Nigerian Pidgin

Nigerian Pidgin
Naijá (languej)
Native toNigeria
Native speakers
(undated figure of 40 million L1 and 60 million L2 speakers)[1]
English Creole
  • Atlantic
Language codes
ISO 639-3pcm

Nigerian Pidgin, often called Naija or Naijá in scholarship, is an English-based creole language spoken as a lingua franca across Nigeria. The language is sometimes referred to as "Pijin" or Broken (pronounced "Brokun"). It can be spoken as a pidgin, a creole, slang or a decreolised acrolect by different speakers, who may switch between these forms depending on the social setting.[2] A common orthography has been developed for Pidgin which has been gaining significant popularity in giving the language a harmonized writing system.[3][4]

Variations of what this article refers to as "Nigerian Pidgin" are also spoken across West and Central Africa, in countries such as Benin, Ghana, and Cameroon.[5]

As an example, the English phrase, "how are you?" would be "how you dey?" in Pidgin.[6]


Nigerian Pidgin is commonly used throughout the country, but it has not been granted official status. Pidgin breaks the communication barrier between different ethnic groups and it is widely spoken throughout Nigeria.[7]

In 2011, Google launched a search interface in Pidgin English; "Effect of Nigerian Pidgin English".[8] In 2017, BBC started services in Pidgin, BBC News Pidgin.[9]


Many of the 250 or more ethnic groups in Nigeria can converse in the language, though they usually have their own additional words. For example, the Yorùbás use the words Ṣebi and Abi when speaking Pidgin. They are often used at the start or end of an intonated sentence or question: "You are coming, right?" becomes Ṣebi you dey come? or You dey come abi?[citation needed]

Another example is the Igbos adding the word Nna, also used at the beginning of some sentences to show camaraderie: For example, Man, that test was very hard becomes Nna mehn, that test hard no be small. Another Igbo word that has gotten precedence in pidgin is Una, derived from the Igbo word Unu which means the same thing: "you people". For example, "Una dey mad" in Pidgin English translates to "You people are crazy" in English.[10] The Igbo word "Unu" has also found its way to Jamaican patois, and it also means the same thing as in Nigerian Pidgin. Also another Igbo word that is constantly being used in Pidgin language is "Biko". Biko means please in Igbo language. So for example, one could say in a pidgin sentence "Biko free me" which translates to "Please leave me alone" in English. The Hausas added the word ba at the end of an intonated sentence or question. For example, "you no wan come ba?" which translates to "You don't want to come right?"

Nigerian Pidgin also varies from place to place. Dialects of Nigerian Pidgin may include the Warri; Sapele; Umuahia; Benin City; Port Harcourt; Lagos (particularly in Ajegunle); and 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.[11] There are accounts of pidgin being spoken first in colonial Nigeria before being adopted by other countries along the West African coast.[12]

While pidgin is spoken by many, there are wide swathes of Nigeria where pidgin is not spoken or understood, especially among those without secular education in core northern parts of Nigeria.[13]

Relationship to other languages and dialects

Similarity to Caribbean Creoles

Nigerian Pidgin, along with the various pidgin and creole languages of West Africa share similarities to the various English-based Creoles found in the Caribbean. Linguists posit that this is because most of the enslaved that were taken to the New World were of West African descent. 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 Caribbean are for the most part mutually intelligible with the creole languages of West Africa.[14] The presence of repetitious phrases in Caribbean 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 "Unu" and Bajan dialect "wunna" or "una" – West African Pidgin (meaning "you people", a word that comes from the Igbo word "unu" or "unuwa" 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 Caribbean Creole 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 Creole and a speaker of Nigerian Pidgin to mean "We are in London" (although the Jamaican is more likely to say "Wi de a London") the words originates from the Igbo word "di" meaning the same thing and pronounced similarly: anu di na ofe (literally "meat is in pot") and anyi di na london (lit. "we are in London"). Other similarities, such as "pikin" (Nigerian Pidgin for "child") and "pikney" (used in islands like St.Vincent, Antigua and St. Kitts, akin to the standard-English pejorative/epithet pickaninny) and "chook" (Nigerian Pidgin for "poke" or "stab") which corresponds with the Bajan Creole word "juk", and also corresponds to "chook" used in other West Indian islands.[15]

