West African Pidgin English (WAPE)

Business district of Ibadan, Nigeria
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The term West African Pidgin English refers to a continuum of English-based pidgins and creoles spoken along the west coast of Africa, particularly in Nigeria, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. Also known as Guinea Coast Creole English.

Used by upwards of 30 million people, West African Pidgin English (WAPE) serves primarily as an interethnic lingua franca.

Examples and Observations

"WAPE is spoken in a geographical continuum from Gambia to Cameroon (including enclaves in French- and Portuguese-speaking countries) and in a vertical continuum with WAE [West African English] at the top. Among the local varieties are Aku in Gambia, Krio in Sierra Leone, Settler English and Pidgin English in Liberia, Pidgin (English) in Ghana and Nigeria, and Pidgin (English) or Kamtok in Cameroon. It originates in 16th-century contacts between West Africans and English sailors and traders, and is therefore as old as so-called 'Modern English.' Some WAPE speakers, especially in cities, do not speak any traditional African language: it is their sole means of expression.
"Because many of its features are close to those of Creole in the Americas, some researchers have proposed a family of 'Atlantic creoles' that includes Pidgin in West Africa, Gullah in the U.S., and the various patois of the Caribbean. However, like them, and despite its usefulness, vigor, and wide distribution, Pidgin tends to be regarded as debased English." (Tom McArthur, The Oxford Guide to World English. Oxford University Press, 2002)

WAPE and Gullah

"The city that had become the center of the 'slave trade' [in the 18th century] was Charleston, South Carolina. Many slaves first arrived here and then they were transported inland to the plantations. However, some of the slaves stayed in the Charleston area, on what is called the Sea Islands. The Creole language of the large Black population in the region is called Gullah, spoken by about a quarter of a million people. It is a language that is probably most similar of all varieties of Black American English to the original creole English that was used in the New World and the West African Pidgin English of the earliest slaves. These slaves, who spoke different African languages . . ., invented a form of English, West African Pidgin English, which incorporated many features from West African languages. Gullah could survive because it was relatively self-contained and isolated from the rest of the world." (Zoltán Kövecses, American English: An Introduction. Broadview, 2000)

WAPE in Chinua Achebe's Man of the People

“Me? Put poison for master? Nevertheless!” said the cook, side-stepping to avoid a heavy blow from the Minister. . . . Why I go kill my master? . . . Abi my head no correct? And even if to say I de craze why I no go go jump for inside lagoon instead to kill my master?" (a servant, in [Chinua] Achebe's A Man of the People, p. 39)

"West African Pidgin English (PE) as exemplified in the [passage] quoted is spoken primarily along the West African coast between Sierra Leone and Cameroon. . . . The type of Pidgin found in literary works by Achebe, [Cyprian] Ekwensi, [Wole] Soyinka, and some other African writers is not the same as that often referred to as 'trade jargon,' 'makeshift language,' or 'a language devoid of morphological characteristics.' PE plays a very important role in West Africa--especially in areas where there is no other common language." (Tony Obilade, "The Stylistic Function of Pidgin English in African Literature: Achebe and Soyinka." Research on Wole Soyinka, ed. by James Gibbs and Bernth Lindfors. Africa World Press, 1993)

Characteristics of Tense and Aspect in WAPE

"Tense and aspect [in West African Pidgin English] are noninflectional: bin denotes simple past or past perfect (Meri bin lef Mary left, Mary had left), de/di the progressive (Meri de it Mary is eating, Mary was eating), and don the perfective (Meri don it Mary has eaten, Mary had eaten). Depending on context, Meri it means 'Mary ate' or 'Mary has eaten' and Meri laik Ed means 'Mary likes Ed' or 'Mary liked Ed.'" (Tom McArthur, Concise Oxford Companion to the English Language. Oxford University Press, 2005)

Prepositions in WAPE

"Like many other pidgins, WAPE has few prepositions. The preposition for is an all-purpose locative preposition, translatable as in, at, on, to etc." (Mark Sebba, Contact Languages: Pidgins and Creoles. Palgrave Macmillan, 1997)

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Nordquist, Richard. "West African Pidgin English (WAPE)." ThoughtCo, Jan. 30, 2021, thoughtco.com/west-african-pidgin-english-wape-1692496. Nordquist, Richard. (2021, January 30). West African Pidgin English (WAPE). Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/west-african-pidgin-english-wape-1692496 Nordquist, Richard. "West African Pidgin English (WAPE)." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/west-african-pidgin-english-wape-1692496 (accessed June 2, 2023).