Pidgin English, Effects And Dangers

Project and Seminar Material for English Education

Pidgin English, Effects And Dangers


The work looks at the effects of the use of Pidgin English on the student’s ability to learn English language in Nigeria secondary schools. Emphasis is on three secondary schools in Lagos state.

Despite the importance of Pidgin English, it has adversely affected the use of English language. A great number of times, a student prefers to express his/herself in Pidgin English rather than go through the rigours of speaking simple correct English. Sometimes, they use it interchangeably and this results to ungrammatical structures and non- standard English. When students resort to any of the above mentioned problems, the importance of the English language teaching is defeated. It is based on this problem that this research attempts to find out the factors responsible for the problem and procure a possible solution for them.

This work also aims at finding the influence of Pidgin English on the ability of students in learning English language. The method of findings in this essay includes randomly selected secondary schools in Shasha area of Lagos state as mentioned earlier.

The sociological approach is used to examine the society and environment of its use; it also looks at the position of Pidgin English and the English language in Nigerian society. This essay is set to find out the adverse effect of Pidgin English on students’ learning ability in English language resulting from their environment and ethnic differences.

In the course of this research, it was discovered that majority of students cannot make clear error-free sentences; some cannot even communicate in the English language except they were allowed to express themselves in Pidgin English. The situation is really bad and the trend is not good as it lays bad precedence for the university education and indeed questions the credibility of would be graduates. This also accounts for the high rate of failure recorded in English language examination every year in SSCE and NECO. If I may quote one of the chief examiner’s words as he comments on the general performance of the 2007 senior secondary schools English language examination, he said, “contrary to expectation, the performance of the candidates was awfully poor. Some of the candidates scored zero in the whole paper, having failed to write an answer that can earn a single mark in any section of the paper. It appears that a good number of schools registered illiterate and unqualified candidates for this test”.

Chapter One

1.0 Introduction

There have been many speculations aout the origin of language over the years. Jespersen (1921) proposed that human language originated while humans were enjoying themselves in one of the more enduring speculations concerning the origin of language. It remains however, a speculation. We simple do not know how language originated. However, Yule (1985 1-4) argued that the origin of language could be divine, according to one view, God created Adam and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof – (Genesis 2:9). Alternatively, following a Hindu tradition, language came from the goddess Sarasvati, wife of Brahma, creator of the universe. In an attempt to rediscover this original divine language, a few experiments have been carried out, with rather conflicting results. The natural sound was also seen as the concept of “:natural sounds”. The suggestion is that primitive words could have been imitations of the natural sound which early men and women heard around them. When an object flew by, making a CAWCAW sound, the early humans imitated the sound and used it to refer to the object associated with the sound.

Also, one suggestion regarding the origin of the sounds of language involves a link between physical gesture and orally produced sounds. It does seem reasonable that physical gesture, involving the whole body, could have been a means of indicating a wide range of emotional states and intentions. A quite different level of speculation on the origins of human speech comes under the general heading of gloss genetics. This focuses mainly on the biological basis on the formation and development of human language.

Language origin is inconsequential though, it is one of the major distinguishing factors of man from animal because it forms the basis for communication which essentially is a human characteristic. Effective communication, is spoken of when there has been a large language well-conceived and articulated but of course fathomable by the receiver who in turn decoded and send a feedback. There is a need to note that there are different languages in the world with their attendant dialect and variety problems.

The advent of the colonial master in African presumably marked the beginning of the use of the English language in the west Africa sub-regions. In other words, English which is also Nigeria’s official language was brought to Africa by her former colonial masters.

Nigeria, being a multilingual nation, I suppose is one of the reason why English is accepted as the language of official communication. The fact that most Nigerians are illiterate and semi-illiterate made the using of English language as the language of official communication a big problem. As a result, the English language started having varieties, among which is, Pidgin English also known as Nigerian English.

Adedoyin (1999. 40) is of the opinion that Pidgin English is developed from a contact English (ce). He sees it as a first variety of the Nigerian English. He stressed that when two people come in contact, the necessity for communication would necessitate the evolvement of a language of communication, a kind of inter-language, which will be a mixture of the two languages in contact. He stressed that Nigeria Pidgin English is a variety which is very strong among the less educated and educated people too. Pidgin English is therefore defined as a language variety used for inter-ethic context.

The oxford advance learners dictionary defines pidgin as any of several languages resulting from contact European traders and local people, for example, in West Africa and the far east, containing elements of the local language(s) and French or Dutch, still used for internal communication.

Yule (1996. 223-234) is of the view that it is a variety of a language which was developed for some practical purposes, such as trading among groups of people who had a lot of contact, but who do not know each other’s language.

According to Opara (1999.52), pidgin English in Nigeria originated as a trade language that is made up of foreign language and the local language. It also originated as a result of the need for communication among Nigerians living in towns and cities from different ethnic groups who have no common language. Spencer (1971) opined that Nigerian pidgin English developed as a result of intertribal marriages. The importance of Pidgin English in Nigeria cannot be over emphasized.

This version of English cuts across institutions, establishments and societies yet it remains the unofficial lingua-franca in Nigeria. It is the most effective means if interaction among the illiterate servants of the learned masters, the market women, and several other groups of people. The popularity of Pidgin English can be seen in the various ways in which Nigerian business world and the media use it. Apart from using pidgin English for advertisements on radio and television, some bill boards disseminate their information using the pidgin English to communicate to their readers. For example, Ken Saro Wiwa (1985) in his work, Sozaboy (1965) used pidgin English. Also the work of Amos Tutuola, the Palm Wine Drinkard is also written in the Pidgin English.

