Nigerian English

Cultural and Language Differences

A Nigerian family

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The varieties of the English language that are used in the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa.

English is the official language of Nigeria, a former British protectorate. English (especially the variety known as Nigerian Pidgin English) functions as a lingua franca in this multilingual country.

Examples and Observations:

  • "The spectrum of English in Nigeria ranges from Standard English through a more general English whose structures are influenced by the mother tongues, by the Indian English of many traders and teachers, and by WAPE [West African Pidgin English], which is sometimes acquired as a mother tongue in such urban areas as Calabar and Port Harcourt, usually along with one or more local languages. Its many forms reflect both mother tongue and WAPE influence. Although a number of Pidgin dictionaries have been compiled, it has not yet been standardized. Pidgin has been used in prose by many writers, including Chinua Achebe, as a vehicle for poetry by Frank Aig-Imoukhuede, and for drama by Ola Rotimi."
    (Tom McArthur, The Oxford Guide to World English. Oxford Univ. Press, 2002)
  • "[M.A.] Adekunle (1974) attributes all of standard Nigerian English's Nigerian usages in lexis and syntax to interference from the mother tongue. It is quite easy to show that while some usages can be so attributed, the vast majority, at least in Educated Nigerian English, arise from the normal process of language development involving a narrowing or extension of meaning or the creation of new idioms. Most such usages cut across all first-language backgrounds. For example, when 'travel' is used in the sense 'to be away,' as in My father has traveled (= My father is away), it is not a transfer of a first-language expression into English, but a modification of the verb 'to travel.'"(Ayo Bamgbose, "Identifying Nigerian Uses in Nigerian English." English: History, Diversity, and Change, ed. by David Graddol, Dick Leith, and Joan Swann. Routledge, 1996)

Nigerian Pidgin English

"[Pidgin English], it can be argued, has had a much more important function than English in Nigeria, at least in the southern provinces, since about 1860. The number of its speakers, the frequency of its uses and the range of its functions have been expanding ever since its first formation from local jargons of Antera Duke's type when the need for an interethnic lingua franca arose. Increasing social and geographical mobility have continuously added to this expansion. Whether the estimate of 30% pidgin speakers in Nigeria is a realistic figure is impossible to say."
(Manfred Görlach, Even More Englishes: Studies 1996-1997. John Benjamins, 1998)

Lexical Features of Nigerian English

"[E.O.] Bamiro (1994: 51-64) gives the following examples of words that have developed special meanings in Nigerian English...The presence of Citroën and Volkswagen cars has led to the creative and witty coining of the words 'footroën' and 'footwagen.' 'They had to do parts of the journey by footroën' simply means they had to walk some of the way. Other coinages include 'ricobay hair' (a popular Nigerian hairstyle), 'white-white' (the white shirts worn by schoolchildren), and 'watchnight,' which means something like staying up through the night to celebrate New Year's Eve or some other festival.

"Ellipsis is common so that 'he is a mental' means 'he is a mental patient.' ...

"Clipping, common also in Australian English, is frequent. 'Perms' in the following example is a short or clipped form of 'permutations': 'We would not have wasted our time running after perms.'"
(Andy Kirkpatrick, World Englishes: Implications for International Communication and English Language Teaching. Cambridge Univ. Press, 2007)

"Nigerian English has a whole host of what we call stereotyped phrases of salutations that would strike most native English speakers as curious at best and incomprehensible at worst. While some of these phrases are creative coinages or semantic extensions based on the socio-cultural uniqueness of Nigerian cultural expressions which the English language hasn't lexicalized, others are the products of an insufficient familiarity with the conventions and idioms of the English language.

"'Say me well to him/her/your family, etc.' Nigerians use this ungainly verbalism when they want to send expressions of goodwill to someone through another person. This uniquely Nigerian English expression would be puzzling to native speakers of the English language because it is structurally awkward, grammatically incorrect, and unidiomatic.

"Whatever it is, the expression has attained idiomatic status in Nigerian English and should probably be patented and exported to other parts of the English-speaking world as Nigerian linguistic invention in English."​

(Farooq A. Kperogi, "Nigeria: Top 10 Peculiar Salutations in Local English." AllAfrica, November 11, 2012)

Distinctive Uses of Prepositions in Nigerian English

"Many scholars of Nigerian English have identified the tendency to omit the preposition 'to' in the collocation 'enable someone/something to do something' as one of the key features of our dialect of the English language. 'Enable' and 'to' are indissolubly 'married' in American English and British English; one cannot appear without the other. So where Nigerians would write or say 'I hereby apply for a loan to enable me buy a car,' British or American English speakers would write or say 'I hereby apply for a loan to enable me TO buy a car.'

"While Nigerians blithely omit prepositions when we use 'enable,' 'contest,' 'reply,' etc., we gladly pluck some from the air and insert them where they are normally not used in native varieties of the English language. An example is the phrase 'request FOR.' In American and British English 'request' is never followed by a preposition. For example, where Nigerians would say 'I requested FOR a loan from my bank,' native speakers of the English language would write 'I requested a loan from my bank.'"
(Farooq A. Kperog, "Nigeria: Prepositional and Collocational Abuse in Nigerian English." Sunday Trust [Nigeria], July 15, 2012)

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Your Citation
Nordquist, Richard. "Nigerian English." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, Nordquist, Richard. (2020, August 27). Nigerian English. Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "Nigerian English." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 25, 2023).