The Impact of Nigerian Pidgin on the Written English of Senior Secondary School Students

The Impact of Nigerian Pidgin on the Written English of Senior Secondary School Students


The Impact of Nigerian Pidgin on the Written English of Senior Secondary School Students


Abstract of The Impact of Nigerian Pidgin on the Written English of Senior Secondary School Students

This study investigated the effectiveness of Nigerian Pidgin English in Nigerian senior secondary school in Lagos state. The study employed a descriptive survey research design. An instrument titled: Effectiveness of Nigerian Pidgin English in Nigerian Senior Secondary School (ENPENSSS) was used to collect relevant data for the study. The four senior secondary schools involved were selected based on simple random sampling technique and the statistical tools employed to analyse the data collected were simple percentages and frequency. 100 sample sizes were used for the study.  3 research questions and 3 research hypotheses were designed and formulated for the purpose of the study. The study revealed that thereis a significant difference between Nigerian pidgin and written English in some selected senior secondary school student in Lagos State. It also revealed that there is significant relationship between impact of Pidgin English and student’s academic performance in English. The study further revealed that there was significant relationship between student’s communication with Nigerian pidgin and English language. Based on the findings of this study, recommendations and suggestions were made for students, parents, teachers and school administrators and relevant agencies for further research.



Chapter One of The Impact of Nigerian Pidgin on the Written English of Senior Secondary School Students


Background to the Study

The English language in Nigeria is a second language. It is a second language because Nigerians already had their first language or Mother Tongue (L1) before the incursion of this foreign language called ‘English’ into the country. In this instance a foreign language (English) left its native environment and met with another language or languages (Nigerian indigenous languages). It is true that the culture and values of the people are embedded in the language they speak. As such it is said that ‘language is culture’ and none can be separated from each other.

Language is a very important factor in the educational process. It is an indispensable aspect of communication. Ithas very strong basics for creative thought and without it there would be no meaningful progress in civilization and culture, Makinde (1997:7). The above citation explores the powers of language as a tool for communication and creative thought. Language is used to communicate ideas through the process of thinking, translated to either speech or writing.

Therefore the language of wider communication of a country is crucial to the progress and growth of that nation, even academically. Nigeria is a diverse and multi-ethnic country with about four hundred and ten (410) languages Mackey (1992:12). However, with the introduction of the English language in 1842, these numerous languages have influenced, or if we might say, interfered in the way Nigerians use language on the lexical, grammatical and phonological levels of communication. Though English is Nigeria’s lingua franca, a unique brand of English has emerged to suit Nigeria’s socio-linguistic and communication needs (which is to an extent a deviation from standard British English). This has led to a localization or domestication. Since English has been influenced by our indigenous languages, the way we write will also reflect this metamorphosis. These variations we referred to as “peculiar Nigerianisms”.

English language did not come to Nigeria just on its own. Its incursion into Nigeria was caused by lots of factors like trading, slavery, colonization and missionary activities in Nigerian by the Europeans and this was done in phases. As such English as a language is a borrowed blanket which has been converted to a personal use by the borrowers so as to suit their purposes.

The exact date that English language usage started in Nigeria is not certain. However, it is believed that the first intimate contact between the British and some ethnic groupings in Nigeria was in Southern Nigeria. This must have been at some period before the Atlantic slave trade.

The term pidgin is used to refer to a language which develops in a situation where speakers of different languages have a need to communicate but do not share a common language. Once a pidgin has emerged, it is generally learned as a second language and used for communication among people who speak differently.

Language is the most creative and unlimited instrument for social communication and it helps us to understand the deep seated social relevance, culture involvement and the human relatedness of language. Having said this, we can therefore agree that pidgin is a language of its own and not just a supplementary tongue as some people see it, since it serves as an unlimited instrument of social communication especially in a multilingual community as Lagos State.

According to R. Linton he states that “the culture of a society is the way of life of its members, the collection of ideas and habits which they learn, share and transmit from generation to generation” (12). These cultures, ideas and habits can only be transmitted from generation to generation through language. In linguistic, every language is considered adequate to represent the communicative needs of its people and as such should not be made to suffer any biases.