Soyinka (1964.65) in his work, The Trial of Brother Jero and The Road respectively used the pidgin English to accent the socio-economic aspects of Nigeria of them. In most of his earlier works, the proportion of pidgin compared with English seems to increase in favour of the former with the degree of informality of its speakers particularly worth mentioning is the road.

Notwithstanding, pidgin English though plays an important role in Nigeria, it also has some adverse effects on children’s learning of the English language. They learn this language early in life too. They may learn it from their parents of within the environment which they live. Subsequently, they carry the language to school where it becomes difficult for them to learn the proper language. Often, several families live in the same compound or in a geographical area who do not understand one another’s language; Pidgin becomes a convenient means of communication among them. Children growing up in such area use the Pidgin English officially and do not anything wrong in it.

At school, especially in the southern Nigeria, where we have different ethnic groups residing in same settlements, for instance, cities like Lagos, port Harcourt, Warri and other urban areas, Pidgin English is the commonest means of communication especially outside the classroom. This makes it difficult for the children of such settlements to use the correct or proper English in the class room because they have learnt Pidgin early in life. It is against this background that analysts have expressed concern over its continued use. They believe that students who speak the Nigerian Pidgin English stand the risk of losing fluency in the standard English going by the fact that the English language is not just Nigeria’s official language but an internationally recognised medium of communication in the contemporary world.

The researcher is therefore out to investigate the following:

  1. Whether the use of pidgin English affect the students’ learning of English language
  2. The effect the use of pidgin English poses in use of English language
  3. The role the human brain paly in language acquisition.
  4. It will look into the history of the Pidgin English especially how it became so widely used, and the role first
  5. language (LI) play in acquiring other languages. These will be done discuss using the selected secondary school mentioned earlier.

1.1 Statement Of Problems

It is becoming increasingly difficult if a particular student really went to school or perhaps was well schooled in the rudiments of English. It is not an over statement if we say that most of the students cannot make simple, clear and error-free sentences in English language. This has been attributed to the frequent use of pidgin by students either by way of code switching or code mixing in communication at home, school and their neighbourhood.

Though Pidgin English is fast becoming more and more important as a language but notwithstanding, English remain the only official language of communication in Nigeria. Therefore Pidgin English, when it is first learnt by children, poses some problems in their later life. They will find it difficult to differentiate between pidgin and Standard English both in their spoken and written form.

Again the use of pidgin impeded proper communication in the sense that the children have limited language as a means of communication in a country like ours. Where English becomes a problem for a child when he gets to school as he cannot understand the teacher because the only language he/she understands in pidgin English.

1.2 Aim

This work aims at finding the influence of pidgin English on the ability of students in learning language.

1.3 Objectives

The objective of this study is to find out effects of Pidgin English on the students learning ability in English language, the performance of student in the English language and the possible solution to this problem.

1.4 Significance of Study

Students and teachers, government, parents, authors, and publishers of English textbooks are expected to benefit from the findings of this study. Students are going to benefit from the study because they will discover that pidgin has some limitations. For instance, they cannot use pidgin to write internal examinations. They cannot use pidgin to communicate their ideas in the midst of educated people. This study will help them begin to use English so as to be conversant in it and at the same time meet their academic attainment.

This study will benefit the teachers in that it will move them to use simple and correct English in teaching instead of Pidgin English. The school management board will also benefit from this study since it will help them to understand the causes of failure in English in the senior school certificate examinations and other unified English examinations. The authors of textbooks at all level of learning are not left out among the beneficiaries. This study will enable them to realize that using pidgin English to express themselves will not in any way build up the students whom they are trying to build.

1.5 Research Methodollogy

This section of the work explains the methodology to be employed by the researcher. The work will sample the opinion of students from the schools under study as mentioned earlier using questionnaires.

1.6 Method of Data Collection

A total of sixty questionnaires will be distributed to the schools under study. The items in the questionnaires are prepared adequately to achieve the intended purposes of this work. The questionnaires will be given to the students at random and collected for computing and analysis.

1.7 Research Questions

  1. Does the use of Pidgin by way of code-switching affect fluency in the use of English language?
  2. Does the use of Pidgin ensure better comprehension of the English language?
  3. Does the mother tongue affect further language acquisition or help broaden students’ horizon for more language acquisition?
  4. Does Pidgin affect student’s reading ability in English language?
  5. Does Pidgin affect student’s writing skills English language?
  6. Does Pidgin affect student’s listening skill in English language?
  7. Are students in the ss1 class different from the students in ss3 class in their attitude towards the use of English?
  8. Can students’ choice of subject influence their attitude towards the use of Pidgin English?

1.8 Scope of the Study

The study has been limited to three schools in Shasha area of Lagos state. The reason being that the researcher has taught and still teaching in some of the schools in the areas under study and has discovered that most of the students express themselves mostly in Pidgin English despite the efforts most teachers have made to improve their performance in the English language.

The schools under study are:

  • Access Universal College
  • Pacific Comprehensive College
  • State High School

1.9 Definition of Terms

The following terms are defined here in relation to their context usage:

Pidgin English:

This is an informal language used among people from different ethnic group who already have mother tongue before coming in contact with English.

Nigeria English (NE):

This refers to the variety of world English which is spoken by Nigerians with the peculiarities and worldview of Nigerians adequately represented.

Standard English:

This refers to the language of the British which is generally accepted and use as an official language in Nigeria.

Mother Tongue:

This refers to the first language a person learns to speak before acquiring any other language. It is also known as first language. (LI)

British English:

This is the variety of English used and spoken in Britain.

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