A Critical Examination Of The Communicative Implications Of Nigerian English Usage

Project and Seminar Material for Linguistics and Communication

A Critical Examination Of The Communicative Implications Of Nigerian English Usage


Abstract


This study was aimed at investigating the communicative implications of Nigerian English usage. It explored, extensively, the peculiarities of this variety. The study employed normative research approach where in addition to the researchers’ participant discussions with various categories of Nigerian users of English, made an extensive impressionistic study of copious literature. Four research questions guided the study with a view to discovering the degree to which Nigerian English is a variant or a deviation. The inherent peculiarities discovered were sorted and classified according to the lexical, syntactic, phonological, semantic and slang variations. The result, therefore, revealed that with the degree of the deviations in all the linguistic levels, the majority of Nigerian English expressions constitute serious problems such that it requires further intensive analytical, linguistic investigation with a view to distinguishing standard from non standard forms. Based on this, the researcher went on to suggest that an in depth study be carried out on the features of the English of these categories of users and the result juxtaposed with those of competent users so as to establish a standard variety for the purposes of teaching and learning.


Chapter One


Introduction

Background to the Study

Current thinking on the global role or status of the English Language reveals that English is no longer the exclusive property of Britain, America, Canada etc.(Oluikpe 15), Barber 235). The profuse diffusion of the language to the various corners or regions of the world today raises the status of the English language as a world language or an international language. Akwanya affirms that “English is probably the language with the greatest rate of spread worldwide” (25).

Nigeria is one of the countries affected by this diffusion of the English language being one of the British colonies. Historically, therefore, the English language in Sub-Sahara Africa in general and in Nigeria in Particular was implanted following colonial activities. Ker (114) writes that “European commercial interests began in Nigeria in the 15th century and there also began the use of English in Nigeria.” Consequently, British scramble for and acquisition of territories and subsequent institution of colonial rule led to the imposition of the English language on those territories particularly in Nigeria. (Baldeh 1 – 2),(Uzoezie 163), Oluwole 89) Ever since then English has come to stay in Nigeria notwithstanding her ethno-linguistic diversities. Today the language has attained the status of an official language. As an official language, its relevance in education, politics, legislative process and law, commerce and industry, science and technology cannot be over stated. Seweje cited in Adedeji sums up the crucial role of the English language in the education of the Nigerian child. He states that “The Nigeria child’s access to the cultural and scientific knowledge of the world is largely through English” Adedeji further states that “English is the main language of literacy as it is the major medium of instruction in Nigerian educational system” (74).

Despite government official declaration or policy statements on the status and role of the English language in Nigeria such as the one cited above, the language is still a second language in the country. This implies that every Nigerian user of English already possesses a first language whose linguistic codes are already entrenched in the brain of the individual speaker. Akindele and Adegbite affirm that “Before the incursion of the Europeans into various African States, a kaleidoscopic linguistic diversity was already in existence” (58). In other words multiple vernacular languages numbering over four hundred are spoken nationwide in Nigeria. The peculiarities of these indigenous languages tend to have direct influence on the quality of the English language spoken in the country.
The branding of this variety as “Nigerian English” is however highly contentious.
Banjo (209) confirms that

It [English] has been localized and nationalized by adopting some language features of its own, such as sounds, intonation patterns, sentence structures, words, expressions. Usually it has also developed some different rules for using language in communication.

The same idea is further highlighted by Kachru (1983) cited by Akindele and Adegbite (52) when he describes ESL as “an institutionalized variety” Akindele and Adegbite go on to state that:

The indigenous variety has some ontological status. Its features are: it has extended range of uses in the socio- linguistic context of a nation where it is used; extended register and style range; it undergoes a process of nativization of the register, and styles have taken place in both formal and in contextual terms; and a body of nativized English literature (52)

Still in support of Nigerian variety of English, a renowned phonetician argues that “the development of regional or local varieties of any language resulting from its domestication in non-native environments has been found to be a socio-linguistic reality”. (Uzoezie 162). Uzoezie further explains that “English in Nigeria is continuously undergoing process of naturalization, domestication and acculturation, both at the national level and within the ethno-linguistic context.”

David Jowitt and Charles Barber are among the native speakers of English who did an extensive study of the variety of English spoken in

Nigeria. Jowitt particularly notes that “we might regard Nigerian English as English that has England as its first mother and Nigeria as its second, and has defied nature by undergoing a gynaecological reprocessing”. (x). In his preface to the book: Nigerian English Usage: An Introduction, Jowitt declares: “I have a thesis, it is that Nigerian English is something real and identifiable ….” (ix).

