Pidgin English: The language of the West African people

Pidgin English is a lingua franca in many anglophone countries in West Africa. It is commonly spoken in Equatorial Guinea, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, and some parts of Cameroon. It works as a needle and thread that weaves all the tribes and indigenes of different mother tongues together, in order to create one singular identity. During the late 17th and 18th centuries, it was used as a language of commerce and trade amongst the locals and the English slave traders. Pidgin English is primarily comprised of English but it is also mixed with other languages from different tribes, with a bit of Portuguese and Spanish. In the past, there was some trade carried out between the Edo/Delta locals in Nigeria and the Portuguese and Spanish slave traders. This explains why there are some left over Portuguese or Spanish words in Nigerian Pidgin like the word “sabi” which means “to know” or “to know how to” just as “to know” is “saber” in Portuguese and Spanish. Also, “pikin” is from the Spanish and Portuguese word “pequeño”/”pequeno” which means “small.” The Pidgin language in Sierra Leone called Krio, is a mix of the language brought in by the Nova Scottish settlers from North America, Maroons from Jamaica, and several liberated African slaves who had immigrated to Sierra Leone. The Cameroonian Pidgin spread like wild fire amongst its population during the German annexation period (1884–1914). This explains why Pidgin spoken in West Africa is quite different. For example:

  • Sierra Leone Krio:

Dem dey go for go it res — They are going there to eat rice.

  • Ghanaian/Nigerian Pidgin English:

Dem dey go chop rais — They are going there to eat rice.

  • Cameroonian Pidgin English:

Dey di go for go chop rice — They are going there to eat rice.

Pidgin language evolves faster than many other languages. Although its sentence structure and grammar remains the same, the vocabulary keeps on increasing and sometimes changing. The reason why this happens is because Pidgin English is an unofficial language. It is prohibited in the classrooms and workplace. It does not have the basic rules that most languages have because “everything goes.” Due to the freeness of the language, many people also see it as the language of the uneducated. Nevertheless, it is a language that brings people together. It is commonly used in the music and film industry. Yemi Alade’s “Johnny” was sang in Pidgin English and was not only a smash hit in Africa, but led to her winning the MTV MAMA award for best female artist. Nollywood (Nigerian cinema), which is Africa’s largest movie industry, produces a lot of movies in Pidgin English that are enjoyed all over Africa.

Sign boards found in a Cameroonian campus that shows how West Africans try to shun Pidgin English.

Sign boards found in a Cameroonian campus that shows how West Africans try to shun Pidgin English.

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Another sign board.

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Another signboard.

Pidgin English: The fashion line

 The objective of the fashion line Pidgin English is to make interpretations of the African culture and influences expressed through garments. The fashion line Pidgin English promotes the use of the language and the culture associated with it. It tries to eliminate the ideas of Pidgin English being a language of the illiterate because it stresses how it has unified the West African population in so many ways.

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Pidgin English: Language of commerce.

The name is suitable because its style is comprised mainly of cotton T-shirts designed with little pieces of African prints. Thus, it shows a blend of both the West African and European culture, just like the language. The fashion line serves two functions: it unites West Africans because Pidgin English is something they all share in common; it is something that unites them. It also encourages other Africans who do not speak Pidgin English such as other creoles, to unite and embrace how their languages have brought them all together and given them an identity.

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The signature tee.