Beyond Barriers - Nigerian Pidgin climbing the Ladder of Prestige

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2005

16 Pages, Grade: 1,7


Table of Contents

1 Introduction

2 Aspects of the Current Linguistic Situation
2.1 English and Nigerian Pidgin
2.2 The wide Spectre of Indigenous Languages
2.2.1 Hausa
2.2.2 Igbo
2.2.3 Yoruba
2.3 Sharing a Concept of the Enemy

3 A Change of Mind
3.1 NP and the Need for Interethnic Communication
3.2 NP and Literature
3.3 NP on Screens and the Radio

4 Prospective Future Problems
4.1 Limitations of a further spread of Nigerian Pidgin
4.2 Language Endangerment
4.3 Conclusion

5 Bibliography

6 Webliography

1 Introduction

In times of the pre-colonial period, contact between English and Nigerian indigenous languages was hardly to recognize. West Africa came into contact with Europeans for the first time in the 15th century. The Britons were – in contrast to the Spanish and Portuguese - latecomers to the African scene[1], this is why the Nigerian languages did not have been influenced by the English language until the beginning of the colonial period. The unification of Nigeria in 1914 marked the starting point of her colonization[2].

Since that point in time, contact between English and the major Nigerian languages increased. Nigerian Pidgin (NP), which developed as a contact language between English and various indigenous languages[3], nowadays does no more fit the definition of a Pidgin as a pure contact language, for it is mainly spoken locally and not throughout the whole country. It is neither a creole, because it is not learned natively[4] by children – at least not throughout its whole area of spreading.

To give an overview on how English, Nigerian Pidgin and the three major indigenous languages are currently fighting to gain ground over each other in multilingual Nigeria is the topic of this paper’s first chapter. The role of English in West Africa in general and Nigeria in particular has been examined to a larger extent in the seminar, so here the main focus is laid on NP and the other three major indigenous languages.

The second part deals with the altering role of Nigerian Pidgin in terms of literature, interethnic communication and the mass media. Regarding NP on its way to a wider spread, already nowadays it is a foregone conclusion that this way is paved with sharp stones – those mostly put down by the administrative and governing institutions in Nigeria.

This is why the last large section of this paper concentrates on prospective problems which NP – and the other major languages spoken in Nigeria - will have to cope with in the next decades.

To conclude, I am shortly touching on the thoughts and questions which came to my mind while investigating and writing this paper.

2 Aspects of the Current Linguistic Situation

Nigeria, with a population of over 137 million people, has a linguistic situation which is hard to analyse – providing about 400 indigenous languages spoken[5]. Only three of these are considered major languages, based on criteria like the strength of the population, their status in education or the political influence of the people who speak them. The fact that English is the dominating language by number of speakers as well as by its level of official recognition makes the linguistic situation in Nigeria exoglossic.

The three major indigenous languages are Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba. All of them are used as regional languages without any national scope and even when fulfilling official functions, then only in regions in which they are spoken[6] originally. The two essential non-indigenous languages, English and Nigerian Pidgin, have come more and more into conflict. The institutionalized domination of English is getting more and more threatened by the rising acceptance of NP by the people, where a change of attitude of Nigerians towards it (NP)[7] is recognizable.

2.1 English and Nigerian Pidgin

Whilst English is still – by constitution - dominating the administrative level of language usage and many other domains like the mass media, the non-literate inhabitants are in a way alienated[8], because their inability to speak English parts them from society – at least from those parts of society which sign responsible for politics and public debates: in 1980, between 95 and 100 percent of the educational broadcasting in Nigeria was in English[9]. This leads to the conclusion that an effective kind of mass communication could hardly be possible in the rural areas of Nigeria[10].

This, exactly, is the point where NP enters the scene. President Obasanjo, who used it as a language of social mobilisation[11], by doing that increased the level of acceptance within the rural population, which had been lacking a common language before.

Furthermore, NP nowadays fulfils a wider spectre of usage than some decades before, due to a new national feeling, its ongoing process of creolization, and, last but not least, that it is widely regarded as the language of humour par excellence[12].

These factors are extendedly depicted in part two of this paper. To complete the characterisation of the currents positions of the two non-indigenous major languages, it can be said that the institutionalised English usage is not going to hold its monopoly without undergoing relevant changes in language policy.

2.2 The wide Spectre of Indigenous Languages

Leaving out of focus the overwhelming number of minor indigenous languages, at least Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba - as the major indigenous languages - are of significant importance concerning the linguistic situation in Nigeria, even if restricted to regional use. That is why this subchapter gives a short overview on their diverse spectres of spreading and usage.

