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Pidgin: An Effective Language of Broadcasting in Nigeria

Pidgin: An Effective Language of Broadcasting in Nigeria


Background of the Study

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. Akindele and Adegbite noted that “Pidgin is no one’s mother tongue” (53). Once Pidgin emerges, it is generally learnt as a second language and used for communication among people who speak different languages.

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, Nigerian Pidgin is undoubtedly a language of its own and not just a supplementary tongue as some people see it (Osisanwo 118), since it serves as an instrument of social communication, especially in a multilingual society such as Nigeria. Osisanwo (121) citing Elugbe opined that Nigerian Pidgin accommodates creativity and fun. Hence, it has been able to fill a veritable communication vacuum in Nigeria.

Linton (12) pointed out 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”. These cultures, ideas and habits can only be transmitted from generation to generation through language.

Akindele and Adegbite lean credence to this by pointing out three ways through which language is connected to culture. According to them:

First, it is an aspect of culture, one of the

very many objects and institutions of culture.

Second, language is an instrument of thought.

It helps to concretize thought and also to explore,

discover, extend and record the experiences

in culture. Third, language expresses culture (8).

It is perhaps appropriate to assert here that the need to use a language through which Nigerian people can manoeuver proverbs and idioms in their tribal language to externalize their thoughts almost perfectly necessitated the warmth embrace, popularity and wide-spread usage with which Nigerian Pidgin is being recently accorded. Another reason, perhaps, is that English which would have been a language across boundaries is spoken by only ten percent of the Nigerian population. Eyisi and Ezeuko (199) quoted Ikara, described English “as alienating, uncultured, elite-oriented in lieu of mass orientation”. This has, no doubt, paved way for Nigerian Pidgin as a lingual franca in the country.

Jowitt (13) must have put all these into consideration; he declared that “Pidgin flourishes as a medium of inter-ethnic communication. It is considered important enough for some state broadcasting services to give the news in it”. It is generally believed to be a useful language of broadcasting. For instance, among other ways Nigerian Pidgin helps in broadcasting read as follows:

  1. Nigerian Pidgin ensures proper information dissemination to the people or its target audience.
  2. It helps the less educated people in Nigeria to be aware and glow with the recent             happenings in the country.
  3. It also serves as a medium of entertainment.
  4. It serves as a forum for information.
  5. These days, job opportunities come for those that are really fluent in the language. For instance, job opportunities in movies industry, magazine published in Nigerian Pidgin (NP), newspaper published in NP, radio programmes presented on NP oriented entertainment.

In all, NP is proposed to substitute Standard British English in broadcasting in Nigeria in order for the uneducated people to be able to survive in the society, knowing well enough that the language has gained a wider audience from all parts of the society.

Language and Communication

Language is a very important means of communication used by man. It establishes and enhances relationship between the communicator and his or her audience. It serves as a vehicle of communication. Adedun (55) declares that “language and communication are closely connected, and this close connection is so self-evident that one can safely say that the two concepts are inseparable.” Language is pivotal to communication, and it is central to it that Keritner and Kinicki (497) “define communication as “a means by which ideas, thoughts, information, opinions, emotions, values are transmitted from one individual to another through a common medium known as language”.

The effectiveness of communication, in any form, rests entirely on its impact on the audience, and how far it has succeeded in eliciting some expected response from the recipient or the recipients. As a matter of fact, communication can have an impact on the audience based on the effectiveness use of the language. “On the other hand, failure to achieve a good relationship in the exchange process can lead to a loss of communication, and this could occur as a result of the use of unsuitable and inaccurate language”, (Adedun 56).

Communication requires a medium, the medium is language. In Nigeria today, some languages are for intra-ethnic communication while others are used for communication and interaction inter-ethnically.

The survey of the languages use for communication in Nigeria shows that diversity in ethnic groups and culture has given rise to the multiplicity of languages, thus, making the country multi-lingual. The exact number of languages in Nigeria cannot be given with certainty. Jowitt comments that:

the problem of differentiating language from dialects, of deciding how to classify a particular speech-system that serves for communication within a social group (9).

This fact, perhaps many more, has militated against the effort to give exact number of indigenous languages used for communication. Nevertheless, the estimates have varied from linguists to linguists from 200 to over 400 (Eyisi and Ezeuko, 194); with two second languages without native speakers. However, the indigenous languages of Nigeria have been categorized on the basis of the population of their speakers. Eyisi and Ezeuko declared that “in Nigeria today, three languages; Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba are regarded as prominent of all Nigerian languages since they have the highest number of speakers (194), and consistently used for communication intra-ethnically.

In spite of these major languages, there are other minor languages spoken in the country, these include; Edo, Nupe, Urhobo, Igala to mention but a few.

Apart from the plethora of indigenous languages already in existence in Nigeria, the English language is yet another language used as a means of communication. The language is the official language of business transactions, correspondence, education and the language of the elite. The official status is conferred on it by the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Section 55). According to section 55, the National Assembly is empowered to conduct its business in English and other three dominant indigenous languages namely: Yoruba, Hausa, Igbo languages.

As it is today in the country, no indigenous language is used as an official language. Rather, some of them in their spoken forms complement English in some official domains.

Nigerian Pidgin which is the focus of this research work is yet another language most commonly used, and a popular means of communication. The language is spoken as a kind of Lingual Franca across Nigeria. Ozohili (110) reports that Nigerian Pidgin (NP) is the native language of approximately 3 to 5million people across Niger-Delta region, predominantly in Warri, Sapele, Port-Harcourt and Benin City. As a second language, Nigerian Pidgin (hence NP) is spoken by at least 75 million Nigerians, and across West African coast such as Ghana and Cameroon (Osisanwo 120).

