The Linguistic Features Of Nigerian English And Their Implications For 21st Century English Pedagogy

Project and Seminar Material for English Language

The Linguistic Features Of Nigerian English And Their Implications For 21st Century English Pedagogy


Like its users, one important feature of language is its dynamism. Thus, language adapts to situational constraints as its users vary across regional/geographical, social, educational, occupational, etc. domains. English is such a typical language that, as a result of vast geographical distribution, has often assumed the peculiarities of different societies that use it informing the notion of variety. Varieties of English thus exist among the three Kachru circles among which Nigerian English (NE) is situated.

This paper, building on the works of several scholars who have approached the NE phenomenon from different perspectives, discusses the phonological, morpho-syntactic, lexical semantic and pragmatic features NE. It is submitted that the issue of variation and/or deviation characterizing the NE be harmonized within the Global English (GE) variety and Computer-Assisted Language Learning (CALL) be fully incorporated and implemented so that the current state of English language teaching and learning in Nigeria would transcend the “state of confusion” (Babatunde, 2002) it is now. This is considered expedient so that the Nigerian users of English would be able to cope meaningfully with the challenges posed by the knowledge-driven twenty-first century, in which English is assuming greater roles and significance.

Chapter One


1.1 Background to the Study

One sociolinguistic implication of the diffusion of English language – an amalgam of the three paltry languages of the Jutes, Angles and the Saxon, unknown in the 6th Century AD – in the global scene is the emergence of World Englishes (WE) (Adegbija, 1994). English is now spoken all over the world among various categories of speakers. The Kachruan ‘three concentric circles’ of English users are the Inner Circle, the Outer Circle and the Expanding Circle (Kachru,1985).These are normatively characterized as Norm-producing, Norm-developing and Norm-dependent users. This sociolinguistic scenario is also aptly captured by Quirk (1985:1-2) as English as a Native language(ENL) countries (Great Britain, United States, Canada, Australia, South-Africa), English as a Second Language countries (e.g. Nigeria, India, Singapore, Tanzania, Zambia, Ghana, Uganda, Kenya, etc.) and English as a Foreign Language countries (e.g. Germany, Russia, China, France, Belgium, Italy, Saudi Arabia, Greece, etc.) (Adedimeji, 2006).

The international explosion of English has made it cease to be an exclusive preserve of the English people (Adegbija,1994:209).As there are more speakers of English in the outer and expanding circles than the norm-producing inner circle, English is now seen as a global language, susceptible to the subtleties and idiosyncracies of regional and cultural linguistic behaviours. Indeed, Bailey and Gorlach (1982) provide a panoramic overview of world varieties of English as clothed by their various distinctive peculiarities and identifiable local flavour. Some of the issues that have arisen from this phenomenon as rightly identified by Adegbija (1994) are: (a) the growth and development of indigenized, nativized indiosyncratic varieties, (b) the issue of intelligibility or otherwise of the emerging varieties and the implications of this for an international or global variety, (c) the acceptability of the different varieties and (d) the determination of which variety should be the ideal norm to use as a model, especially in education.

As “sociolinguistics tries to cope with the messiness of language as a social phenomenon” (Coulmas, 2003:263), such messiness may be said to abound in the socio- geographical spread of English across the world. Some world varieties of English, aspects of Nigerian English inclusive, would still need to be interpreted to other speakers of English before they are intelligible. This is a result of the overbearing local idioms and linguistic patterns that characterize such varieties or uses. Trask (1995:75) provides such structures of English varieties that are quite normal to their users as follows:

  1. We had us a real nice house
  2. She’s a dinky-di Pommie Sheila.
  3. I might could do it.
  4. The lass didn’t gan to the pictures, pet.
  5. They’re a lousy team any more.
  6. I am not knowing where to find a stepney.

The expressions above are marked by dialects or regional forms. Almost all of them may have to be interpreted to Nigerian and other English speakers apart from their specific users. As adapted from Trask (1995:74-75), the first expression is peculiar to the south of the USA, with the extra “us” and the form is sometimes used elsewhere. The second structure is Australian English, a native speaker variety, and it means “she’s a typical Englishwoman.” The third example is a normal expression in parts of the Appalachian Mountain region of the USA as well as many parts of Scotland; it means “I might be able to do it.” The fourth structure is ‘Geordie’, the speech of the Tyneside area of northeastern England and it means “The girl didn’t go to the cinema.” The fifth expression is typical of a large part of northeastern USA and the use is considered mysterious because it means “They used to be a good team but now they are lousy” the opposite of they are not a lousy team anymore .The last (number 6) example is an Indian English expression and it means “I don’t know where to find a spare wheel.”