2.2.1 Hausa

Linguistically, Hausa language belongs to the Chadic sub-family group under Afroasiatic classification of African languages[13] .

Today’s wide spread of Hausa is – to a large extent - due to religious influence by the Arabic languages, nationalist politics[14] while the need for a supranational entity[15] rose, and the Civil War from 1967 to 1970[16]. These three factors - amongst some other things – helped to increase the number of first or second language speakers of Hausa up to about 50 million – most of these living in Northern Nigeria. There, due to the fact that the knowledge of English was generally very low, the use of Hausa as a medium of instruction was fundamental to British colonial policy[17].

In the second half of the twentieth century, the number of academic researches and dictionaries on Hausa rose evidently, which again helped to increase the intensity of research on Hausa. Despite this growth in number, general acceptance, and in the attitude of pride of its speakers, the prospective future does not seem to look too good, mainly because


[1] Ojo, Valentine. English-Yoruba Language Contact in Nigeria. Altendorf: Gräbner Dissertationsdruck
1977, p. 19.

[2] Ojo, Valentine. English-Yoruba Language Contact in Nigeria. p. 20

[3] „The syntactic strategies and phonological processes observable in NP compel us to classify it, not
as an indo-european language, but with the indigenous languages of Nigeria, and specifically of
southern Nigeria.”

Banjo, Ayo. Making a Virtue of Necessity: An Overview of the English Language in Nigeria.

Ibadan: Ibadan University Press 1996, p. 6

[4] Available URL: 12.03.2005 19.00

[5] Igboanusi, Herbert; Peter, Lothar. Languages in Competition. The Struggle for Supremacy Among
Nigeria’s Major Languages, English and Pidgin
. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang GmbH, Europäischer
Verlag der Wissenschaften, 2005. p. 4

[6] Igboanusi, Herbert; Peter, Lothar. Languages in Competition. p. 4ff

[7] Igboanusi, Herbert; Peter, Lothar. Languages in Competition. p. 27

[8] Igboanusi, Herbert; Peter, Lothar. Languages in Competition. p. 18

[9] Ugboajah, Frank Okwu. Communication Policies in Nigeria. Paris: United Nations, 1980. p. 22.

[10] Igboanusi, Herbert; Peter, Lothar. Languages in Competition. p. 19

[11] Igboanusi, Herbert; Peter, Lothar. Languages in Competition. p. 27

[12] Banjo, Ayo. Making a Virtue of Necessity: An Overview of the English Language in Nigeria. p 99 .

[13] Available URL: 26.03.2005 18.10

[14] The North was one of the regions within Nigeria which claimed to be a superior entity, therefore
Hausa was introduced as a Lingua Franca.

Igboanusi, Herbert; Peter, Lothar. Languages in Competition. p. 41.

[15] Babawale, Tunda. The Challenges of Nationhood. In : Falola, Toyin. Nigeria in the Twentieth
Durham, North Carolina: Carolina Academic Press 2002, p. 380.

[16] During the war, even non-Nigerians were recruited by the federalists, but out of personal affinity
rather fought for Northern Nigeria and therefore got assimilated into the Hausa culture.

Igboanusi, Herbert; Peter, Lothar. Languages in Competition. p. 51.

[17] Haruna, Andrew. An Appraisal of British Colonial Policy and the Obstacles to the Ascendancy of
Hausa in Education.
In: University of Leipzig Papers on Africa. Languages and Literatures No.22.
Leipzig: Universität Leipzig, Institut für Afrikanistik, 2004. p. 6.

Excerpt out of 16 pages


Beyond Barriers - Nigerian Pidgin climbing the Ladder of Prestige
Humboldt-University of Berlin  (Institut für Anglistik und Amerikanistik)
English in Africa
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ISBN (Book)
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Diese Hausarbeit wurde mit einer 1,7 bewertet. Die Rolle des Nigerian Pidgin im Kontext der linguistischen Situation in Nigeria wird untersucht. Der Fokus liegt hierbei sowohl auf zukünftigen Problemen sowie deren Genese. Mehr hierzu im Abstract.
Beyond, Barriers, English, Africa, Nigeria, Pidgin, Anglistik, Cameroon, Language Policy, Colonization, Sprachwissenschaft, African English, Afrika, Creole, Kreole, HU Berlin
Quote paper
Marc Kemper (Author), 2005, Beyond Barriers - Nigerian Pidgin climbing the Ladder of Prestige, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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