Connection to Portuguese language

Being derived partly from the present day Edo/Delta area of Nigeria, there are still some words left over from the Portuguese language in pidgin English (Portuguese ships traded enslaved peoples 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.[16] (According to the monogenetic theory of pidgins, sabir was a basic word in Mediterranean Lingua Franca, brought to West Africa through Portuguese pidgin. An English cognate is savvy.) Also, "pikin" or "pickaninny" comes from the Portuguese words "pequeno" and "pequenino", which mean "small" and "small child" respectively.[17]

Nigerian English

Similar to the Caribbean Creole situation, Nigerian Pidgin is mostly used in informal conversations. However, Nigerian Pidgin has no status as an official language. Nigerian English is used in politics, education, science, and media.[18] In Nigeria, English is acquired through formal education.[18] As English has been in contact with multiple different languages in Nigeria, Nigerian English has become much more prominent, and it is often referred to as a group of different sub-varieties.[18] Although there is not a formal description of Nigerian English, scholars agree that Nigerian English is a recognizable and unique variety of English.[18]


A major difference in Nigerian Pidgin compared to other types of English is the limited repertoire of consonants, vowels (7), and diphthongs (3) used.[19] This produces many homophones. For example, ‘thin’, ‘thing’, and ‘tin’ are all pronounced like [tin].[20] This gives high importance to context, tone, body language, and other ways of communication for the distinction of the homophones.[20] The correlation between sound and spelling is very stable in Nigerian Pidgin, which results in this discrepancy.[20]

See also



  1. ^ Nigerian Pidgin at Ethnologue (16th ed., 2009)
  2. ^ Faraclas, Nicholas C., Nigerian Pidgin, Descriptive Grammar, 1996, Introduction.
  3. ^ "IFRA Nigeria – Naija Languej Akedemi". Retrieved 2019-02-09.
  4. ^ Esizimetor, D. O. (2009). What Orthography for Naijá? Paper delivered at the Conference on Naijá organised by the Institut Français de Recherche en Afrique (IFRA), July 07-10, 2009, University of Ibadan Conference Centre.
  6. ^ Faraclas, Nicholas G. (2020-06-30). Nigerian Pidgin. Routledge. p. 25. ISBN 0-203-19280-X.
  7. ^ "Language Contact Manchester". Retrieved 2018-07-17.
  8. ^ "Effect of Nigerian Pidgin English". Retrieved 2019-12-06.
  9. ^ "BBC Pidgin service launched in Nigeria". 2017-08-21. Retrieved 2019-04-28.
  10. ^ "MANIAC | meaning in the Cambridge English Dictionary". Retrieved 2021-05-21.
  11. ^ Frances Ayenbi, Oti (2014-06-01). "Language regression in Nigeria". Éducation et sociétés plurilingues (36): 51–64. doi:10.4000/esp.136. ISSN 1127-266X.
  12. ^ Herbert Igboanusi: Empowering Nigerian Pidgin: a challenge for status planning?. World Englishes, Vol. 27, No. 1, pp. 68–82, 2008.
  13. ^ "Profound and total deafness in Owerri, Nigeria". Retrieved 2021-05-21.
  14. ^ "Creole languages | linguistics". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2021-05-21.
  15. ^ Emmaolu, Akinsanya. "THE EFFECT OF THE". Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  16. ^ "Pidgin english origin - english pidgins include nigerian pidgin". (in Finnish). Retrieved 2021-05-21.
  17. ^ Faraclas, Nicholas G. (2020-06-30). Nigerian Pidgin. Routledge. p. 3. ISBN 0-203-19280-X.
  18. ^ a b c d Florence Agbo, Ogechi; Plag, Ingo (2020-12-11). "The Relationship of Nigerian English and Nigerian Pidgin in Nigeria: Evidence from Copula Constructions in Ice-Nigeria". Journal of Language Contact. 13 (2): 351–388. doi:10.1163/19552629-bja10023. ISSN 1877-1491.
  19. ^ Elugbe, Ben (2008-12-19). Nigerian Pidgin English: phonology. De Gruyter Mouton. doi:10.1515/9783110197181-052/html. ISBN 978-3-11-019718-1.
  20. ^ a b c Mensah, Eyo Offiong (2012-09-11). "Grammaticalization in Nigerian Pidgin". Íkala. 17 (2): 167–179. ISSN 2145-566X.


External links