Broken English, Pidgin English And Nigerian English

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Is Nigerian English the same as (Nigerian) Pidgin English or, for that matter, "broken English"? I have been asked this question many times. And my short answer is no, although there are occasional overlaps between Nigerian Pidgin English and Nigerian English.

But, first, what is "broken English"? Well, it is a somewhat pejorative label used by native speakers of English to describe the often hysterical violations of the basic rules of Standard English syntax by non-native speakers of the language. Two other popular names for broken English are "halting English" and "faltering English." For instance, the sentence, "I want to see you" may be rendered as "me like see you" in broken English. "I will see you tomorrow" could become "Me is come see you tomorrow." And so on.

As it should be obvious by now, the people who are apt to speak or write broken English in the classical conception of the term are often people for whom English is a foreign language (e.g. Chinese and Japanese people) rather than people for whom it is a second language (e.g. Nigerians and Indians).

It should be noted, though, that uneducated or barely educated people in English-as-a-second-language linguistic environments can - and indeed do - speak or write broken English, while people who are well-schooled in English in English-as-a-foreign-language environments don't speak or write broken English.

Now, since even native English speakers routinely violate the rules of their own language, tolerable grammatical errors can't be regarded as "broken English."

Pidgin, on the other hand, is a technical term in linguistics that refers to a "contact" or "trade" language that emerged from the fusion of foreign, usually European, languages and indigenous, usually non-European, languages. In this linguistic fusion, the European languages provide most of the vocabulary and the indigenous languages provide the structure of the language.

Look at this Nigerian Pidgin English sentence, for example: "Wetin dey hapun nau?" The informal Standard English equivalent of this expression would be "What's up?" Now, "wetin" is a distortion of "what is," "hapun" is the corruption of "happen," but "nau" is derived from the Igbo word "na" or "nna."

In the above sentence, the vocabulary is mostly English but the structure of the sentence is decidedly African. Let me give just one example to illustrate this. In African languages, it is usual to end sentences with what grammarians call terminal intensifiers. An intensifier is a word that has little meaning except to accentuate the meaning of the word or phrase it modifies.

A "terminal intensifier" is therefore an intensifier that appears at the end of a sentence. Words like "o" in "E don taya me o," [I'm fed up], "na" in "wia you dey na?" [Where are you?], and "sha" in "Di ting get as e be sha" [That's really unusual] are terminal intensifiers because they appear at the end of sentences and merely heighten the meanings of the phrases that preceded them. With a few exceptions, intensifiers appear either at the beginning or in the middle of sentences in English. E.g., "Honestly" in "Honestly, this doesn't make sense to me," "really" in "I'm really tired."

Additionally, pidgins are characterized by a simple, often anarchic and rudimentary grammatical structure, a severely limited vocabulary, and are used for the expression of really basic thought-processes. This is because they emerged as "emergency" languages for casual, short-term linguistic encounters. Therefore, pidgins can't express high-minded thought-processes and are usually not anybody's primary or first language.

Where pidgins acquire complex, well-ordered, rule-governed grammatical forms, a rich lexicon for the expression of complex thoughts, and become the first language of a people, they mutate to "creoles." In the socio-linguistic literature, it is traditional to label pidgins as "artificial languages" and other languages, including creoles, as "natural languages." Problematic as this taxonomy is (at least to me), it does underscore the sense that pidgins don't have the same social prestige as other languages.

Now, in Nigeria, it is customary to use "Pidgin English" and "broken English" interchangeably. But Pidgin English isn't broken English because it does not attempt to approximate the linguistic conventions of Standard English. In other words, it isn't the product of an incompetent attempt to speak or write Standard English; it's the product of a historically specific, socio-linguistic alchemy of Nigerian languages and English. Additionally, it seems to me that broken English, deformed as it is, is often comparatively more intelligible to monolingual native English speakers than Pidgin English.

Interestingly, Nigerian Pidgin English is now increasingly being creolized especially in Nigeria's deep south and in such cosmopolitan, multi-ethnic urban centers as Lagos and Abuja. It's anybody's guess where this will all end.

