While my parents grew up, they spoke their native languages at home and English in school as well as other formal settings. This way, they spoke English as well as their dialects correctly, I cannot remember any of their friends of same educational status who speaks grammatically incorrect English.
When I was a child, there were lots of indigenous languages spoken, but in formal settings, standard English was accepted. In establishments, standard English was spoken among staff and with clients. Pidgin was a language spoken mainly by or to the uneducated.
Today, the scenario is different. In some formal settings, pidgin is used for clients and staff who hail from different localities have adopted it as their medium of communication. This pattern has a disadvantage in educational settings where people who never spoke English as it should be, continue regularly with it and end up mixing tenses and teaching grammatically incorrect sentences to the children looking up to them.
With the drastic fall in the use of native languages in our society, the Nigerian pidgin has risen to a place where it can be termed a language of its own. The Wikipedia points out that pidgin has no official status, despite its common use in the country. A beautiful thing about this language is the way it evolves. It is easy for people to create new words and terms daily from their environments. Phrases gain and lose power based on the season. Phrases like ‘you wan
’, ‘how far now?’ ‘wetin dey
am’, ‘match am’, ‘fain
where stop; ‘I dey trowe
salute’, ‘I hail oh’ etc. are vivid examples of the evolution of Pidgin because each group of phrases says the same thing in ways acceptable at different periods of time.
We are also pointed by the Wikipedia to the fact that words borrowed from native languages also exist in pidgin, making it sound different in its use ‘ Se
come?’ is a cited example of how a Yoruba man will speak pidgin. A man from Edo state may say ‘you go come?’
The music industry has gone on to beautify this medium of communication as it has adapted words, terms, phrases and sounds which universalize the industry in the country among all ethnic entities, and this has given our music a unique place even internationally.
We cannot overlook the comic scene where stand-up comedians who have imbibed the ‘waffi
’ style thrill us daily with a genre full of slang, melody and humour. I can conveniently say that pidgin is the language of comedy in Nigeria because those who do not use it are very few.
The Nigerian pidgin is strong enough to break the barriers of social class as Oga
and boy can communicate freely without the embarrassing pauses due to grammatical blunders by the boy. While this helps the self-esteem of those who do not speak English well, it can be a blockade to their quest for excellence as well as present a general lackadaisical attitude towards speaking English properly. This has given rise to an acceptance of a substandard variety of English spoken confidently with sentences like: ‘He said I should cofo
him’, ‘Dress for him to sidown
the plates from the table’, ‘gi
me my ball’, ‘he is making me to provoke’.
I listen to people from older generations and I am thrilled over and over by their good command of English, even by those who do not have sufficient educational background. It is clear that they received tutelage from good sources as English was lingua franca.
Today it is a different ball game altogether, pidgin is now used for clients almost everywhere, staff from different localities use pidgin as their medium of communication. This, in educational settings, does not help as some teachers who speak pidgin regularly and have not mastered standard English, mix up tenses and pass grammatically incorrect sentences, like those listed earlier to children who look up to them. Imagine a teacher asking ‘have you do your correction?’ or saying ‘pin-pin’. Have we wondered over time why children say ‘jangolova
’ instead of ‘dangle over’? How would you feel if your child reports to you that his teacher said ‘you came late and you are standing at the domot
’? Funny right? But imagine an uneducated parent hearing that, he may not know it is wrong because he will understand the meaning immediately.
I believe the authorities should pull its educational resources together and look critically at the issue of the Nigerian pidgin. Do we standardize it? Can we specify environments where it is used? Do we have enough English teachers in schools to teach children correctly so the cases of borrowing are reduced? Is there a pidgin dictionary or should we let the language evolve daily?
We need to take a stand on this, not just for today, but the future seeing the growing trend in Pidgin English against the standard English.
You might also like:
This article was first published on 28th March 2016