Nigerian English

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Nigerian English, also known as Nigerian Standard English, is a dialect of English spoken in Nigeria.[1] It is based on British English, but in recent years, because of influence from the United States of America, some words of American English origin have made it into Nigerian English.[which?] Additionally, some new words and collocations have emerged from the language, which come from the need to express concepts specific to the culture of the nation (e.g. senior wife).[2]

Nigerian Pidgin, a pidgin derived from English, is mostly used in informal conversations, but the Nigerian Standard English is used in politics, formal education, the media, and other official uses.

Sociocultural implications of Nigerian English usage

Nigerian English is a nativized form of English, and evolved from Nigerian Pidgin. Like South African English, its nativization and development as a New World English corresponds roughly with the period of colonization and post-colonization by Britain.[3] Following the development of the pidgin, Nigerian English became a nativized language that functions uniquely within its own cultural context.[4]

Nigerian English has long been a controversial idea, in that the idea of a "Standard Nigerian English" (SNE) is difficult to establish,[5] considering the fossilization that has occurred in the formal instruction of English in many regions of Nigeria, due largely to a variety of factors including but not limited to "interference, lack of facilities, and crowded classrooms."[6] Due to the contact between British Standard English and Nigerian English, which have two very different sets of grammatical, pronunciation, and spelling rules, there has arisen a predominant occurrence of "faulty analogy" (the assumption that because one grammatical feature resembles another in usage, the rules applying to the former also apply to the latter) in what Okoro refers to as "substandard" varieties of Nigerian English.[6]

However, there are a few features that have united across NE communities that bridge the differences between different varieties even within NE, all pertaining to cultural values that are expressed uniquely in English terms. Two prevalent examples are "sorry" and "sir."[4] The literal meaning of sorry usually indicates some sort of responsibility on the part of the person saying it; however, for all of the varieties of NE, it is used to express sympathy in a unique way, or to show empathy to whoever has experienced misfortune. "Sir," or the replacement of names with titles, indicates respect and a high value for politeness. The tacking on of "sir" to another title (i.e. "Professor sir")[4] illustrates a greater level of prestige than normal, or an instance of being more polite than the norm.

Lexico-semantic innovations

There are three basic subsets of innovations that have occurred as a result of the nativization of English in Nigeria:[7] "loanwords, coinages, and semantic shifts."


A loanword is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as "a word adopted from a foreign language with little or no modification." Nigerian English has a plethora of loanwords that have no direct English equivalents, but have rooted themselves into the dialect and have a unique meaning.[8] The examples below of prominent Nigerian English loanwords are provided by Grace Ebunlola:[8]

"agbada: a kind of flowing dress for men, especially among the Yoruba: ‘Chief Ogini wore agbada to the wedding ceremony.’

babanriga: a kind of long, loose dress for men, especially among the Hausas: ‘I really like your babanriga.’

akara: an item of food, also referred to as ‘bean cake’ akamu pap: ‘This morning I ate akara and akamu.’

akpu, banga, eba, egusi, ogbono, tuwo: ‘soup’ (in various Nigerian languages), as in: ‘Anytime I eat eba I have stomach upset’; ‘Can I eat some tuwo rice?’; ‘I don’t like the smell of akpu’; ‘I will like to eat ogbono soup mixed with egusi.’

danfo, okada: a mode of transportation: ‘You either go by danfo or you take an okada.’

adakaji, oba chieftaincy titles, as in: ‘The Adakaji II was at the coronation of the oba of Lagos.’"


Coinages, though similar to loanwords, function as a sort of colloqualism that is spoken in English but has a unique cultural meaning. These are also especially prolific in Nigerian English.[9] Coinages are not the same as acronyms, though Nigerian English also has unique acronyms. Compared to loanwords, coinages typically have a short lifespan that are adopted for unique cultural purposes of the present, and as such, die out quickly following their acquisition.[9]

Examples are provided by Abdullahi-Idiagbon and Olaniyi:[10]


Free and fair

Come of age

Carpet crossing

No-go area

Man of timber and caliber

Money bag

Political juggernaut/Heavyweight

Political bride

Accord Concordia

Bottom power

Acronyms serve a variety of functions, and follow the same rules as Standard English acronyms: the first letters are taken from each word in a phrase (especially titles of office, agencies of the government, etc.).

Semantic shifts

The study of semantics is, overall, a general study of the meaning of words.