What of Nigerian English? In an earlier article on this subject in 2007, I wrote: "By Nigerian English I do not mean Nigerian Pidgin English. Nor do I mean the English spoken by uneducated and barely educated Nigerians. I mean the variety of English that is broadly spoken and written by our literary, intellectual, political, and media elite across the regional and ethnic spectrum of Nigeria.

"I know this definition is barefacedly elitist. But this is true of all ‘standard' varieties of all ‘modern' languages in the world. What is called British Standard English, for instance, is no more than the idiosyncratic usage of the language by the English royalty - and by the political, intellectual, literary, and media elite of the country.

"The social and intellectual snobbery of the French language is even more blatant. There is a French language academy that not only consciously privileges the elite dialect of the language but that also polices its usage all over the world.

"An additional problem with my definition is that Nigerian English has not yet been purposively standardized. Our English teachers still dismiss it as mere ‘bad English.' I remember that when I served as an English language examiner for the West African Examinations Council (WAEC) in 1997, our team leader instructed us to penalize students who wrote ‘Nigerian English.' The irony, however, is that no Nigerian who was educated at home, including those who deride Nigerian English, can avoid speaking or writing it either consciously or unconsciously."

"It was the legendary Chinua Achebe who once said, in defense of his creative semantic and lexical contortions of the English language to express uniquely Nigerian socio-cultural thoughts that have no equivalents in English, that any language that has the cheek to leave its primordial shores and encroach on the linguistic territory of other people should learn to come to terms with the inevitable reality that it would be domesticated."

I then identified the following as the fundamental sources of Nigerian English: linguistic improvisation (to express unique socio-cultural thought-processes that are absent in the standard varieties of English), old-fashioned British English expressions, initial usage errors fossilized over time and incorporated into our linguistic repertory, and a mishmash of British and American English.

In my weekly language interventions, I try to highlight the distinctiveness of Nigerian English and its deviations from standard American and British English, not to ridicule it, as one pathetically quixotic, intellectually insecure "pan-Africanist" pretender claimed sometime ago (how could I ridicule what I too write and speak every day?), but to heighten people's awareness of the ways in which our English is different from the two dominant varieties of the language and therefore aid intelligibility across these varieties.

If you know, for instance, that the term "international passport" has limited intelligibility outside Nigeria, you won't use it when you are in Britain or America. You would also not tell an American or a Briton that you would "flash" him because that could get you arrested!

Related Articles:

1. A Comparison of Nigerian, American and British English

2. Why is "Sentiment" Such a Bad Word in Nigeria?

3. Ambassador Aminchi's Impossible Grammatical Logic

4. 10 Most Annoying Nigerian Media English Expressions

5. Sambawa and "Peasant Attitude to Governance"

6. Adverbial and Adjectival Abuse in Nigerian English

7. In Defense of "Flashing" and Other Nigerianisms

8. Weird Words We're Wedded to in Nigerian English

9. American English or British English?

10. Hypercorrection in Nigerian English

11. Nigerianisms, Americanisms, Briticisms and Communication Breakdown

12. Top 10 Irritating Errors in American English

13. Nigerian Editors Killing Macebuh Twice with Bad Grammar

14. On "Metaphors" and "Puns" in Nigerian English

15. Common Errors of Pluralization in Nigerian English

16. Q & A About Common Grammatical Problems

17. Semantic Change and the Politics of English Pronunciation

18. Common Errors of Reported Speech in Nigerian English

Author can be reached at farooqkperogi@gmail.com. He blogs at www.farooqkperogi.blogspot.com

