Nigerian English: What Makes It Unique?

Nigerian English is a dialect of English spoken in Nigeria. It can be traced to British English although it has also largely been influenced by American English. As a result, some words of American English origin have made it into the Nigerian English.

There is also another type of Nigerian English which is called Nigerian Pidgin. It is basically pidgin derived from English. It is mostly used in informal conversations while the Nigerian Standard English otherwise known as Nigerian English is used in politics, formal education, the media, and other official use.

Nigerian English: Why It’s Unique

In this post, we will be taking a look at the features of this English variant and what makes it unique.

But first, let’s take a look at its history.

nigerian english

Basically, Nigerian English (NE) can be said to be a form of English that is native to Nigeria. It can also be said to be a devolved form of Nigerian Pidgin.

The nativization and development of Nigerian English correspond with the period of colonization and post-colonization by Britain. Following the development of the pidgin, Nigerian English became a nativized language that functions uniquely within its own cultural context.

However, the Nigerian English cannot be said to be standardized because of the fossilization that has occurred in the formal instruction of English in many regions of Nigeria, due largely to a variety of factors including but not limited to “interference, lack of facilities, and crowded classrooms.

Also, the relationship between British Standard English (BSE) and Nigerian English, which have two very different sets of grammatical, pronunciation, and spelling rules has led to a predominant occurrence of “faulty analogy.” In other words, this means that people erroneously assume that the grammatical feature of British English also applies to Nigerian English which is not always the case.

For instance, the meaning of sorry in BSE usually indicates some sort of responsibility on the part of the person saying it; however, in the case of NE, it is used to express sympathy in a unique way or to show empathy to whoever has experienced misfortune.

Another interesting feature of Nigerian English is the level of usage. Although the exact levels of Nigerian English usage are contested, it is assumed in some quarters that there are basically 4 levels of usage within this nativized English.

  • Level 1: Refers to Pidgin which is spoken by those with no education
  • Level 2: This is a step above, and it is the most spoken as it is spoken by those with elementary education
  • Level 3: This level features a more expansive lexicon, fluency, and using features of Level 1 speakers are “avoided,” spoken by those with “secondary education”
  • Level 4: This is proposed as the NSE as its features are very similar (but still characteristically Nigerian) “to Standard English,” spoken by those with a college education.

Also, there are lexico-semantic innovations in Nigerian English and this comprises three basic subsets of innovations that are a result of the nativization of English in Nigeria. These are “loanwords, coinages, and semantic shifts.”

Loanwords in Nigerian English

A loanword is basically a word adopted from a foreign language with little or no modification. Nigerian English has a variety of loanwords that have no direct English equivalents but have rooted themselves into the dialect and have a unique meaning. Examples include akara which is a food item which is also referred to as ‘bean cake.’ Also, there is akamu pap, a variety of corn porridge.

Others include akpu, banga, eba, egusi, ogbono, tuwo which refers to soup of different kinds.

Other loanwords include danfo, okada which are vehicles used for transportation. There are also words like agbada, babaringa which are native attires.

Coinages in Nigerian English

Coinages are quite similar to loanwords but they function as a sort of colloquialism that is spoken in English but has a unique cultural meaning. These are also especially prolific in Nigerian English. Coinages are not the same as acronyms, though Nigerian English also has unique acronyms. Compared to loanwords, coinages typically have a short lifespan that are adopted for unique cultural purposes of the present, and as such, die out quickly following their acquisition.

Examples included Bottom power, Carpet crossing, Come of age, Free and fair, Long-leg, Man of timber and calibre, Money bag, No-go area, Political bride, Political juggernaut/Heavyweight e.t.c

The Nigerian English also has acronyms which serve a variety of functions, and follow the same rules as Standard English acronyms: the first letters are taken from each word in a phrase (especially titles of office, agencies of the government, etc.).

Semantic shift

There are also words in Nigerian English which have undergone a semantic shift based on its Nigerian context. In other words, there are English words that have been reappropriated for Nigerian purposes and uses which can lead to the shift, extension or restriction of their original English meanings. For example, in some areas, though the international meaning of trek has a connotation of long distance or difficult journey, the Nigerian use is to “walk a short distance.”

A particularly expansive example of semantics in NE is the use of a variety of greetings. This stretching of meaning can not only change the meaning of the English phrase but also represent something from Nigerian culture: for example, the saying “goodnight, ma” can be said regardless of time of day, and functions simply as an assumption that the person in question will not be seen until the next day. This has especially been noticed in Yoruba culture.

Wrapping up

Just like the American variant of English, Nigerian English varies based on the backgrounds of the speaker. These include things like the speaker’s region of origin, current profession, social class, etc.

For instance, the major regions in Nigeria namely Hausa, Igbo, and Yoruba have phonological variables which are simply products of the region from which these speakers originate.

Also, as stated earlier, it is also important to note that the Nigerian English has been influenced not only the region of the speaker but also other English variants like the American English. This is as a result of the increasing exposure of Nigerians to the American culture.

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