This cannot be said of Nigerian Pidgin – even though it is a language – because various attempts have been made by different faction to eradicate the use of Nigerian Pidgin English. These attempts have however been unsuccessful because of the significant value the language has to its users. It is a language that has brought people together in spite of their differences in ancestral culture and language by creating a local culture for itself which blends ideas from different cultures.

According to Adetugbo [1984:8], a certain Oba in Benin was reported to have spoken Portuguese. The language was in use for economic interest and because it was the language of commerce and diplomacy in the ancient Benin kingdom. Actually, the advent of English in Nigerian can be classified into three major periods, namely: the period before the missionary activities, the period during missionary activities and the period after the amalgamation of the southern and northern protectorate. It is important to add that there is no clear cut demarcation between these periods as each period shades into another period.

The structure of Pidgin is quite different from that of Standard English in its Phonology, Morphology and Syntax. Nigeria is fast colonizing the West African region with Pidgin English. Pidgin English as spoken in Nigeria is a kind of language derived from English, Portuguese and Dutch. Pidgin English as spoken in Nigeria is interesting with very unique pronunciations. Words in Standard English could turn out to mean or denote something else in Pidgin.

As Platt, Weber and Ho accurately observe in their book, The New Englishes, (RKP 1984) “In some nations…the New Englishes have developed a noticeable range of different varieties linked strongly to the socio-economic and educational backgrounds of their speakers.” It borrows words, patterns and images freely from the mother-tongue and finds expression in a very limited English vocabulary.

Critics on the poor performance of English language at the West African School Certification Examination have always commented that Pidgin English has not only affected students in their subjects area but also hampered their chances in other disciplines. It is the mind of the researcher to investigate and verify the above claim and possibly ascertain the extent of the negative effect of Pidgin English among students in Senior Secondary School in Nigeria The researcher in this work is out to investigate the influence of Pidgin English on the use of Standard English among senior secondary school students and suggest the possible means of eliminating the adverse effects Stern (1983:152),

It is on records that as from 1553 English men paid frequent visits to the Nigerian shores, especially the ports of Ancient Benin and old Calabar, and the type of communication which evolved between the English men and the Nigerians was a simplified kind of communication in English called Pidgin. Note, however that Portuguese and not English was probably the earliest European language to be used in Nigeria.

The global spread of the English language is one of the most far-reaching linguistic phenomena of our time. Evidence of this worldwide phenomenon of language contact, variation and change can be seen through such designations as world Englishes, new Englishes, modern Englishes, West African Englishes, South African English, Australian English, Indian English, to mention just a few. The phrase “Nigerian English” has also appeared in the last four decades or so. Out of the Nigerian variety of English some sub-varieties have emerged like the Nigerian Pidgin English.

Brief History of Nigerian Pidgin English

The Portuguese were the first Europeans who traded in pepper and slaves from the Nigerian coastal area. They first arrived in Benin (city) at the end of the 15th century. From the mid 16th century, the British took over as major trading partners. With the abolition of the slave trade at the beginning of the 19th Century, British colonial interests shifted to agricultural production for exportation to Europe. In 1842 and 1846 the first missionary stations were established in Badagry (near Lagos in the Southwest) and Calabar (in the Southeast) respectively. The missionaries were mainly interested in spreading Christianity among the African pagans. In the schools they established in the Southern part of Nigeria (they were not allowed to settle in the Islamic North of the country) they also taught agriculture, crafts and hygiene. In order to easily reach the population, the language of instruction was usually the mother tongue of the natives. But the Africans refused to send their children to school because they needed them to work in the house and on the farms. Consequently, the missionaries paid compensation to the parents. All the same, the first generation of students was made up mainly of children of slaves who the village communities thought they would not miss much. The mass withdrawal of English colonial officers just before and after Nigeria’s independence down turn in the Nigeria economy and the disappearance of the middle class with the attendant breakdown in social and family values.