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Re: Broken English, Pidgin English And Nigerian English
Lapalapa posted on 05-21-2010, 00:10:40 AM
Very interesting and intellectually stimulating article. Your articles give an exciting introduction to the study of evolution of languages. However, it appears that the rate at which the English language evolves in Nigeria is faster than in other countries. The last time I was in Nigeria was almost a decade ago. I still speak Nigerian English, or so I believe. But listening to recent arrivals from Nigeria, it appears to me that the English language spoken in Nigeria 10 years ago was far different from what these people speak today. I mean English language, not pidgin or Creole. Is there something about our culture and society that makes this evolutionary rate so high? Well, just some thoughts. It looks to me that studying how a second language evolves may be an interesting way to interrogate some salient characteristics of a complex society like Nigeria!
Re: Broken English, Pidgin English And Nigerian English
Ocnus posted on 05-21-2010, 02:10:35 AM
This is very interesting article but very Nigerian-centric. There are many countries whose daily language is pidgin English. All across West Africa in particular,there are vibrant pidgin cultures whose evolution changes and adapts traditional pidgin to describe novel events as they happen. There is, as far as I am aware, a cross-pollination of pidgin in West Africa in which languages like Krio adapt new Nigerian phrases and conversely.Music is often a vehicle.both in French and English (see Alpha Blondy for example). All this enriches pidgin.

When I speak with friends from Hawaii, where we also speak pidgin, I find that I am very backward in adapting pidgin neologisms due to my separation,

The funniest thing I ever heard in a cinema illustrates the totemic importance of language. I was watching a cowboys and Indians film in Munich when I heard the dialogue given to the Indians. Mimicking the traditional basic English ascribed to the Indians in American films, the German version had them speaking in broken Bavarian. It was one of the funniest things I ever saw and heard on the screen.
Re: Broken English, Pidgin English And Nigerian English
Anioma777 posted on 05-21-2010, 04:58:58 AM
@Farooq

QUOTE:
You would also not tell an American or a Briton that you would \"flash\" him because that could get you arrested!


I cannot comment about Americans, but a typical British man would ask, in what context do you make that assertion. "flash him" and "flash at him" are different with the latter most likely get you arrested.

Personally I could not careless about Nigerian English, American English or Alien English. My main concern is can I understand and is he/she coherent. I find it quite comical when people immediately lose all sense of understanding when they meet someone with a different accent. Have any of guys had a problem with understanding call centre / technical support staff in India?

I find it's mostly white Britons/Americans that have these problems.
Re: Broken English, Pidgin English And Nigerian English
Cornelius Hamelberg posted on 05-21-2010, 05:16:56 AM
http://www.postcolonialweb.org/sarowiwa/pidgin.html

( For Chidi Anthony Opara) – a short afterthought/eftertanke

Ah yes, I have alighted on one word :hysterical,

as in

"destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked,"

"The often hysterical violations of the basic rules of standard English syntax by non-native speakers"?

OK, so the French speak French like machine guns, and the rapid staccato is all right all night but since we're still talking about a language - why - why is it hysterical and what's hysterical about the breaking of " the basic rules of standard English syntax by non-native speakers"?

Can you give a few examples of the alleged hysteria – and please don't spare the exclamation marks when you give your examples.

West Africans talk of non-native speakers doing " violence " to the language ( mostly the grammar)
and are variously accused of " butchering" the grammar and - still in the realm of metaphor, the death penalty and sometimes even accused of first degree murder of an innocent English grammar...

Like the drama of Lewis Nkosi's Rhythms of Violence ?

"Hysterical violations" gives the impression of a stable, quiet, calm almost discreet free-flowing of a river – ( like Allen Ginsberg's "Plutonian Ode" as I heard him read it at the Kulturhuset on January 23 1983) not a torrent of words in predictable, predestined word order governed by the laws of Lord Chief Justice of English Grammar.
[nomedia="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i27t5txCrwg[/video]
YouTube- The Doors Yes, The River Knows[/nomedia]

Still in the poetic realm I'd say that sure, all rivers flow - have their own individual rhythms and syntax and as Dr. Ojo made clear not too long ago,


*"Yes, languages may be like rivers that continually change.
*However, the Thames and the Rhine are European rivers.
*The Niger and the Volta are African rivers, and they never meet at any point in their journeys. They can therefore not have similar ecological systems, fauna, fishes, villages along their banks"