The linguists mentioned above and indeed many others tend to base their scholastic views on Nigerian English on three cardinal theories namely variability, adaptability and ecological theories. First, the group argues that language varies both at individual and geographical levels. At individual level, we have idiolect whereas at geographical or regional level, we have dialectal variety. From the adaptability perspective, they argue that language is organic and thus is subject to change. That once a language is put in an environment, it is bound to change and adapt itself to the prevailing socio-linguistic peculiarities of the environment. They also contend that adaptability is the hallmark of living organisms. Closely related to this is the ecological theory, which according to them, implies that language is living and mutable and so changes with time and use.

Uzoezie appears to advocate this ecological or mutuation view point. He contends that “a living language has tendency to adapt itself to the socio-cultural milieu within which it operates whether such a language is spoken as L1, L2 and L3” (173). Furthermore, Barber (203) reiterates that”

no language which is being used can be prevented from changing”. He recapitulates a great classical scholar, Richard Bentley’s views that “every language is in perpetual motion and alteration”.

However, we should not lose sight of the fact that these envisaged changes should not be lobe sided and, as a matter of fact, should be changes towards correct usages and not flagrant deviations or esoteric usage-evident in some Nigerian English expressions. Moreover, the foregoing standpoints notwithstanding, a crucial question regarding the state of the English language in Nigeria still persists. That is: is the variety truly “Nigerian English” or simply anglicized Nigerian expressions? The question no doubt has been informed by the flagrant infiltration of Nigerian slang and deviant expressions into English usage of some Nigerian speakers even at formal situations. The result is that what is today branded “Nigerian English” has gained more Nigerian flavour from the peculiar socio linguistic environment. Consider Banjo in Jowitt’s (vii) succinct conclusion that “the usage of every Nigerian user is a mixture of standard forms and popular Nigerian English forms, which are in turn composed of errors and variants”. Fries (1945) cited in (Baldeh 40) warns against this variants or errors. He cautions that:

The only correctness there can be in any language is the actual usage of the native speakers of that language. In learning English one must attempt to imitate exactly the forms the structure, and the mode of utterance of the native speakers

Many users of English in Nigeria are very aversive of the imitation of the native speakers’ forms, structures and mode of utterances. Out of prejudice and linguistic laziness the majority of users speak and write the language too badly. The result is that comprehensibility is oftentimes affected or distorted. Fries has to sound the above warning because the variants and errors distort the message and thus impedes communication leaving the listener in total confusion. Consequently, Eyisi (19) re-echoes Baldeh and Umeh’s unequivocal statement that “in a world language such as English comprehensibility and intelligibility are worth any price.” One is therefore left in doubt of the comprehensibility and intelligibility of some Nigerian English expressions particularly the esoteric slangy expressions today branded “Nigerian English”.

In highlighting the objectives of the book. Dictionary of Nigerian English Slang, Oluikpe and Anasiudu (iv) assert “we intend to combat and, therefore, hopefully minimize the common problem of inappropriate use of words common among our students” These lexicographers in the course of their ethnographic research discover and thus state that they glossed “Nigerian slang expressions which are blends of English and vernacular”.
If “appropriateness” (Oluikpe 17) is the cardinal parameter to determine, classify and accept a variety of a language, what then would be the parameter for the acceptance of Nigerian English variant?


The Statement of the Problem

The English language in Nigeria to some extent is very different from that spoken in other places. Apparently, some Nigerian expression are blends of English and the vernacular languages. This is noticed at all levels of linguistics-lexis, syntax, phonology and semantics.

The above scenario clearly indicates the true state of the English of most Nigerian users, some educated speaker inclusive. The situation no doubt is worrisome. What then is the essence of language if in the course of communication, either in speech or writing extra efforts is made to explain certain peculiar expressions that are different from the standard forms in area of lexis, syntax, semantics, phonology? Or where lies the power to conquer the world, as English is language of power and intellectualization, if the English of some Nigerians is such that could be understood only within the Nigerian speech community? Such linguistic existence in a country that claims to use English as its official language should be studied.


Objectives of the Study

The objectives of the study are to investigate the variety of the English language used by Nigerian speakers. Specifically the study will ascertain:

  1. Whether the variety is truly “Nigerian English”
  2. Whether the English of Nigerians is a deviation or a variant
  3. The study will equally ascertain and analyze the implication of the features of Nigerian English with regards to communication.

