I want to start this blog post with a brief history lesson. Today in Nigeria, we speak English-based Pidgin which evolved from Portuguese-based Pidgin; Some Portuguese words that are still used in Pidgin are “Pikin” and “Sabi”. The Portuguese, who were the first Europeans to visit that area began trading with the Niger Delta as far back as 149AD. The Portuguese-based Pidgin was created in the Niger Delta because the indigenous people had no means of communicating with the traders. Even today, Niger Delta Pidgin is very different from the Pidgin that the rest of Nigeria speaks; it is more melodious (to me at least).
A while ago, a Nigerian asked me if I could speak Creole (Insert confused face emoji; which one be Creole again????) and I said I couldn’t because then, I thought Creole was another native Nigerian language that I didn’t know of; they are over 521 languages spoken in Nigeria and it is not surprising that I wouldn’t know all of them. Later, I found out that person was just asking me in a very fancy way if I could speak Pidgin (Insert eye roll emoji).
I thought this question was unreasonable because I mean which Nigerian can’t speak Pidgin. Apparently, I was very wrong because a lot of Nigerians who were raised in Nigeria can’t speak Pidgin because their parents didn’t allow them to do so. Parents don’t allow their children to speak Pidgin because they don’t want they special middle-upper class children to speak the language of the lower class (Nigeria is a very classist society). Heck even I wasn’t allowed to speak Pidgin growing up but as a “Beni girl”, I had to represent. On a more serious note, I don’t speak my native language very well so I decided to learn Pidgin to compensate for that.
During my most recent visit to Nigeria, I heard a parent complain that her child had started speaking Pidgin. The development greatly troubled and even disgusted her. The child had picked it up from the housemaid and so she decided to get a housemaid who could speak “Proper English”. I found it particularly interesting since the lady herself didn’t speak the best English; Her English could be considered Creole/Pidgin to some.
Sidebar: From my observations, I have noticed that most of the people who scorn Pidgin don’t speak perfect English themselves. I think If you use “who” and “whom” incorrectly, you aren’t allowed to look down on anyone who speaks Pidgin.
Pidgin is just another language and research has found that being multilingual has several advantages to the development of a child. A new study has found that multilingual brains are more resistant to Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. The multilingual brain is also quicker and more capable of resolving conflicts. Another advantage of being multilingual is that it makes it easier to learn other languages. So, all you posh Nigerian parents who want your children to learn French or Spanish, speaking Pidgin may be advantageous to that. One advantage that is local to Nigeria is that speaking Pidgin makes one a better haggler in the market. If you go to the market speaking “phone/Proper English”, you will be duped.
Pidgin is not a sign of poverty or illiteracy, it is a symbol of Nigeria’s rich and complex history, a symbol of our nationhood, it is how we gossip about fellow English speakers even when they are within ears reach of us (I’ve actually done this). 9 indigenous Nigerian Languages are already extinct, let us not make Pidgin the 10th.
Egbokhare, F., & Esizimetor, D. (n.d.). Nigerian Pidgin. Retrieved from https://www.hawaii.edu/satocenter/langnet/definitions/naija.html
Kluger, J. (2013, July 18). How the Brain Benefits from Being Bilingual. Time. Retrieved from http://science.time.com/2013/07/18/how-the-brain-benefits-from-being-bilingual/
Paradowski, B, M. (n.d.). The Benefits of Multilingualism. Retrieved from http://www.multilingualliving.com/2010/05/01/the-benefits-of-multilingualism/