What the above shows that English adapts to the socio-cultural constraints that characterize various contexts of its use. A world language par excellence, its propensity to adapt to the dictates of its users, whoever they are, appears to be inimitable. This paper overviews the linguistic features that typify Nigerian English and highlights the implications of such in an unfolding century that poses greater challenges for mankind, economically, politically, culturally, educationally among others, and in which internationalism and globalization will become more pervasive. The present exercise is relevant because most previous attempts at addressing features of the Nigerian English have been particularistic and unidirectional, focusing on individual or two levels of linguistic description.

For instance, all of Banjo (1971), Adetugbo (1977), Bamgbose (1982), Jibril (1979;1982), Eka (1985) among others have focused on phonology. Odumu (1981) focuses mainly on syntax and semantics and Banjo(1969), Adesanoye (1973), Kujore (1985), Awonusi (1990)and Jowitt (1991) treat aspects of morphology and syntax extensively in their treatises. Akere (1982), Adegbija (1989), Bamiro (1991), Alabi (2000) among others have been preoccupied with lexico-semantic features while fragments of pragmatic features of Nigerian English can be gleaned from the works of Akere (1978), Adetugbo (1986), Bamgbose (1995) and Banjo(1996).The representative features in all the above are adopted while others are added as found desirable.

1.2 Statement of Problem

There have been numerous scholarly works on Nigerian English. There have also been quite some works on lexical innovations in Nigerian English like that of Bamiro (1991; 1994), Adegbija (1989) among others. However, a detailed scholarly work on lexical evolution in Nigerian English using both qualitative and quantitative approaches is so far largely missing. In this study, while the qualitative approach is used to examine and discuss the evolving lexical items in Nigerian English from the point of view of the Sapir-Whorf’s theory of linguistic relativity; tracing their roots and usages with illustrations in relation to the Standard British English equivalents, the statistical presentation using simple percentage and a pie chart, which is a quantitative approach enabled the researcher to establish the degree of occurrence and spread of the processes of lexical evolution. This is the gap this study intends to fill.

The inability of the English language to perfectly capture aspects of Nigerian culture is necessitated by the fact that the existing semantic and syntactic resources of the English language are incapable of serving the communicative needs of the people. Lexical evolution in Nigerian English, which attempts to facilitate the communicative needs of the people, is characterized by neologism (that is, invention of new words or phrases) and semantic extension (that is, encoding existing English words and phrases with meanings that are absent in the original, but which encapsulate the unique socio-linguistic experiences). Nigerian English means different things to different people.

The argument of most analysts seems to be that Nigerian English does not yet have full acceptance among Nigerians. Some researchers are still inconclusive about the characterization of Nigerian English, but it is obvious that there is Nigerian English with its own peculiarities which are conditioned by the Nigerian socio-cultural environment (Ogunsiji, 2004, p. 87). Some educated Nigerians feel that the recognition of Nigerian English will spell doom for English speakers in Nigeria especially because of the negative attitude associated with the uneducated in the society. It is often assumed that Standard English is the same throughout the English speaking world. However, what happens when the English used by a particular national needs to be interpreted to someone who is not of the same background? Nigerians use some words in a particular way which differs from how native English language speakers use them. Therefore, people are quick to say that certain words or statements are distinctive of Nigerian English (NE). Despite the massive interest already shown by scholars towards Nigerian English through both the references made to it, and the empirical descriptions it has attracted, many of its linguistic features remain to be studied and brought to the fore. Consequently, researchers are at present still unable to wholly provide comprehensive codification resources of the vocabularies and grammar to guide usage. To be able to achieve this, further studies on the typical linguistic features of Nigerian English are worthwhile and must continue to seek scholarly attention. Issues of social acceptability and international intelligibility of the Nigerian English often take a central position in scholarly debates. Thus, the attitude of the researcher is in line with Bamgbose (1997) who argued at length in favour of non-native Englishes and recommends that effort be intensified in their codification so that, like standard native English, they may become “encoded in grammars, dictionaries, and taught in educational institutions, used in print and generally found in the speeches of those regarded as educated speakers” (Greenbaum, 1990, p. 81). The problem this study wishes to solve is to bring to the fore the knowledge that Nigerian English is not totally ungrammatical, unintelligible, and unacceptable as users perfectly understand themselves and communication is effective.

