By Ijeoma Azubuike
Providing an answer to a question in a nationwide television programme, Mr Obafaiye Shem, a senior official at the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, inadvertently chipped in a phrase, “My oga at the top’’.
The phrase has since caught up with most Nigerians, educated and illiterates, who apply it to suit different connotations in their everyday interpersonal communications in Pidgin English.
Pidgin is commonly used as lingua franca among educated and illiterate Nigerians, given the multi-ethnic and multi-cultural nature of the society.
This is further re-enforced by the nation’s high illiteracy levels that varies from one section of the country to another, and even within each section of the society.
Language experts say that the Nigerian Pidgin had, for a long time, been viewed as an effective medium of unhindered self-expression in inter-personal communication.
Amos Tutuola, a famous Nigerian literary giant, did most of his works including “The Palm- Wine Drinkard (1952), in Pidgin.
Many later writers have had to do works in Pidgin, thus depicting the popularity and wide usage of the language as a medium of communication.
Aig-Imouekhuede’s poem, “Stew and Sufferhead’’; and Ken Saro Wiwa’s collection of songs, “Dis Nigeria Self’’, for instance are written in Pidgin.
Not only this, Mamman Vatsa’s “Tori For Geti Bow Leg’’, Ezenwa Ohaeto’s “I wan Bi President’’ and “If To Say I be Soja’’, are also expressed in Pidgin to communicate to a wider audience.
Edwin Oribhabor’s “Abuja na hevun, na kpangba an oda puem dem’’ was published in 2010.
Today, one of the most popular FM radio stations in the FCT, Wazobia FM, runs all its programmes in Pidgin.
In spite of its popularity and usage, some scholars are skeptical about the use of Pidgin, especially in official engagements, insisting that it does not deserve much recognition.
They hinge their argument on the fact that Pidgin could adulterate individual’s capacities in written and spoken English.
But linguists observe that Pidgin could come to play when there is need for better understanding in discussions involving a wider society where the choice of English Language as a medium may hinder audience participation.
Dr Kelechukwu Ihemere, a senior lecturer in the Department of English, Linguistics and Cultural Studies, University of Westminster, UK, notes that more than five million Nigerians speak Pidgin.
In his book entitled: “An integrated approach to language attitudes: the case of the Ikwerre of Port Harcourt City, Nigeria’’, he says that Pidgin is a second language for another 75 million Nigerians.
According to Ihemere, Nigerian Pidgin is derived partly from the Edo-Delta area of the country, but varies among the speakers.
He posits that dialects of Pidgin exist, including that of Warri, Sapele, Benin, Port-Harcourt, Lagos especially in Ajegunle, and Onitsha, noting that Pidgin has gained more popularity for dealings in the nation’s socio-economic activities.
The views of language experts notwithstanding, some observers have different opinion on whether or not Pidgin should be encouraged as a tool for effective communication.
Mrs Maimuna Bashorun, 62, a trader argues: “I no no why we dey force ourselves dey learn anoda person language wey hard to speak’’.
But Mr Asonwata Idahosa, a journalist, thinks that “Pidgin does not give the impression that we went to school; the problem with it is that it is boundless, admitting new vocabularies every day.
“The kind of vocabularies it entertains makes it difficult to study. I am not comfortable when I listen to people speak in pidgin, especially on radio programmes.’’
Mrs Margret John, a teacher, supports Idahosa, saying: “I hate to listen to Pidgin English because I feel it is a language of the unserious’’.
“It is common now to listen to some conversations even in government quarters such as “na now you dey resume work’’; my oga at the top never come? It is not tidy’’.
But Mr Femi Yusuf, a trader, thinks differently, saying: “I prefer to interact in Pidgin because it gives me a chance to express myself well’’.
Olakunle Soriyan, also a trader, says the ability to speak and write good English may not be a proof of one’s intelligence.
Mrs Patricia Okoye, a parent, argues that: “Many students in our schools lack sound education because some of the teachers unconsciously teach the students in Pidgin.
“In Nigerian schools where the English Language is a compulsory subject, one will not be surprised that regular failure of this subject is due to this development.’’
Although the study of English Language is compulsory in Nigerian secondary schools, and form part of requirements for admission for degree courses, some youths say that frequent use of Pidgin is affecting the performance of many students negatively.
They say that many students are no longer interested in speaking and writing in good English Language.
Ibrahim Kadiri, a student, says he lacks the ability to speak good English because of his exposure to Pidgin at an early age.
But Chimezie Okafor, a student, has a different opinion, insisting that “Pidgin can be used in teaching students to enhance understanding’’.
For Omobola Williams, a student, “Nigerian Pidgin serves as a bridge between the mother tongue and English Language because it is a vital tool for wider reach and interaction, public announcements and information dissemination’’.
Prof. Robert Trask, a linguist at the University of Sussex, asserts: “It is nobody’s mother tongue…; it has no elaborate grammar; it is very limited in what it can convey, and different people speak it differently.’’
All the same, language experts define Pidgin as a simplified form of speech formed out of one or more existing languages, and used by people who have no other language in common. (NAN)