The British colonial government increasingly felt the need for Africans who were literate in English and would serve British colonial and trade interests (for instance as teachers, interpreters and clerks for local native courts and the trading companies). Therefore, missionary stations were ordered in the 1880s to teach English in their schools. In the long run, however, the missionary schools were unable to meet the demands for educated Nigerians, and the colonial government began to establish state schools from the turn of the century. The first state school was in fact founded as a result of pressure from Muslims in Lagos in 1899 who had no access to missionary schools and felt they were at a disadvantage. Despite all these efforts, communication was indeed difficult between the Nigerians and the colonial masters thus a means of easy communication had to be devised which was a simplified way of structuring and speaking English. The simplification could be seen in all the levels of a new contact language that emerged (Pidgin). The emergence of churches and the use of pidgin English to evangelise people.


The new contact language is a simplified language in the areas of Lexis, Phonology and Grammar


Pidgin draws its lexical items from the dominant language namely English, while others are drawn from the indigenous languages. For examples,

a)      Yoruba: oyibo – ‘white man’,

wahala – trouble

b)      Portuguese: pikin – ‘child’

palava – ‘trouble’

sabi – ‘to know’

c)      Hausa: wayo – ‘tricks’

Secondly, there is extensive use of reduplication in its lexis. This is partly to identify meaning and partly to avoid confusion which could result from phonological similarity. Examples: katakata (confusion, chaos), wakawaka (walk or wander perpetually), toktok (talk, gossip).

In addition, Pidgin lexis is filled with Compound Words like kresman’ – (crazy man), ‘switmaut’ – (flattery), ‘wochnait’ – (night watchman).


The growth of Nigerian Pidgin from a rudimentary speech form which was strongly aided by gesture to an elaborate form is examined in some details by Elugbe and Omamor (1991). At first, it was used between the visiting English and their Nigerian hosts. Later, the Nigerians, who had no common language of their own, began to use this form among themselves. This had the effect of stabilising and expanding the language because it then had to cope with the expanding experiences of its Nigerian users.

The continued use of the English in Nigeria made the number and interest of its speakers to continue to expand, and this encourages the growth of Nigerian Pidgin. The continual growth and use of Pidgin English challenges was a challenge and threat to the existence of English and this brought about the emergence of Standard English. This development was a logical consequence of two factors.

In the first place, the English recognised that they could not do business in a language in that they could keep records, which they considered inferior and was unintelligible to English speakers newly arrived from Britain. Nigerian pidgin was thus relegated to situations involving only Nigerians, or the English and those Nigerians who could not speak or understand the standard variety of English.

Secondly, schools were established and a standard variety of English was being taught. This variety became the language of trade and industry, missionary work and government. So important did this variety become that its possession became a passport to a good position in society, with its social and material benefits.

The growth of English in Nigeria did not remove the usefulness of Nigerian Pidgin. Not everyone had access to a school and the process of acquiring English was decidedly longer and more tedious than that of ‘picking up’ Nigerian Pidgin. It remains a hallmark of Nigerian pidgin that its speakers use it with a lot of freedom and creativity.

In the days of the colonial government, the missionaries were very influential and they used that influence to ensure that activities leading to the development of Nigerian languages were not banned. Adopting a mother-tongue approach to evangelism, they believed that the gospel was best delivered to potential converts in the language they understood best. Thus, they doubled as missionaries and linguists, studying the local languages, committing them to writing and attempting to translate the Bible, or parts of it, into these languages. There were also colonial administrators who doubled as civil servants and linguists. Thus, the colonial government had to grant some recognition to the ‘vernaculars’- as the indigenous languages were called.

The recognition of the local languages did not extend to Nigerian pidgin. Even those who helped to sustain it by speaking it refused to recognised it, a situation that exists even today. One meets highly placed government officials who speak Nigerian Pidgin but do not believe it should be allocated a role in the language policy in Nigeria. It is therefore obvious that Nigeria Pidgin has survived and flourished by generally being readily useful and handy, thus filling a veritable communication vacuum in Nigeria.


Nigeria Pidgin has major benefits which are not exploited in language planning in Nigeria. Since the search for unity is a primary concern of government, one would have thought that Nigerian pidgin would be brought into the planning process. It is a major asset, for example, it shares with English the unique feature of being the only ethnically neutral language in Nigeria.

