The Nigerian Pidgin English

The Nigerian Pidgin is arguably the most widespread koine/lingua franca in the Nigerian linguistic space. Holding sway primarily in the the Southern region of the country (the Hausa language appears to be the wider spread Lingua Franca in the North, however this is receding with the ever increasing spread of NP), and in Cities throughout the nation. It is the preferred language in casual situations, of the youth, military personnel, amongst students in higher institutions of learning and comedy.

The emergence of NP was initiated by the establishment of contact between Portuguese explorers and coastal communities of the Niger-Delta in the 15th century. This contact initially led to the development of a pidgin lexified primarily by Portuguese (this influence survives in words like pikin ‘child’ and sabi ‘to know’). However the locum tenes of the Portuguese by the English, gave rise to the contemporary Nigerian Pidgin, of which English is the primary lexifier.

The continual spread and rise of NP is fostered by the multlingual nature of Nigeria, where over 500 languages are spoken, as it serves as a veritable tool for intergroup communication. The notion about Pidgins is that they are reduced and simplified trade (pseudo)languages or in other words makeshift adaptations developed for the satisfaction of restricted and immediate communication purposes. They are thought of as possessing a limited vocabulary and lacking rigid grammars. 

“When speakers of different languages have to communicate to carry out practical tasks but do not have the opportunity to learn one another’s languages, they develop a makeshift jargon called a pidgin. Pidgins are choppy strings of words borrowed from the language of the colonizers or plantation owners, highly variable in order and with little in the way of grammar.”
Steven Pinker

However these notions do not apply to contemporary NP, a fully fledged language, with a rich and ever expanding vocabulary, capable of meeting the communication needs speakers may have. This is probably due to the centuries of development and change it has enjoyed, as well as the linguistic enrichement afforded it by the so called BIOPROGRAM, as children acquire it (the Nicaraguan Sign Language has been cited in the literature as a language enriched as deaf children began acquiring it). It is the case that NPE has evolved into a creole, particularly in the oil rich Niger Delta (particularly Warri City), where the beauty of the language is most evident.

The Nigerian Pidgin may be Genetically classified as a Germanic language, a branch of the larger Indo-European language family, due to its predominantly English influenced vocabulary. However it bears Structural/Typological similarities with the Benue-Congo languages of Southern Nigeria, which are of the larger Niger-Congo language family. We would highlight some these aspects of structural similarity below:

Aspects of NP Phonological affinity with Local Nigerian Languages: The phonemic inventory of NP is largely similar to that of Endoglossic Nigerian Languages.The segments /ñ,kp,gb/ are phonemes of NP, they occur in the phonemic inventories of languages of Southern Nigeria like ‘Yoruba, Igbo, Edo, Urhobo’, however the English phonemic inventory is without them:

NP: Kpayn   ‘to die’         YORUBA: okpa ‘rod‘               UNEME: okpa ‘corn

        Gba        ‘to cheat’                     agba ‘elder‘                                agba ‘storage drum‘        

        Nyansh ‘buttocks’                    anyan ‘cockroach’                anya  ‘travails

Suprasegmentally Tones may be employed to specify the meaning of segmentally similar lexemes, as in words like:

NP: Fádà    ‘father’, Fàdá ‘priest’, Mámà ‘honorific term for an important female’, Màmá ‘mother’.

YOR: Ògùn ‘medicine’, Ogun ‘war’, Ogún ‘twenty, inheritance’.

UNE: Òkpà ‘corn‘, Òkpá ‘one’    

An Aspect of NP Morphological affinity with local Nigerian Languages: The morphological process Reduplication is one which is highly productive in NP and in the languages of Southern Nigeria, which is however Marginally productive in English. 


Kpoto-kpoto ‘mud’

Nyanma-nyanma ‘filth’

Mago-mago ‘sharp practices’

Wel(a)        ‘well,nicely,good‘                 Wel(a)-wel(a)      ‘very well, nice’

Sleep           ‘sleep‘                                        Sleepi-sleepi           ‘an habitual sleeper’

Mama         ‘mother’                               Mama-mama          ‘grand mother

Kill               ‘kill’                                       Kill-kill                       ‘kill indiscriminately’

Play-play   ‘playful individual’           playplay-playplay   ‘surprisingly, unexpectedly

An aspect of NP Syntactic affinity with local Nigerian Languages: A major syntactic feature which NP shares with Languages of Southern Nigeria, but which is unproductive in the English language is ‘Verb Serialisation’. Verb Serialisation or a Serial Verb Construct, is marked by a continuous tagging/string of verbs, without a linker (e.g and) connecting them. The string of verbs share the same Tense, Mood and Aspect marking. They also share Arguments and only an Internal Argument of theirs may intersperse the verb sequence.

NP: Hin run chop di ęgusi soup, wey him mama cook put inside di pot.

*He ran ate the melon soup, that his mother cooked put in the pot.

Yor: O sare ję obę ęgusi, ti iya rę se fi si inu ikoko.

*He ran ate soup melon, that mother his cooked put at in pot.

Une: O no le ozomi ki ikpigba, ni iy’ oni yeni re zhi ekel’ oni eghulu.

*He ran ate soup of melon, that mother his cooked put at in the pot.

He quickly ate the melon soup, that his mother cooked and put in the pot

NP: We kill di king goat chop, throway the bone inside one bush, wen we chop am finish.

*We killed the King Goat ate, threw away the bone in a bush when we ate it finish.

Yor:  A kpa Eran Oba je, ju egungun re sonu si inu Igbo kan, nigba ti a jee tan.

*We killed Goat King ate, threw bone away at in bush one, when that we finish.

Une: Mwan gbe ewe ki oni Ogie le, fi ugwo ‘kole fia zhi ekeli ivinumu okpa, ufo ni mwan le oni fo.

*We killed Goat of the King ate, threw bone away at in bush one, when that we eat it finish.

‘We killed the King’s Goat, ate it, and then threw it in a bush when we were done eating it’


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