What is perhaps most amazing about these marketers is that they are able to communicate with the multivariate passengers on board by speaking Pidgin English, the language that is fast becoming one of the most popular languages in Nigeria.

Matse Uwatse, one of the popular pidgin English radio presenter
Matse Uwatse, one of the popular pidgin English radio presenter

Away from the city buses, it also appears that cab drivers in Abuja are addicted to a particular radio station that broadcast programmes in pidgin English. It is almost impossible to board a cab in any part of the city without the driver listening to this particular radio station.

Even in formal settings, pidgin is gradually becoming a medium of communication between friends and colleagues. In some homes where parents are from different parts of the country, it is the language of communication. “My husband I and are from two different parts of the country. We speak standard English very well but most times it is convenient for us to communicate in pidgin English,” Joan Ofobike said.

Speaking in pidgin English is not restricted to a particular place or class of people, it is actually fast becoming Nigeria’s second language spoken all over the country. This, perhaps, is because of the country’s large population and hundreds of local languages and dialects, pidgin, rather than official standard English, is the glue that increasingly binds disparate communities.

For instance, the Wazobia FM, a radio station that broadcasts all its programme in pidgin, is gaining a huge followership in Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt and other cities where its stations are available. Jude Anaya, a presenter at the station, said pidgin was the only language that could be used to reach millions of people in Nigeria, especially those who could not understand standard English. “For you to reach the common man easily, you must speak in a language that they understand: break it down, give them the broken English or the pidgin English,” the presenter said.

In the course of broadcasting, the radio station, even go as far as translating newspaper reports in pidgin English. Enthusiastically said: “Pidgin is growing and evolving every day. People come in with different languages and they make it up. The language is sweet, it’s an interesting language to speak, it’s humorous.”

Historically, pidgin English dates back to the 15th century. It started as an oral dialect spoken by European explorers who traded with coastal communities of West Africa. Over time, the Portuguese dialect of pidgin blended with local languages of the Niger Delta to create the pidgin English that is now widely spoken in Nigeria. Lexicon of the pidgin English is very rich and can be easily learned. For instance, “You sabi?” means “do you know?” “Sabi” is derived from the Portuguese word “saber,” which means to know.

Aside from being the language that unites people of various ethnic divides, pidgin is also considered by many as the ultimate leveller for the various classes of people in the society. As the language continues to soar in its popularity, academics are worried that it may someday replace the standard English as the official language in the country.

Sunny Ahweafeda
Ahweafeda

Nonye Ogadinma, a teacher in a secondary school in Abuja, said pidgin English was growing at a fast dimension that it had affected the performance of some of her students. “Pidgin English breaks the English language too much and it destroys the children’s written English as well as their spoken English,” Ogadinma complained. “Sometimes it feels like we can’t do anything about it, but I still believe we can. It’s not a lost battle,” she said.

English is not the only victim of pidgin’s popularity. The major Nigerian languages of Igbo, Hausa and Yoruba also threatened. In fact, the teaching of the major local languages in Nigerian schools has fallen away in recent decades and is no longer compulsory in many school curriculums. The government said it was promoting indigenous languages but has admitted that the policy had not been followed strictly in all schools.

But with pidgin now thought to be the most widely spoken language in the country, it is more a case of accommodating rather than defeating it. Sunny Awhafeda, an English lecturer at the Delta State University Abraka, said even though the development of pidgin was affecting student’s performance, one must appreciate the fact that Nigerians were making efforts to develop a local language that would bind them. “Language has the power to unite people and as bad as the development of may be for our students, we must appreciate the fact that a local language is being developed,” Awhafeda said. He added that like the Jamaicans who sold their own version of pidgin English to the world, Nigeria could also formalise its own pidgin English and export it to the world as well. “See what the Jamaicans have done with Patios, it has almost become an official language in that part of the world. Who says we cannot do the same here. We can sell our Pidgin English to the world if it is well developed,” he said.

But as things are, Nigerian policy makers don’t appear to see the merit of using pidgin English as an alternative national language for national development.

One thought on “The Popularity of Pidgin English

  1. As a Lecturer of English and Communication skills in one of the Federal Polytechnics, I am not happy with the way my students always used pidgin in their day to day communication whenever outside the Classroom, sometimes even in the Classroom when no teacher around. it seriously affects their performances in School. but we are trying always to show them that pidgin is never an International Language like English. Its usage covers very little population of speakers, and that English Language is a Language of Communication throughout the world.

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