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Grammatical License

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By Debbie Olujobi

Language is the best tool of communication and it comes in many diverse tongues. In the world we now live in, English is the language most widely spoken and if all the manuals and language set ups of most gadgets are to be believed, there are quite a few versions; some a lot more different than that spoken by the Queen of England who is the confirmed custodian of the english language. I love the inflections and accents of the other latin languages in English.

My favourites would be French, followed by Italian and Spanish. There is a new rise of Latinos and Latinas in the entertainment world and they speak English with a decidedly heavy spanish accent; they are very exotic some even say sexy! They do what we do in Nigeria; a literal translation of their local dialect into English with hilarious results. The fact is that most of us think in our local dialect before we translate and speak English; along the line many meanings are lost in translation.

A new arm of the Nigerian and even African entertainment industry is riding the wave of grammatical licence to hilarious and financially satisfying effects. Comedy has developed into a local goldmine and an enviable international export that is changing the face of entertainment. Cultural influences have a way of creeping across languages and Nigeria is on the fore front with our very own brand of Pidgin English.

The Vanguard is nation wide but its most endearing and may I say popular version comes from the Niger Delta. I have very rarely met people from that area without a great sense of humour; they come across as very easy going and laid back. I probably should say that they are no push overs as they are not shy about defending their land, rights and resources but that’s a topic for another column altogether. So back to how language is providing much needed laughter at the expense of the English language.

My driver has been with me for 15 years and, yes, he is from the Niger Delta area. He is a natural born story teller and I often have to wear my head phones if I want any silence in the car. He can tell you the tale of spoon picking up some rice and have you rolling in stitches but it does get tiring day after day. Musa (my driver) is very mild-mannered and gets along with everyone, children in particular love him but you need to see him the few times he gets angry. At those times his command of the English language fails him and his local dialect spews a very funny but mostly predictable diatribe.

I should mention that he is not very fond of law enforcement and commercial bus drivers. His pronunciation of two key letters adds a funny twist to whatever he says in Pidgin english. “You are crazy, useless police man” becomes ” You dey knaze, yeye ponice man!” His outrage gets more agitated when his audience double up in laughter. he just can’t seem to pronounce “R” and “L” when he gets angry and it becomes impossible to take him serious. Anger gives him grammatical license and his expressions are hilarious.

I personally believe that language is a tool of communication and this particular column was informed by my nearest and dearest. My close friends marvel at my chameleon like abilities with languages and accents. I can blend into any crowd and sound the same in a very short time. I am also referred to as a bad influence who can speak the most terrible pidgin one minute while being able to switch to proper queen’s english the next. My best friend heard my husband say something not too long ago and concluded I had corrupted him. She used one of my terms to accuse me, “You have happened to him”.

My explanation for things going wrong as a result of people’s bad habits is to say they happened to it. My driver scratching my car in my lingo would be “Musa happened to it”. At the time of the accusation I hadn’t really taken it to heart as there are very few people as articulate and correct as my better half but he said something this week that confirms I have definitely happened to him. I had asked why he was wearing multiple articles of clothing and his answer was a Debbie classic “I am colding”..

Nigerians are larger than life, we are boisterous, gregarious and some would say loud, I say we live life in colour at full blast. The broken English we speak is on the move constantly, new words, terms and expressions are everywhere. One the more popular terms is “You don fall my hand” it means you have brought me shame. Familiar words like “eat” become “chop”, “to meet” becomes “colide” or “jam”, “Father” or “Pa” is “Paleh”, “Mother” or “Ma” is “Maleh”, “brother” is “bros” sister “Sist”, “Steal” or “Rob” is “Obtain”, “The Law” or “Law Enforcement” is “Kongo” “Arrest” is “Cramp”.

Every “CH” sound is pronounced “SH” and “G” sound sounds as “J”, “L and R becomes “N”. It almost feels like a different language when you are in the midst of those who are vast in pidgin and it differs from region to region of the country; in fact from house to house. What I find is that communication is not hindered by phonetics, syntax or grammar we just take license of the grammar and the drama around us to hilarious effects.

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