Speaking “Nigerian”

Of course there is no such language as Nigerian but one cannot deny that as a people we have a unique manner of communication.  That’s what these 500 words discuss here and in the next few posts.

Nigerians know how to add spice and colour to everything including the English language.  With our “vacate this place” (leave), “let us come and be going” (let’s go) and “go-slow” (traffic), we make English more mesmerising.  Even archaic and rather extreme words like ‘vex’ and ‘provoke’ are given a youthful appeal when used in everyday conversation here.  The few times one ever hears the word ‘vex’ in Britain is during  Jane Austen or Shakespeare readings.  However, in Nigeria it’s almost a slang.  The sharp retort, “don’t vex me”, definitely sounds a lot cooler than “you’ve made me upset”.

English, the language of our colonial masters, is our lingua franca given that no one knows how many hundreds of languages there are in Nigeria and where to draw the line between distinct languages and dialects.  Over time, pidgin English has emerged as a more potent form of communication.  It’s a somewhat bold and snappy hybrid of English and local languages.  “It is a boy”, for example, becomes “na boy”.  We should take pride in pidgin instead of suppressing it like we are sadly doing to other Nigerian languages.  It is our invention.  Parents tend to harbour a dislike for pidgin in their children in favour of ‘proper’ English; but what is English if not pidgin German?

Furthermore, there seems to be no consensus on what ‘proper’ English really is in Nigeria. Officially we speak British English but school textbooks may be in American English or a mixture of the two.  The majority of newspaper and television advertisements read ‘center’ rather than ‘centre’ and ‘favorite’ in place of ‘favourite’.  If we are to use this English by force, please do tell us which one.

Just a side thought, why is it that many politicians – the people for whom good communication is crucial – seem to be incapable of formulating coherent speeches?  It makes one wonder how they were voted into office.  Watch a speech delivered in pristine clarity by the first Prime Minister to see that speaking well is possible.  Maybe our leaders don’t want us to listen but focus on their empty pomp and circumstance because politicians themselves know that they stand for nothing.

Sarcasm is genetic.  We resort to sarcasm as the best way of getting our point across and for the most painful of insults.  Nigerians are experts at giving abuses.  We don’t even need to speak words to do so.  Our DNA is programmed to transcribe a sequence that codes for the most malign of evil eyes.  Just one look from a well-formed evil eye will paralyse a person with fear.  The heaving of shoulders and hissing, the drawing downwards of the corners of the lips in disapproval, the pulled back horizontal lips accompanied by raised eyebrows that say “I told you so”, all are also essential expressions that make a dry and uneventful language like English sweeter and almost alive.

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