Another of its assets is that it is a national language. As Elugbe (1990: 10) has pointed out, a language may be national by being spoken all over Nigeria, by being indigenous and by being declared ‘national’. Nigerian Pidgin is national because it meets two of these requirements:

1)                          It is geographically spread all over Nigeria and spoken by Nigerians of different ethnic origins.

2)                          It is indigenous to Nigeria because it originated, is sustained and is expanding here in Nigeria.

It should be added that Standard English meets only the condition of being spoken all over Nigeria. In fact, only Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba, which are the major indigenous languages, meet all three criteria in the definition of ‘national’ in Nigeria.

In education, Nigeria has a mother-tongue policy which requires that every child be taught in a mother-tongue medium at the pre-primary level and during the first three years of primary school. The policy also states that, where the mother tongue should be used as the language of the immediate community (LIC), that is, the dominant language of the community which the child already speaks is recommended. There are areas in Nigeria where Nigerian Pidgin has acquired the mother tongue status and there are many Nigerians for whom it is as much a first language as the mother tongue (because they speak it with the same facility as they speak their different mother tongues, such that they are bilingual in their mother tongues and Nigerian Pidgin). It therefore follows that Nigerian Pidgin can be used in teaching many Nigerians where many local languages would have been required. This would remove the psychological shock which pupils experience when they leave home and find a new language which they do not speak and understand well. It is also a matter of common sense that a child (or anybody for that matter) learns better when taught in a language he understands very well. Therefore, our language policy ought logically to lead to the development of Nigerian Pidgin for use as official medium for teaching in our schools.

Recognition and development of Nigerian pidgin would also greatly reduce the cost of implementing the language provisions of our educational policy because the LIC option is basically a cost and time saving device and because Nigerian Pidgin is a dominant language in many communities across many states. This was the thinking of the national Commission for mass literacy, adult and Non-formal Education in 1992 when it set out to produce literacy materials in Nigerian Pidgin. Unfortunately, the project has since been suspended.

Nigerian Pidgin as a veritable tool of interaction serves as a ‘bridge’ between the mother tongue and Standard Nigerian English (NSE). According to Faraclas (nd),

‘Nigerian pidgin has most of the linguistic features of (NSE) and those that typify many other Nigerian languages. Therefore, as long as Nigerian Pidgin is not accorded the place it deserves in Nigerian education, an invaluable tool for the teaching of English will continue to lie wasted and unused’.

Faraclas concludes by recommending that ‘official recognition should be extended to Nigerian Pidgin as a major Nigerian language’. Such a step would make Nigerian Pidginfully national in all the three senses of the terms, as mentioned above.

The creativity of Nigerian Pidgin which has been mentioned is probably linked to the relative ease with which it is acquired or learned. A simple comparison shows what the difference is between learning Standard English and learning Nigerian Pidgin:

Nigerian Pidgin                                English

Rait                                                   Write

He de rait                                          He is writing

He rait                                               He wrote

He don rait                                        He has written

I dey come                                        I’ll be back

Dem                                                   Them

Sometin/Sontin                                  Something

Wetin happen?                                    what happened?

The invariable form of Nigerian Pidgin ‘rait’ contrast sharply with the parsing of ‘write’ in English. In addition, Nigerian pidgin is made easier by the fact that its lexicon can and does take words not only from English but also from other Nigerian languages. This means that speakers resort to words in their own languages where they think that the Nigerian Pidgin form should be strengthened. Elugbe and Omamor (1991) suggest that such creativity is reflected in the ease with which songs are composed and sung in Nigerian Pidgin. One should now add that songs written or song-composed require a certain relaxed and assured ease with a language. Therefore, Nigerian Pidgin speakers are always very much at ease with it. This creativity also reflects in a popular comedy show called ‘Night of Laughter’ where the entire programme is done in Nigerian Pidgin English. The modern information technology (Mobile Phone) on seeing the ease and creativity in Nigerian Pidgin has created a soft ware in Pidgin for its teaming population of clients. To be sincere, prompt customer care information service are better and are more understandable in Nigerian Pidgin than in Standard English. People from Warri, sapele, Kwale, benin-city, Ibusa among others are famous for their excellent ability to communicate eloquently in the language. Interestingly even the country leaders, clergy men and women, Justices, Judges, professors, the educated and non-educated understand and fully communicate in Pidgin English.

