Image Image Image Image Image Image Image Image Image Image

KonkNaija Media | May 3, 2016

Scroll to top


Language: Nigerian Pidgin English

| On 23, Sep 2013

Nigerian Pidgin is an English-based pidgin and creole language spoken as a lingua francaacross Nigeria. The language is commonly referred to as “Pidgin” or “Brokin“. It is often not considered a creole language since most speakers are not native speakers, although many children do learn it early. Nonetheless it can be spoken as a pidgin, a creole, or a decreolisedacrolect by different speakers, who may switch between these forms depending on the social setting. Ihemere (2006) reports that Nigerian Pidgin is the native language of approximately 3 to 5 million people and is a second language for at least another 75 million. Variations of Pidgin are also spoken across West Africa, in countries such as Equatorial GuineaGhana and Cameroon. Pidgin English, despite its common use throughout the country, has no official status.

Each of the 250 or more ethnic groups in Nigeria can converse in this language, though they usually have their own additional words. For example, the Yorùbás use the words Şe and Abi when speaking Pidgin. These are often used at the start or end of an intonated sentence or question. For example, “You are coming, right?” becomes Şe you dey come? or You dey come abi? Another example, the Igbos added the word Nna also used at the beginning of some sentences to show camaraderie. For example, man! that test was hard becomes Nna, that test hard no be small.

Nigerian Pidgin also varies from place to place. Dialects of Nigerian Pidgin may include the Warri, Sapele, Benin, Port-Harcourt, Lagos especially in Ajegunle, Onitsha varieties.

Nigerian Pidgin is most widely spoken in the oil rich Niger-Delta where most of its population speak it as their first language.

Similarity to Caribbean dialects

Nigerian Pidgin, along with the various pidgin and creole languages of West Africa share similarities to the various dialects of English found in the Caribbean. Some of the returning descendants of slaves taken to the New World of West African origin brought back many words and phrases to West Africa from the Jamaican Creole (also known as Jamaican Patois or simply Patois) and the other creole languages of theWest Indies which are components of Nigerian Pidgin. The pronunciation and accents often differ a great deal, mainly due to the extremely heterogeneous mix of African languages present in the West Indies, but if written on paper or spoken slowly, the creole languages of West Africa are for the most part mutually intelligible with the creole languages of the Caribbean. The presence of repetitious phrases in Jamaican Creole such as “su-su” (gossip) and “pyaa-pyaa” (sickly) mirror the presence of such phrases in West African languages such as “bam-bam”, which means “complete” in the Yoruba language. Repetitious phrases are also present in Nigerian Pidgin, such as, “koro-koro”, meaning “clear vision”, “yama-yama”, meaning “disgusting”, and “doti-doti”, meaning “garbage”. Furthermore, the use of the words of West African origin in Jamaican Patois, such as “boasie” (meaning proud, a word that comes from the Yoruba word “bosi” also meaning “proud”) and “Unu” – Jamaican Patois or “Wuna” – West African Pidgin (meaning “you people”, a word that comes from the Igbo word “unu” also meaning “you people”) display some of the interesting similarities between the English pidgins and creoles of West Africa and the English pidgins and creoles of the West Indies, as does the presence of words and phrases that are identical in the languages on both sides of the Atlantic, such as “Me a go tell dem” (I’m going to tell them) and “make we” (let us). Use of the word “deh” or “dey” is found in both Jamaican Patois and Nigerian Pidgin English, and is used in place of the English word “is” or “are”. The phrase “We dey foh London” would be understood by both a speaker of Patois and a speaker of Nigerian Pidgin to mean “We are in London”. Other similarities, such as “pikin” (Nigerian Pidgin for “child”) and “pikney” (or “pikiny”, Jamaican Patois for “child”) and “chook” (Nigerian Pidgin for “poke” or “stab”) which corresponds with the Jamaican Patois word “jook”, further demonstrate the linguistic relationship.

Connection to Portuguese and Spanish languages

Being derived partly from the present day Edo/Delta area of Nigeria, there are still some leftover words from the Portuguese and Spanish languages in pidgin English (Portuguese and Spanish trade ships traded slaves from the Bight of Benin). For example, “you sabi do am?” means “do you know how to do it?” “Sabi” means “to know” or “to know how to” just as “to know” is “saber” in Portuguese and Spanish.

Nigerian Standard English

Similar to the Jamaican Patois situation, Nigerian Pidgin is mostly used in informal conversations. However, Nigerian Pidgin has no status as an official language. Nigerian Standard English is used in politics, the Internet and some television programs.

Fun and Easy

Originally treated with some disdain and scorn by persons who thought it could affect the way people spoke English, Pidgin has morphed into an accepted language even in mainstream business world.

At the work place in most of Nigeria’s formal commercial and business hubs, it is used interchangeably to get messages across. Although it doesn’t find its way onto commercial documents, it manages to serve a lot of verbal communication purposes.

Gbemi Michael, a Nigerian business executive who shuttles in and out of Nigeria from Ghana tells me “Pidgin is fun is to use.” “It makes conversations a lot fun and less stressful.”

Michael’s explanation of “fun … and “less stressful”, is shared by the many people around West Africa who speak Pidgin. For most, it has everything to do with freeing one’s self from trying to adjust to the use of “big grammar”.

“It is the use of big grammar that worries most people,” he says. “So to play safe, most opt for Pidgin.”

For the millions who are able to use Pidgin, in both formal and informal conversations, it means just one thing – they are able to demystify the Queens language.


The most important difference to other types of English is the limited repertoire of consonants, vowels (6) and diphthongs (3) used. This produces a lot of homophones, like thin, thing and tin which are all three pronounced like /tin/. This circumstance gives a high importance to the context, the tone, the body language and any other ways of communication for the distinction of the homophones

Read More

Enhanced by Zemanta