"If you are a tenant, you catch your arse forever, but if you are a landlord, it is a horse of a different colour" - ( And so it is with the English Language – if you feel that you are a tenant)


Here's keeping it simple:

[video]http://www.amazon.com/Moses-Ascending-Caribbean-Writers-Unnumbered/dp/0435989529"]Amazon.com: Moses Ascending (Caribbean Writers Series (Unnumbered).) (9780435989521): Samuel Selvon: Books
Re: Broken English, Pidgin English And Nigerian English
Ocnus posted on 05-21-2010, 07:30:06 AM
FYI - the word hysteria derives from the Greek word for uterus or womb. It suggests that hysterical behaviour is the natural state of women.
Re: Broken English, Pidgin English And Nigerian English
Auspicious posted on 05-21-2010, 07:34:08 AM
QUOTE:
FYI - the word hysteria derives from the Greek word for uterus or womb. It suggests that hysterical behaviour is the natural state of women.


LOL!

Woman done suffer sha.
Re: Broken English, Pidgin English And Nigerian English
Mikky jaga posted on 05-21-2010, 10:03:37 AM
Na Pidgin you dey talk about dey come yarn big, big grammar so? Na wah for bukuru people o. For my side, I no care whether my English dey correct or e no correct, so far people catch my gist e don finish.
Re: Broken English, Pidgin English And Nigerian English
Cegbune posted on 05-21-2010, 11:00:14 AM
Interesting article; you know when Nigerian English intersects with American version for example, it can sometimes befuddle or even sound offensive without the intent to offend.

For Example in Nigeria, a cat is referred to as "pussy cat" and it is generally shortened to "pussy." We all know what this means in the U.S. Now I have seen new arrivals use it in such a way that could offend:

There was this Nigerian man (JJC) that told his White female neighbor-"I see your pussy out there." (Referring to the woman's cat but incurring a weird self examinative look below the waist for the American). Startled, the woman quickly ran into her apartment and slammed the door. Maybe to go do more inspection!

Another new male Nigerian arrival told an American friend (male): "I don't like pussy" again refering to a cat but the American friend understood this differently and retorted to the Nigerian "so do you like dick?" to which the Nigerian replied "yea, my best friend in Nigeria is Dick." (coincidentally the Nigerian had a friend named Dick in Nigeria).

A JJC once had the "audacity" to tell an American host: "is this your wife's pussy?" after seeing a cat in their house.

There are many other comical usages and conflicting intersections of Nigerian and American English.

The word "messing" is generally used differently in Nigeria and America. In American colloquial English "messing" could be used as in "quit messing with me" or "who are you messing with?"-the later could be used to determine who you are hanging out with in a proper context- it is mostly contextual.

In Nigerian English, maybe Pidgin English "mess" means fart. So a female American asked a male Nigerian JJC-"who you messing with" and the JJC got angry and said: "I didn't mess." Confused, the American who had interest on the JJC just walked away.

The word "company" in America again colloquially could be used to refer to a visitor. For Nigerians, a company is a corporate entity or an organized business. A female American asked a male Nigerian JJC over the telephone after noticing sporadic breaks in his speech pattern during their conversation: "do you have company?" To which the Nigerian responded: "I don't have a job. I am looking for a job! I know that America is easy but I think you need to have a job first before you get a company." I guess in a way, he was right but not the way he thought!

The essence of communication is understanding. However, if you speak what you think is your version of English and it is misconstrued, you may end up in hot soup. The lady in my first story( "I see your pussy out there") after slamming her door called the police and reported the JJC Nigerian for sexual harrassment-The Nigerian had to explain himself to the police and at the end they (the police, the American lady and JJC) all ended up laughing about the whole misunderstanding.
Re: Broken English, Pidgin English And Nigerian English
Cornelius Hamelberg posted on 05-21-2010, 12:33:21 PM
In Jahmaica the polite word is h-ussy (if in doubt, you can even say hussy cat…

Yeah, coincidentally the Nigerian had a friend named Dick in Nigeria? Perhaps, this one:

http://www.google.co.uk/#hl=en&source=hp&q=Dick+Tiger

and perhaps a relative of the other famous Tiger (the champion hussy-chaser - and that’s what happens when you have birdies and holes on your mind all day long as you trek the golf course.