A common example of semantic shift is in the reappropriation of the meaning of English words for Nigerian purposes and uses. This can cause the original English meanings to be "shifted, restricted, or extended."[11]

For example, in some areas, though the international meaning of trek has a connotation of long distance or difficult journey, the Nigerian use is to "walk a short distance."[11]

A particularly expansive example of semantics in NE is the use of a variety of greetings. This stretching of meaning can not only change the meaning of the English phrase, but also represent something from Nigerian culture: for example, the saying "goodnight, ma" can be said regardless of time of day, and functions simply as an assumption that the person in question will not be seen until the next day.[4] This has especially been noticed in Yoruba culture.[4]


As the literature currently stands, most phonological studies have analyzed a plethora of Nigerian English speakers from a wide range of backgrounds (region of origin, current profession, social class, etc.). There has been special focus on such regions as Hausa, Igbo, and Yoruba.[5] Nigerian English can be thought of in a similar way to American English in this approach: just as in American English, Nigerian English varies from region to region, and as such, phonological variables are realized in different ways in different regions.[5]

Some common features across Nigerian Englishes include:

  • Voiced -z sounds in which the "s" is present in spelling, i.e. "boys" is pronounced /bɔɪs/ thus becoming voiceless.[12]
  • Backing of /ɪ/ vowels into /e/, exhibited in words such as "expect", pronounced (/ekˈspekt/ in NE.[12]
  • Because voiced palato-alveolar fricitave /ʒ/ is not present in most Nigerian varieties, any words including this phoneme are converted into the schwa /ʃ/ sound, such as in the word "conclusion", pronounced /kənˈkluːʃən/ in NE.[12]


Early studies have associated Nigerian English with being syllable-timed rather than stress-timed, but the dialect has thus far evaded specific grouping in either category.[13] Milde and Jan-Torsten suggest that Nigerian English is closer to a tonal language, alike to other West African tonal languages, but rather than tones being associated with stressed and unstressed syllables, they are associated with grammatical functions[13]. They suggest that "articles, prepositions and conjunctions tend to have a low tone, whereas nouns, verbs and adjectives are usually produced with a high tone."[13]

See also


  1. ^ "Nigerian English". Encarta. Microsoft. Archived from the original on 9 September 2010. Retrieved 17 July 2012. 
  2. ^ Adegbija, Efurosebina. (1989) "Lexico-semantic variation in Nigerian English", World Englishes, 8(2), 165–177.
  3. ^ Lass, Roger. "Language in South Africa." Chapter 5: South African English, Cambridge University Press, 2002, print.
  4. ^ a b c d e Adamo, Grace Ebunlola (February 2007). "Nigerian English" (PDF). English Today. 23: 42–47 – via CambridgeCore. 
  5. ^ a b c Oladimeji, Olaniyi (September 24, 2016). "A Variationist Approach to Nigerian English Phonology". World Journal of English Language. 6: 42–53. 
  6. ^ a b Okoro, Oko (Spring 2017). "Nigerian English Usage and the Tyranny of Faulty Analogy III: Pronunciation" (PDF). California Linguistic Notes. 41: 26–62 – via University of Lagos. 
  7. ^ Adamo, Grace Ebunlola (February 2007). "Nigerian English" (PDF). English Today. 23: 42–47 – via CambridgeCore. 
  8. ^ a b Adamo, Grace Ebunlola (February 2007). "Nigerian English" (PDF). English Today. 23: 42–47 – via CambridgeCore. 
  9. ^ a b Abdullahi-Idiagbon and Olaniyi, M.S. and O.K. (2011). "Coinages in Nigerian English: A Sociolinguistic Perspective" (PDF). African Nebula. 3: 78–85. 
  10. ^ Abdullahi-Idiagbon and Olaniyi, M.S. and O.K. (2011). "Coinages in Nigerian English: A Sociolinguistic Perspective" (PDF). African Nebula. 3: 78–85. 
  11. ^ a b Adamo, Grace Ebunlola (February 2007). "Nigerian English" (PDF). English Today. 23: 42–47 – via CambridgeCore. 
  12. ^ a b c Okoro, Oko (Spring 2017). "Nigerian English Usage and the Tyranny of Faulty Analogy III: Pronunciation" (PDF). California Linguistic Notes. 41: 26–62 – via University of Lagos. 
  13. ^ a b c Gut, Milde, Ulrike, Jan-Torsten (2002). The Prosody of Nigerian English. Germany: University of Bielefeld. pp. 1–4. 

Further reading

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