Relevance of the Study

The significance of this study arises from the pivotal role of the English language internationally and, of course, in the multilingual, multicultural Nigerian society. Within the international community , it is “a window on the world”, within the multilingual nations of Nigeria, the language is a unifying factor. Based on the above status, the quality of the English language in Nigeria should be of world standard as anything short of that, as in the case of the nativized variety, may hinder effective communication. Onochie (156) warns “It is better not to communicate at all, for no action will be taken, than to communicate what is misunderstood, for a wrong action may be taken by the listener”. The findings of the investigation would reveal the grave implications of the local flavour the language has developed in Nigeria and would help users to realize that some “Nigerian English” expression appear to be a “misnomer”. In other words Nigerian users of English would be predisposed to know the conflicting variants in Nigerian English and consequently avoid them. They should not think that Nigerian has fully evolved and developed their own English. The knowledge of the result would also enable the ESL teachers to know which model of the English language should be adopted for pedagogical purposes. Again the result of this investigation would be useful as reference material for researchers working on related area(s)


Scope of the Study

The study will be restricted to investigating the characteristics of the local variation of the English language in Nigeria. Slang expressions in use in Nigeria, syntactic and lexical variations, semantic shift etc. will be examined as the local flavour gained by the English usage in Nigeria. Grave implications of these on the comprehensive development of standard Nigerian variety shall be highlighted. Corpus of these variants shall be drawn from students’ expressions and those of public users of the English language in Nigeria.


Research Questions

The following research questions shall guide the researcher in the investigation.

  1. To what extent is Nigerian English variant characterized?
  2. To what degree is the typology of the English used in Nigeria truly Nigerian English?
  3. To what degree is the English spoken in Nigeria a variant or a deviation?
  4. To what extent can other indices other than appropriateness help to determine an acceptable language variety in a second language situation like Nigeria?

Methodology

Data for this research would be gathered through participant discussions with various categories of Nigerian users of English. The researcher, incidentally, is an ESL teacher with over ten years of cognate experience. As a teacher of English the researcher would, within and outside classroom interactions note some peculiar features of Nigerian English usage from students’ writings and utterances of colleagues. In addition, the researcher would elicit vital information/data from interaction with various professional groups such as medical doctors, lawyers, engineers, politicians, police, university undergraduates etc.

With keen interest he would note the non-standard Nigerian expressions common among these categories of users. This, he would do without revealing his intents and purposes to his subjects.

Much more data would also be gathered through critical examination of numerous literature, well researched articles published in reputable journals and books by expert linguists and ESL teachers would be studied. By and large, the researcher would adopt a normative research approach which, according to Nwabueze (6), “is based entirely on the impressionistic observations of the investigator”.


Analysis of Findings

Data collected through the above method would be sorted and categorized according to the inherent features of Nigerian English variant.

The expressions would therefore be classified under lexical, syntactical, phonological, slangy and semantic variants.


Chapter Five


Summary, Conclusion and Recommendation

This chapter concluded the research report and made some suggestion and recommendations based on the discoveries.


Summary of the Study

The major concern of this research was to evaluate the communicative implications of Nigerian English usage. The status of the English language as a world language, its relevance and role as an official language in Nigeria informed the need for a critical evaluation of the implications of the Nigerian English variant, hence the motivation behind the research. A comprehensive literature review was done not only to serve as a guide to the research but also to provide an insight into the highly polarized argument on the issue of the existence of Nigerian English. Divergent views were collated and conclusion drawn that once two languages come in contact, certain cultural practices tend to exert direct influences on the foreign language. In view of this, a serous attempt was made to differentiate a variant from a deviation.

