Intricacies Of Pidgin English

BY RUTH OKWUMBU
P
IDGIN English in Nigeria is said to have originated in the 19th century, at about the same period the British came into the regions with their religion as well as their language, and education. It is assumed that prior to this, every ethnic group had its own local language which was used for all forms of communication. As such, attempts to communicate with people with different languages often had the need of an interpreter, to stand as a go-between. When the English language was introduced by the British, same people who brought together the colonies and regions that make up what we now know as Nigeria, wrong attempts at the language brought about the wrong English, which later became known as the Pidgin or Broken English.
Other versions of its origin describe the pidgin language as English based and creole language, originally used as a language of commerce between speakers of different languages for the reason of slave trade among British slave merchants and local African traders in order to facilitate their commercial exchanges, relations, and as such having a link to different languages especially the Jamaican Creole. Similarities such as “pikin” (Nigerian Pidgin for “child”) and “pikney” (or “pikiny”, Jamaican Patois for “child”), “Sabi” means “to know” or “to know how to” just as “to know” is “saber” in Portuguese and Spanish.and “chook” (Nigerian Pidgin for “poke” or “stab”) which corresponds with the Jamaican Patois word “jook”, further demonstrate the linguistic relationship.
Nigerian Pidgin is mostly used in informal conversations as it has no status as an official language. Nigerian Standard English is used in politics, the Internet and some television programs. Notwithstanding, it has now grown to become an independent language of communication (both written and oral), both within and outside the country, with different variations depending on the location one finds oneself. What this implies for multi-ethnic Nigeria is a general language for communication irrespective of ethnic background, and without the need for an interpreter—thus making itself into the status of an unofficial lingua-franca.
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 Ṣe 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 Ṣe 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 very hard becomes Nna, that test hard no be small.
Even though the language has different variations including those of Warri, Sapele, Benin, Port-Harcourt, Lagos especially in Ajegunle, and Onitsha, it is known to be most widely spoken in the oil rich Niger-Delta where most of its population speak it as their first language.
Some adept speakers of the ‘Broken English’ have ascribed their love for the language to its auditory values. Some have gone as far as describing it as sweeter to the ears, than the straight and correct English vocabulary which they say ‘puts strain on the speaker’. For such persons, conversing in pidgin is innate and comes easily to them; ‘they think, breath and eat the pidgin’. An added advantage is the fact that even in a strange land, this language as a strong weapon, breaks through communication barriers.
Some others simply love the language because of its expression value. One of such persons, Miss Oghenekaro Omoh, a 300 level Accounting student of Anambra State University, stated simply that the force of some emotions cannot be adequately conveyed in correct English as it would lose its momentum, force and passion. To her, emotions especially ones of anger, vexation and extreme joy cannot be explained sufficiently when one is being ‘all proper and formal’.
“compare ‘I am angry’ with ‘I just dey vex. My body dey pepper me’, and you get a clear picture of it. If I use the first phrase, the person I am telling will just regard it as normal anger, but I go as far as saying ‘body dey pepper me’, he or she knows that at that stage, I can take any action, right or wrong. The sane applies for ‘I am happy’ and ‘belle dey sweet me”, the Ughelli-born student explained.
She added further that when meeting someone for the first time, initiating a conversation in pidgin was the best way to make him or her feel at home. To her, it is not a language to be used in a formal or a do-or-die situation, hence the person knows that he can relax and feel at home. The formal and proper English, according to her, has tendencies to keep one unnecessarily tense and prim.
zHe added that before long, he discovered that apart from using pictures to explain his way through the topics, adopting the use of pidgin was also a viable method. According to him, the students were also not well versed with the pidgin language, but with the method of inserting one or two words from their native language alongside the pictures, understanding for them became much easier.
“Different corps members would be posted to such villages every year, and they would no doubt encounter similar challenges and come up with different ways of handling them. However, if these students had learnt basic communication in pidgin, irrespective of variations each new teacher would have something in common with them, and they can build further from there. There is no need to erase English language from the syllabus, just add Pidgin, for the purpose of easy communication and unity in the country” Mr Isiokwu said.
However, Mrs. Rosemary Okolie, a teacher for over 17 years toed a different line, as she opined that the excessive use of pidgin languag e in schools by both students and teachers, had contributed to the consistently dropping standard of students performance both in internal and external examinations. Mrs. Okolie, who is the proprietress of one of the private primary schools in Asaba, insisted that Nigeria cannot take an independent stand on the issue, as the students would still have to undergo external examinations before being awarded certificates. According to her, the pidgin, even though good for basic communication, should be thoroughly seperated from the Nigerian educational system, which is already faced with mammoth challenges.
Amidst the numerous values ascribed to the Pidgin English, it remains a fact that it is still yet to attain the envious status of being the official language of any country, and one is yet to see an external examination or a degree awarding institution where the students are examined with the pidgin language.