Nigerian Pidgin is an English-based pidgin and creole language spoken as a lingua franca across Nigeria. The language is commonly referred to as “Pidgin” or Broken (pronounced “Brokin”). It is distinguished from other creole languages since most speakers are not true native speakers although many children learn it at an early age. It can be spoken as a pidgin, a creole, or a decreolised acrolect by different speakers, who may switch between these forms depending on the social setting.
Variations of Pidgin are also spoken across West and Central Africa, in countries such as Equatorial Guinea, Ghana and Cameroon. Pidgin English, despite its common use throughout the country, has no official status.
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. Some of the returning descendants of slaves taken to the New World of West African origin brought back many words and phrases to West Africa from the Jamaican Creole (also known as Jamaican Patois or simply Patois) and the other creole languages of the West Indies which are components of Nigerian Pidgin. 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 West Africa are for the most part mutually intelligible with the creole languages of the Caribbean. 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” – Jamaican Patois or “una” – West African Pidgin (meaning “you people”, a word that comes from the Igbo word “unu” or “wunna” 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”). 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.
Being derived partly from the present day Edo/Delta area of Nigeria, there are still some leftover words from the Portuguese language in pidgin English (Portuguese ships traded slaves 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. (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”.
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 Standard English is used in politics, the Internet and some television programs.