The study revealed among other things

  1. That a variety of English exists in Nigeria.
  2. That certain peculiarities from the angles of lexis, syntax, slang, phonology and semantics actually characterize the variety.
  3. That it would be “premature” to qualify this variety as truly Nigerian English since its forms and codes have not been properly articulated and documented.
  4. That the issue of codification is illusory due to the difficulty in establishing a standard variety since the multiple ethno-linguistic group – cultures tend to polarize the variety further.
  5. That the inherent features of Nigerian English consequent upon the vernacular influences complicate effective communication
  6. Based on the above premises, the researcher is of the view that not until the issue of standard Nigerian English is resolved and the codification process of the variety finally completed, the variety should not be called “Nigerian English”, for these are the only thing that can make it a complete and acceptable “world English”

Conclusion

Since the official adoption of English in Nigeria in 1842, about one hundred and fifty years ago, a call for its standardization has remained recurrent. Scholars therefore have advocated the Codification of the variety as a step towards its standardization. codification is not a very simple process, especially of a world language such as English. In codification Hudson (33) opines: “Some agency such as academy must have written dictionaries and grammar books to ‘fix’ the variety, so that everyone agrees on what is correct” He further adds that

Once codification has taken place, it becomes necessary for an ambitious citizen to learn correct forms and not to use in writing, any incorrect forms he may have in his native variety.

Aremu (186) is very blunt on Codification of Nigerian English. He emphatically states that “NE needs to be codified so as to be both internationally, intelligible and mutually acceptable by Nigerians”. In the same vein, Onuigbo and Eyisi maintain that:

the various dialectal expressions in Nigeria have not been properly codified and there is yet no dictionary of Nigerian English expression with phonological, grammatical semantic specifications except the pioneer work of Oluikpe & Anasiudu (2006)

The above issue, we have discovered from the research, has not been squarely addressed even by the frontline apostles of Nigerian English variety. Apart from the efforts acknowledged above by Onuigbo and Eyisi, and those of Asomugha (1981) and Jowitt (1991), one would be tempted to say that nothing practically has been done in this direction. Jowitt’s attempt, though serves as a milestone in his directions, does not qualify as a complete variety dictionary. It is rather a glossary of three divergent varieties which constitute his acclaimed popular Nigerian English namely popular Nigerian English (PNE) Hausa, Yoruba and Igbo. The mutual unintelligibility arising from these variations even among these ethno- linguistic groups cannot be over-stated. For this reason Jowitt himself concludes thus:

This survey of the non-standard features of NE indicates that, at least at the phonetic level, of what actually occurs in speech, the differences between PNE (Hausa) and PNE (Yoruba) or PNE (Igbo) are too great to make it realistic or useful to maintain that sounds of English constitute one system that has merely local variation (87)

The study also revealed similar variations in the areas of lexis, slang, syntax and semantics. Since disparities of this magnitude exists in the English usages of the three major ethnic groups in Nigeria about one and a half centuries after its official adoption, and that the issue of its codification or standardization still lingers, then it is premature to say that Nigerian English usage is a complete or fully developed variety.

Onuigbo and Eyisi (64) do not mince words in this matter. They affirm that:

there is also the problem of what should be acceptable standard form of the Nigerian English, that there is general agreement that whatever will emerge as Nigerian English must be based on educated usage. but it is not yet agreed as to the level of education which educated usage should be based

If university education is used as a parameter, the negligible number of university education beneficiaries nullifies this criterion as Onuigbo and Eyisi further observe. To crown it all, it has been observed that university undergraduates are also quilty of non-standard Nigerian English usages.


Suggestions / Recommendations

The work concentrated on the features of English reflecting on certain categories of speakers in Nigeria. These features are noticeable in the majority of the English of primary, post primary and most careless post secondary and graduate users, linguistically described as mesolectal and basilectal groups. It did not say anything about competent users or near native speakers (acrolectal group).

The researcher therefore suggests that indepth study be carried out on the features characterizing the English of this category of users. The result of the study will be juxtaposed with the features of the well-informed. This comparison will therefore offer acceptable forms or features which will be codified as a prelude to developing standard Nigerian English.

The dire need for such a study and subsequent codification is informed by the critical relevance of the English language as an international language or “language of power necessary for access to education” (Akwanya 24).

Based on this critical relevance the federal Government through the Federal Ministry of Education and other relevant agencies is expected to articulate special language policies and programmes aimed at ensuring integrative motivation for English language learning and teaching. Nigerians are expected to realize the fact that the adoption of the English is never a continuation of colonial government policy.

In the light of the above, the researcher concurs with Kujore (375) and thus recommends that “pupils and learners uniformly throughout the education system should be taught and encouraged to adopt British English usage…. for practical classroom purposes”. This, according him, “is a goal considered desirable.”

Finally, efforts towards standardization or codification of Nigerian English needs to be accelerated so as to enable English language users, teachers and learners, to recognize and learn standard forms and to disregard non-standard usages. With this, the intelligibility problem or the linguistic barriers associated with some Nigerian English expressions would be eliminated.


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