Do you know that Pidgin English is one of the most popular languages in the world? In Nigeria, it is spoken by at least 70 million people. In the South South region of Nigeria, it is the first language of a lot of people. Pidgin is also spoken in Ghana, Togo, Benin, Cameroon, Sierra Leone, and beyond.
Nigerian Pidgin English is the most popular language used in Nigerian songs. At least 5 in every 6 Nigerian songs contain a fairly large amount of Pidgin. Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, the late famous musical legend, sang most of his songs in Pidgin. And he was still extremely popular!
At one point, Nigeria almost made the language one of its official languages.
Despite its popularity, a lot of people still get a lot of things wrong about Nigerian Pidgin English. The main thing is that Nigerian Pidgin also has its own basic rules too. And I share 3 of those basic rules below. But first, why is the language so darn popular?!
Why is Pidgin English So Popular?
The popularity of Pidgin English can be traced to its simplicity and usage. Although Pidgin is usually blended with local languages, it is somewhat easy to learn and understand if you can speak English.
This is the chief reason why Pidgin English became popular. It is a language that synthesizes English and other native languages to make communication easier. But it doesn’t mean it is extremely easy to speak though.
Over the years still, Pidgin English has evolved greatly. Speaking Pidgin English is not just about meshing two languages together for the sake of communication. Pidgin English now has its own form, its own structure and, yes, its own “grammatical errors”.
And lately, I found out that a lot of people don’t know this.
Sometimes I hear people say sentences in Pidgin English, and I’ll be like: “which kain Pidgin be this again?” That is not a joke; I get quite stupefied by how some sentences sound.
In the past, though, I had no idea what made them wrong. So I started checking.
Rules of Nigerian Pidgin English
While checking, I discovered the first rule of Pidgin English: Always speak in English present tense.
Let’s always keep in mind that Pidgin English is, hmmm, a “fork” (Github?) of the regular English language. And the most important thing that Pidgin English forked from regular English is present tense.
Pidgin English must always be spoken in present tense. Anything else just sounds plain wrong.
Here’s an example. “I dey cum now now.”
Translated to regular English, this is “I will soon be back”.
Other examples are: “Oga show quick”, “I don dey go oo”, “You don dey come?”, “You dey count money?” among others.
You can say these in several types of Pidgin you like, but they must always be in the present tense. Failure to observe this rule will let you make a fool of yourself. And that sucks.
This rule may not be fixed though, even though the language is so widely spoken and undocumented. The only word I can remember for now that breaks this rule is “whine”. You can say “Your whining don dey too much.” Its present continuous and it passes the first rule.
A second rule of Pidgin English is that you must use real words. For any word you use, make sure it exists in the English dictionary, exists in a local language or is slang. Anything outside of these is just damn wrong.
Words like wakaa, shege, collat, oga, padi, shebi, nna, abi, pesin, oyinbo, trafficate and others, may or may not be in the English dictionary. But we use them because they are either in our local languages or they are slangs.
Keep this rule in mind.
A third rule, or principle, in Pidgin English is that the language is very flexible, or rather, extendable. That is you can create your own words and if they go viral enough, then congratulations, you’ve invented a new word.
A word like “yori-yori”, was never in the popular Pidgin English dialect until the music group, Bracket, used it as the title of their popular song some years back.
“Science students” has always been there as a harmless phrase. But when Olamide used it as the title of his song, the phrase got a whole new meaning.
“Shaku Shaku”, is another word that just went popular recently.
There’s also a very interesting principle that may or may not count. Pidgin English is usually spoken with an accent! And there are so many accents. For instance, you’ve got the Warri Pidgin accent, the Igbo pidgin accent and the regular Lagos pidgin accent.
A lot of people don’t immediately realize how important this is, until they remember Warri jokes.
And I dare say that this is the hardest part about speaking Pidgin. The language get as eh dey roll for tongue, if you no grab am well eh go hard to speak.
So yeah, Nigerian Pidgin English is alternative language. It is popular among illiterates. But it is also popular among business men, academics, presidents, wives of presidents (Patience Jonathan), and pretty much everybody that wants to broaden their communication outreach in West Africa.
But Nigerian Pidgin English is not a silly language that can be spoken anyhow. It has evolved and now has its own form and maybe structure. Understanding the three basic rules above will help you understand how to speak and understand the language easily.