We could easily straighten out some of the crooked and the bent, with some Big Grammar: all we need to abide by is His Majesty King Farook’s Nigerian English (certainly not the same as that of Her Majesty Queen Elisabeth II - not by any stretch of anyone’s imagination) but we must abide by his special Nigerian Language laws. Must create a new Department replete with a Special Grammar Police Constabulary and some “ highly educated” English law enforcement officers who can enforce the English Language Laws and a Grammar Police legal team capable of prosecuting offenders for BAD - and Nigerianly speaking , un-grammatic grammar and flawed syntax, all of which will be criminal offences according to the New Nigerian Criminal Code to be passed into the Grammar Law books by the new Hogahs of Big Grammar.

The only problem is that it could make outlaws of a whole lotta people who don’t and can’t talk straight, because of this or that reason. However, when you consider the heavy fines that can be imposed for breaking these laws and the inescapable, long prison terms that will be handed out by the Magistrates in some upcoming cases of hysterical violations, we may in self-defence blame some of the infringements on “Indigenous language” inference in this post-colonial age and appeal for mercy on compassionate grounds (freedom from language bondage)

The fun part of it of course will be in an even later age when native speakers (especially the Oxford & Cambridge Oyibo) will be compelled to speak standard Nigerian or fail the examination in diction and pronunciation.

So much for the Language.

Who, which one a them can prosecute the Literature?

http://www.freeman.org/other.htm

Have a nice weekend everybody!
Re: Broken English, Pidgin English And Nigerian English
Iye posted on 05-21-2010, 13:35:52 PM
QUOTE:
Interesting article; you know when Nigerian English intersects with American version for example, it can sometimes befuddle or even sound offensive without the intent to offend.

For Example in Nigeria, a cat is referred to as \"pussy cat\" and it is generally shortened to \"pussy.\" We all know what this means in the U.S. Now I have seen new arrivals use it in such a way that could offend:

There was this Nigerian man (JJC) that told his White female neighbor-\"I see your pussy out there.\" (Refering to the woman's cat but incurring a weird self examinative look below the waist for the American). Startled, the woman quickly ran into her apartment and slammed the door. Maybe to go do more inspection!

Another new arrival once told an American friend: \"I don't like pussy\" (again refering to a cat but the American friend understood this differently and retorted to the Nigerian \"so do you like dick?\" to which the Nigerian replied \"yea, my best friend in Nigeria is Dick.\" (coincidentally the Nigerian had a friend named Dick in Nigeria). A JJC had the \"audacity\" to tell an American host: \"is this your wife's pussy?\" after seeing a cat in their house.

There are many other comical usages and conflicting intersections of Nigerian and American English.

The word \"messing\" is generally used differently in Nigeria and America. In American colloquial English \"messing\" could be used as in \"quit messing with me\" or \"who are you messing with?\"-the later could be used to determine who you are hanging out with in a proper context- it is mostly contextual.

In Nigerian English, maybe Pidgin English \"mess\" means fart. So a female American asked a male Nigerian JJC-\"who you messing with\" and the JJC got angry and said: \"I didn't mess.\" confused, the American who had interest on the JJC just walked away.

The word \"company\" in America again colloquially could be used to refer to a visitor. An American asked a Nigerian JJC over the telephone after noticing sporadic breaks in conversation \"do you have company?\" To which the Nigerian responded: \"I don't have a job. I am looking for a job! I know that America is easy but I think you need to have a job first before you get a company.\" I guess in a way, he was right but not the way he thought!


Kai quit messing with us with all these your fabu....carry am go joke section
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