Nigerian Pidgin

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Nigerian Pidgin
Native to Nigeria
Native speakers
unknown (undated figure of 30 million L1 speakers)[1]
Creole language
Language codes
ISO 639-3 pcm
Glottolog nige1257[2]

Nigerian Pidgin is an English-based pidgin and creole language spoken as a lingua franca across Nigeria. The language is commonly referred to as "Pidgin" or "Brokin". It is distinguished from other creole languages since most speakers are not true native speakers, although many children do learn it at an early age. It can be spoken as a pidgin, a creole, or a decreolised acrolect by different speakers, who may switch between these forms depending on the social setting.[3] Variations of Pidgin are also spoken across West Africa, in countries such as Sierra Leone, Equatorial Guinea, Ghana and Cameroon. Pidgin English, despite its common use throughout the country, has no official status.


Each of the 250 or more ethnic groups in Nigeria can converse in this language, though they usually have their own additional words. For example, the Yorùbás use the words Ṣe and Abi when speaking Pidgin. These are often used at the start or end of an intonated sentence or question. For example, "You are coming, right?" becomes Ṣe you dey come? or You dey come abi? As another example, the Igbos added the word Nna also used at the beginning of some sentences to show camaraderie. For example, Man, that test was very hard becomes Nna, that test hard no be small.

Nigerian Pidgin also varies from place to place. Dialects of Nigerian Pidgin may include the Warri, Sapele, Benin, Port-Harcourt, Lagos especially in Ajegunle, Onitsha varieties.

Nigerian Pidgin is most widely spoken in the oil rich Niger-Delta where most of its population speak it as their first language.[4]

But other people speak pidgin differently and in their own ways all over Nigeria.

Relationship to other languages and dialects[edit]

Similarity to Caribbean dialects[edit]

Nigerian Pidgin, along with the various pidgin and creole languages of West Africa share similarities to the various dialects of English found in the Caribbean. Some of the returning descendants of slaves taken to the New World of West African origin brought back many words and phrases to West Africa from the Jamaican Creole (also known as Jamaican Patois or simply Patois) and the other creole languages of the West Indies which are components of Nigerian Pidgin. The pronunciation and accents often differ a great deal, mainly due to the extremely heterogeneous mix of African languages present in the West Indies, but if written on paper or spoken slowly, the creole languages of West Africa are for the most part mutually intelligible with the creole languages of the Caribbean. The presence of repetitious phrases in Jamaican Creole such as "su-su" (gossip) and "pyaa-pyaa" (sickly) mirror the presence of such phrases in West African languages such as "bam-bam", which means "complete" in the Yoruba language. Repetitious phrases are also present in Nigerian Pidgin, such as, "koro-koro", meaning "clear vision", "yama-yama", meaning "disgusting", and "doti-doti", meaning "garbage". Furthermore, the use of the words of West African origin in Jamaican Patois "Una" - Jamaican Patois or "una" - West African Pidgin (meaning "you people", a word that comes from the Igbo word "unu" also meaning "you people") display some of the interesting similarities between the English pidgins and creoles of West Africa and the English pidgins and creoles of the West Indies, as does the presence of words and phrases that are identical in the languages on both sides of the Atlantic, such as "Me a go tell dem" (I'm going to tell them) and "make we" (let us). Use of the word "deh" or "dey" is found in both Jamaican Patois and Nigerian Pidgin English, and is used in place of the English word "is" or "are". The phrase "We dey foh London" would be understood by both a speaker of Patois and a speaker of Nigerian Pidgin to mean "We are in London" (although the Jamaican is more likely to say "We dey a London"). Other similarities, such as "pikin" (Nigerian Pidgin for "child") and "pikney" (or "pikiny", Jamaican Patois for "child", akin to the standard-English pejorative/epithet pickaninny) and "chook" (Nigerian Pidgin for "poke" or "stab") which corresponds with the Jamaican Patois word "jook", further demonstrate the linguistic relationship.

Connection to Portuguese and Spanish languages[edit]

Being derived partly from the present day Edo/Delta area of Nigeria, there are still some leftover words from the Portuguese and Spanish languages in pidgin English (Portuguese and Spanish trade ships traded slaves from the Bight of Benin). For example, "you sabi do am?" means "do you know how to do it?" "Sabi" means "to know" or "to know how to" just as "to know" is "saber" in Portuguese and Spanish. Also, Pikin or Pickaninny is from the Spanish and Portuguese word "pequeño"/"pequeno" to mean "small".

Nigerian Standard English[edit]

Similar to the Jamaican Patois situation, Nigerian Pidgin is mostly used in informal conversations. However, Nigerian Pidgin has no status as an official language. Nigerian Standard English is used in politics, the Internet and some television programs.


The most important difference to other types of English is the limited repertoire of consonants, vowels (6) and diphthongs (3) used. This produces a lot of homophones, like thin, thing and tin which are all three pronounced like /tin/. This circumstance gives a high importance to the context, the tone, the body language and any other ways of communication for the distinction of the homophones.

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Nigerian Pidgin at Ethnologue (16th ed., 2009)
  2. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Nigerian Pidgin". Glottolog. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  3. ^ Faraclas, Nicholas C., Nigerian Pidgin, Descriptive Grammar, 1996, Introduction.
  4. ^ Herbert Igboanusi: Empowering Nigerian Pidgin: a challenge for status planning?. World Englishes, Vol. 27, No. 1, pp. 68–82, 2008.


External links[edit]