The language is fast growing and the idea once held that the language is a language of the illiterates is fast eroding and gradually getting replaced as the unique language of Nigerians as even national team footballers of the country use the language as means of communication on the playing field. At least Nigeria now has a name in Pidgin English which is “Naija’ so the next time you hear Naija mentioned know it refers to Nigeria our beloved country.

Statement of the Problem

A pidgin is a simplified language that develops as a means of communication between two or more groups that do not have a language in common, in situations such as trade. Pidgins are not the native language of any speech community, but are learnt as second languages. Pidgins usually have low prestige with respect to other languages. The word ‘pidgin’, formerly also spelled ‘pigion’, derives from a Chinese Pidgin English pronunciation for ‘business’. This was originally used to describe Chinese Pidgin English; it was later generalized to refer to any pidgin. Pidgin may also be used as the specific name for a local pidgin in places where they are spoken. For example, the name of ‘Tok Pisin’ is derived from the English words ‘talk pidgin’, and its speakers usually refer to it simply as “Pidgin” when speaking it.

The use of Pidgin English in our society has assumed a wider dimension than previous periods in history. The widespread is so much that it has spilled over into classrooms in schools. According to Akporero (1989), the use of Pidgin English by student and teachers in our school has assumed alarming proportions that there is no longer any unidentifiable factor as causative. From Akporero’s assertion, only one characteristic remains prone factor- literacy. The implication here is that literacy is tending to accelerate the use of Pidgin English rather than eliminating it Akporero is of opinion that Nigerian Pidgin is a language of its own, whose formation is consequent on a multiple borrowing of different words from more than one language. This in itself goes to emphasize the convenience of its use especially by persons from different linguistic communities who have no need for a bi-lingual intermediary. Gilbert Ansré (1971) observes that “it is not quite correct to say that one language has influenced the other. By this, he implies that language itself is an abstraction from human social behavior and so one language cannot influence another except through the mediation of users of the two languages. Thus when we say one language has influenced another, we are merely inferring that the speaking of the language have incorporated items of another in their own.  The problems were created:

Problems in students spoken and written of English language which often result to mass failure in English language secondary school examination.

Purpose of the Study

The purpose of this study is;

i.                    To examine the impact of Nigerian pidgin on the written English of selected senior secondary school students in Lagos State.

ii.                  To evaluate the impact of Nigerian pidgin on students performance in English language.

iii.To determine the reason why students communicate in Nigerian Pidgin.

Research Questions

i.                    Does Nigerian pidgin affect the written English of selected senior secondary school student in Lagos State?

ii.                  How does Nigerian Pidgin affect student performance in English language?

iii.                Is there any reason why students communicate in pidgin English?

Research Hypothesis

H01:     Thereis significant difference between Nigerian pidgin and written English in some selected senior secondary school student in Lagos State.

H02:      There is significant relationship between impact of Pidgin English and student’s academic performance in English.

H03       There is significant relationship between student’s communication with Nigerian pidgin and English language

Significance of the Study

As more and more people including students speak pidgin, the need therefore arises for the examination of its influence on standard English among the secondary school students in Nigeria. However, the study will look into the following significance.

the researcher will bring to light the possibility of standardizing the use of Nigerian Pidgin English and finding solutions to the problems caused by Nigerian Pidgin English in the proper mastery of the standard English.

The result of this study may expose the teachers in secondary schools in Lagos state in particular and in Nigerian in general to the problems posed by Nigerian pidgin in learning of English language and will enable them adopt corrective methods to suit students need especially in a multi-lingua society like ours.

Definitions of Terms

Pidgin:            The word pidgin seems to have had its origin in the inability of 19th century Chinese to articulate the word business. It came out as bigeon or bidgin, and since it is a short step from B to P, it finally flattened out as pidgin.

Pidgin can be defined as a simplified form of speeech formed out of one or more existing languages and used by people who have no other language in common.

A pidgin is a new language which develops in situations where speakers of different languanges need to communicate but don’t share a common language.

Written:          Written is a method of representing language