1.3 Objectives of the Study

The aim of this study is to examine the The linguistic Features of Nigerian English and their implications for 21st century English pedagogy. More specifically, the study sought to:

  1. Identify the lexical items that have undergone lexical evolution in Nigerian English;
  2. Characterize the features of lexical evolution that occurred in the lexical items,
  3. Ascertain the meanings given to some of the lexical items that are rooted in their original meanings,
  4. Ascertain the meaning of the commonly used lexical items in Nigerian English and their British English equivalents and, discuss the extent of use and acceptability of these evolved lexical items.

1.4 Relevance of the Study

This study will provide an additional document on the socio-linguistic materials that prove that there are indeed distinctive lexical items that have evolved in Nigerian English. As such, educationists and users of English in Nigeria will be further sensitized on the existence of standard and non-standard instances of Nigerian English. It is hoped that such sensitization will not only lead to a more meaningful use of the English language in Nigeria, but will also contribute to the proof of the existence of Nigerian English. This will bring to the knowledge of language users that Nigerian English is not totally ungrammatical, unacceptable or unintelligible. Though, these words when used in expressions are totally understood by Nigerians, a native speaker may need some clarifications in some of the expressions for a better understanding. The study would also be of great relevance to those in the field of education, especially in their bid for further research on other aspects of the Nigerian English usages. This is crucial since proficiency in English is a compulsory requirement in educational system. In this study, the interest of the researcher is to explore the patterns of lexical evolution in Nigerian English for more critical study which will in turn make this identified variety inevitable assets for codification. Interestingly, Ahulu (1994) observed that it is at the morphological, syntactic, phonological and lexical levels that the various non-native varieties can be identified. This study will also contribute to the emerging literature on West African Englishes. After all, American English which originally had little prestige, has become, not only an international Standard but actually the fastest spreading model especially in cyber journalism.

1.5 Scope and Delimitation of the Study

Given the vast nature of this research, identifying all the lexical items that have evolved in Nigerian English may be a very difficult task. This research is, therefore, limited to two hundred and forty eight (248) lexical items that have evolved in Nigerian English at the level of socio-linguistics by focusing on words that have been loaned, broadened or narrowed in meaning to accommodate new realities. Others are linguistic borrowing, coinages, analogy, transfer, blends, backformation and meaning shifts as found in both written and oral interactions. This study adopted the categorisation processes of Bamiro (1991/94) and Adegbija (1989) in discussing and analysing the evolved lexical items in Nigerian English in relation to the Standard British English Equivalents. The identified lexical items were also evaluated from the point of view of Sapir-Whorf Linguistic Relativity. All the lexical items that were understudied in this research were selected through a purposive random sampling technique. This enabled the researcher to make acceptable generalisations.

Chapter Five

Conclusion and Recommendation


English continues to be the global standard language, having defeated its key competitors in versatility, dynamism and relevance. There is no major threat to the global popularity of English and in the constricting world where internationalism is becoming increasingly institutionalized, teaching and learning of Global English is critical to international communications (Adedimeji, 2006). The “standard varieties” of English used in Nigeria have to be harmonized such that as English is the window of the country to the outside world, international intelligibility will not be sacrificed at the alter of domestication and nativization campaign being preached in some quarters. This is because without systematically domesticating English, it is a natural process that evolves in all ESL contexts and languages must respond to the inevitable dynamics of change across geographical boundaries.

This paper has provided a general overview of the linguistic features of Nigerian English, from phonology, morpho-syntactics, lexico-semantics to pragmatics. It is observed that Nigerian English is neither all deviant nor all variant and the two schools of variation and deviation are right or wrong by half. The fundamental pattern is that some forms of Nigerian English are variant and some are deviant. At the levels of phonology and morpho-syntactics, Nigerian English can be said to be largely deviant with few instances of deviation. With this, we reject the claim of Hasman (2000) that all dialects of English are acceptable and that the language has “no standard pronunciation”. At the levels of lexico-semantics and pragmatics, Nigerian English can be said to be largely variant with just some instances of deviation. With this, we validate and agree to the assertion of Hasman (2000) that “each country that speaks the language can inject aspects of its own culture into the usage”.

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