The growth, influence and spread of Pidgin in Nigeria is attributed to the multiplicity of languages in the country. Secondly, the fact that the language (NP) evolved from a mixture of local languages and European languages gave it an aura of nativity, hence, necessitated its spread. It can also be noted that the local lexical make up of NP precipitated its variation. Hence, NP varies from place to place in Nigeria, Ozohili (111) noted. Dialects of Pidgin in Nigeria include the Lagos, Onitsha, Benin city, Ibadan and especially, the Ajegunle varieties (Ozohili, 111).

Consequently, the language has since mostly been used in informal conversations, and has not been assigned an official status so far. But, the language has taken a solid stand in an informal conversation. The reason is not far-fetched. It bores down to the immediate need for communication in an informal setting. Since, communication stands as a “life wire” of every society, at all spheres of society; educational, cultural, even at the rural level, the farmer, trader and labourers require constant dosage of information to function optimally. For instance, expressions like these are found and understood among different strata of Nigerian society with their meaning easily discernable irrespective of one’s educational qualification:

Nigeria Pidgin         Standard British English

Make I come?                                                           Should I come?

I wan go.                                                                   I want to leave.

You wan fight?                                                       Do you want to fight?

Make I see person.                                                   I want to visit someone.

I wan chop.                                                             I want to eat.

Hunger dey catch me.                                           I am hungry.

Commot  for  road.                                                   Please, can I go?

She sabi book.                                                         She is brilliant.

You fight run?                                                          Can you run?

Your head no correct.                                             You are mad.

Forget my side.                                                         Forget about me.

Wheitin you dey yarn?                                            What are you saying?


Statements of the Research Problem

The English language in Nigeria is an inadequate means of public enlightenment as a result of the high level of illiteracy in the country. The language is spoken by less than 35% of the entire population of over 150 million people, leaving out a large portion of the population in the dark in information dissemination.

Secondly, the English language is too formalistic and totally foreign to Nigeria, Nigerian culture and tradition, and does not have enough expressive resources that can match the socio-cultural and political life of the people. This is the reason why Nigerian writers of prose fiction through their creativity introduce nativised thought process by molding the English language for a new concept that does not conform to the recognized typical native speaker of the English language and its stylistic convention.

Owolabi noted the use of English by our present crop of journalists and how ineffective it is considering the fact that English is our second language, and how the majority of Nigerians who are literate in it have a smattering of its vocabulary. He said:

writers in English for mass communication, especially in English as a second language situation should adopt a language simple, bearing in mind, according  to Cunningham  (1978:vii) that “the writer… is only one person in the communication process and the least important one,  his readers are the really central figures, (64).

As a result of these, Nigerian masses develop an ambivalent attitude towards programmed message on Standard British English. They find it difficult to give a satisfactory and accurate meaning of the communicated messages in the SBE, most especially, the uneducated people. Since communication is effective when a message is successfully transmitted to another party in such a way that it can be understood and acted upon, NP is proposed as a language of communication in Nigerian broadcasting. The language will strike a balance in a multilingual, multi-ethnic and multi-cultural society on one hand, and educated elite and farmers on the other hand. The language, NP, will fill a vacuum created by the SBE in Nigerian broadcasting.

Purpose of the Study

The purpose of this study is to provide a common and natural language, regardless of the ethnic groups, that can be an effective language of communication and broadcasting in Nigeria.

According to Jowitt, “one important feature of the prominence of a language is its use in news broadcasting at state level, (10). The research work intends to look at the effectiveness of NP as a language through which information can be disseminated to the people, in a language that is convenient to the speaker and understandable to the people.

This research work will bring to light, the percentage number of the people who listen and watch programmes presented in NP, and the number of people using the language.

The research work intends also to look into the status of NP in Nigerian broadcasting. It is evident that for a long period of time, NP has been the means of communication in the country. This will determine if the broadcast information made in NP can reduce the misconception and misunderstanding of uneducated people in the country.

Research Questions

As a result of the research problems stated above, this study shall examine the following questions.

  1. Does NP sustain the interest of the audience more than any language used in broadcasting?
  2. To what extent does NP attract audience’ attention when used in programme production?
  3. Can NP be more interpretative and understandable than Standard British English (SBE)?
  4. Can NP be acceptable in Nigerian broadcasting on equal basis with SBE?
  5. Does NP pose linguistic problem when used as a language of broadcasting?


  1. Nigerian Pidgin is more interpretative and can fully crystallize our ideas more adequately.
  2. Nigerian Pidgin will be generally acceptable as a means of communication in broadcasting as a result of its local lexical make up.
  3. The language will reduce misconception and misunderstanding that the English language may likely cause.The study will provide a template to broadcasters to make an effective use of NP in major bulletins, programmes and programmed messages. The major purpose of communication is to share information, and broadcasting in Nigeria, in particular, is sharing information with diverse and pluralistic audience. The research work will exemplify the importance of NP in broadcasting in Nigeria with the aim to urge the broadcasters to use the language for effective information dissemination.

Limitation of the Study

  1. This work will in no doubt contribute to knowledge, especially, the Nigerian broadcasting industry as it will highlight some issues concerning choice of language in broadcasting.
  2. It will guide the broadcasters for effective language planning.

Significance of the Study

The research was limited to excerpts from radio and television programmes,  questionnaire designed to elicit response from respondents and semi interview for broadcasters and experts in the field of Nigerian Pidgin. The respondents were people who listen to programme broadcast on both radio and television, and people who use NP.   The sample size for the study was 300.

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