Nigerian academics seek to elevate humble Pidgin

Mon Sep 20, 2010 11:59am EDT
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By Yinka Ibukun

LAGOS (Reuters Life!) - It may share many of its words and basic grammar with English, but a perplexed look descends across the face of most newcomers to Nigeria the first time they are addressed in Pidgin.

"How you dey?" comes the question, or "How body?" (both meaning "how are you?")

"I dey fine" is the correct response, or, if you're in a less upbeat mood, "body dey inside cloth", meaning "I'm coping/making do with the situation," or literally "I'm still wearing clothes."

Once considered the language of the uneducated, Pidgin is one of the world's fastest evolving languages and Nigerians of every age and social class can now be found greeting each other in its clipped, concise tones.

Spoken by an estimated 50 million people, variants are also used in Ghana, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Now, for the first time, a group of academics is working to elevate the status of Nigerian Pidgin to more than just a practical means of communication in a country with several hundred indigenous languages and a huge educational divide.

Created a year ago, the Naija Languej Akademi is the first to try to harness the unbridled growth of Pidgin by putting together a reference guide which would include an alphabet, the first comprehensive dictionary, a standard guide for orthography, and an authoritative history of the language.

"It's not a contact language any more, it's an independent, fully fledged language," said Christine Ofulue, head of linguistics at the National Open University of Nigeria.   Continued...