The Nativisation of English: How the English Language Has Been “Nativised” in Nigeria

The Nativisation of English: How the English Language Has Been “Nativised” in Nigeria

An old saying has it that “When you go to Rome, you behave like the Romans.” This is, as matter of certainty, true because no entity (person or organisation) remains the same having broken forth into a new and an unfamiliar environment or atmosphere. The English language, as a linguistic medium or tool, is a living entity; it is an animate constituent. And from the stables of the native speakers of English, the Britons, English has evolved and has travelled from region to region and around the world.

However, English hasn't remained unchanged in the course of her journey. She has actually bowed to the insurmountable law and demands of nativisation at different points in time and at different locations. What then is nativisation as a process that the English language must undergo?

Nativisation is the domestication or indigenization of a foreign language to reflect the cultural, political, psychological and socioeconomic demands and provisions of the linguistic environment where it is found. In simpler terms, it is the bending of an alien language which is not indigenous to the linguistic situation in order to suit the linguistic demands of the users within the particular space.

The nativisation process is one that is seen around the world, both on English and other international languages too. In the context of English, the term “nativisation” refers to the changes which English has undergone as a result of its contact with various languages in diverse cultural and geographical settings in the Outer Circle of English which includes South Asia, South East Asia, West Africa, Malaysia etc. Such contact with the Outer Circle has given rise to many varieties, which differ from the “standard” to “nonstandard” varieties. These new varieties are Nigerian English (henceforth NE), Ghanaian English, Indian English, Cameroonian English etc.

In this article, however, we shall look at the nativisation of English in Nigeria – that is, how the English language has been adapted by Nigerians for home use and made applicable to our numerous conveniences, experiences, nuances and sensibilities. As such, we can no longer talk about British or Queens English in Nigeria, but rather the nativisation of English language in Nigeria, which is the use of English language in Nigeria to portray our world’s views, social life, culture and religious life. (Bamgbose 1995 p. 26) asserts that the English language has been pidginised, nativised, acculturated and twisted to express unfamiliar concepts and modes of interaction. Such nativisation, pidginisation and acculturation will be discussed under three broad headings: grammar, syntax and phonology.

Grammar deals with how a language is internally structured or organised to make meaning. It is the rule governing correct usage in a particular language. It is a known fact that every language is governed by rules which users must strictly adhere to as violation (of any of these rules) results in error. However, in order to portray the Nigerian experience which the English language cannot adequately capture, Nigerian English speakers pay little or no attention to correct use of determiners, articles, prepositions, noun markers and have also resorted to the use of coinages. 

Wrong Use of Prepositions 

Nigerian English (NE): He requested for his book.

Standard English (SE): He requested his book.

NE: Tammy contested for an election.

SE: Tammy contested an election.

NE: Tammy always heeds to his parents' advice

SE: Tammy always heeds his parents' advice.

Omission of Articles

NE: I gave him money.

SE: I gave him some money.

NE: He bought coke and biscuit for his younger brother.

SE: He bought a bottle of coke and some biscuits for his younger brother.

NE: Give me water.

SE: Give me some/a glass of water.

NE: Stop making noise.

SE: Stop making a noise.

The Use of Demonstrative Pronouns together with Determiners (Possessive Adjectives)

NE: This your child is cute.

SE: This child of yours/This child/Your child is cute.

NE: I met that your friend last week.

SE: I met your friend last week.

NE: That my uncle is wicked.

SE: My uncle/That uncle of mine is wicked.

The Use of Prepositions as Verbs

NE: Off the light.

SE: Switch off the light.

NE: On the generator.

SE: Turn on the generator.

The Duplication of Adjectives, Adverbs and Adjuncts
Nigerian English speakers duplicate certain adjectives, adverbs and adjuncts in sentences for emphasis or to show greater intensity, especially when they want to sound more essential or urgent than it would otherwise have been.
The use of smartphones in this era is very very necessary.

Could you please come now now?

Tammy likes big big shorts. (Oversize shorts)

Please remove it fast fast.

My mum bought fine fine things for me.

The Use of Exclamations 
For purpose of emphasis, Nigerian English speakers use exclamations the same way they are used in their indigenous languages.
I can't do it o

It is not fair o

You don't know me o

I'm not joking o

Leave it e

If I beat you ehn, you will hate yourself.

These are expressions or words that are invented to reflect the Nigerian experience. These expressions are used in contexts where the English language lacks the ability to project the desired effect.

Below are instance of coinages in Nigerian English. Take note of the italicized words or group of words.

My uncle bought five crates of minerals for his wedding ceremony. (Soft drink).

Most of them live in face-me-I-face-you (A public yard).

You are a four-one-nine/r (trickster).

My aunty sells okrika (fairly used clothes).

He is a woman-wrapper (a derogatory term for a man who behaves like a woman or is assumed to work in accordance with his wife's instructions).

She is a woman with bottom power (a term used to describe a woman who gets whatever she wants through s3x).

To get a job in an oil company in Nigeria is based on man-know-man (personal connection).

Her father is a juju priest (witch doctor).

My father is a big man (wealthy man).

He is building an upstair in his father's compound. (A storey building)

I don't like I-pass-my-neighbour (a low capacity generator).

I hate mago-mago (manipulation).

Nigerian politicians are only interested in the national cake (collective wealth of the  people).

When is the traditional wedding coming up? (A wedding approved by the customs and traditions of the people)

I dislike people who have big eye (a coinage for “greed”). The standard form is “I dislike greedy people.”

You should be here before cock crows (very early in the morning).

Yesterday, my friend and her fiancé did their introduction (formal presentation of the bridegroom and his relatives to the bride and her relatives).

Syntax deals with how words are combined to form phrases and sentences. The dichotomy between the syntactic structure of the English language and Nigerian indigenous languages results in ‘wrong ordering’ of English sentences by Nigerian English speakers. This usually occurs when there is a direct transfer of mother tongue to the English language. In Standard English, determiners usually precede nouns, but in Nigerian English, they are often placed after nouns due to direct transfers from mother tongue. There is also the duplication of determiners in Nigerian English. Below are some illustrative examples:

NE: Tammy gave the children five five naira each.

SE: Tammy gave the children five naira each.

NE: He sells fine fine things.

SE: He sells quality/beautiful things.

NE: Your car does not have a plate number.

SE: Your car does not have a number/licence plate.

NE: Give me bread two loaves.

SE: Give me two loaves of bread.

Other nativised expressions in Nigerian English are:

NE: I was in the bus when he called me. This expression is used when travelling by bus.

SE: I was on the bus when he called me.

NE: My brother's son is here.

SE: My nephew is here.

NE: He is a watch night.

SE: He is a watchman.

NE: Tammy is my junior brother.

SE: Tammy is my younger brother.

NE: My oga at the top/big oga will sack me if I let you in.

SE: My boss will sack me if I let you in.

NE: We have sent for the medicine man.

SE: We have sent for the herbalist/diviner.

NE: He died on top of her.

SE: He died while making love to her/He died while having sex with her.

NE: Have you experienced Lagos' go-slow?

SE: Have you experienced Lagos' traffic jam?

NE: I get my clothes from a bend down boutique.

SE: I get my clothes from a flea market.

NE: Gone are the days when girls rushed handsome boys.

SE: Gone are the days when girls chase after/woo handsome boys.

The expressions above show that the syntax of Nigerian English does not violate the rules of English; it is only different from the Standard English in terms of structure. And this is because Nigerians transfer the nuances of their local languages to the English language.

The absence of certain English sounds in Nigerian indigenous languages has made it difficult for Nigerian English speakers to correctly pronounce certain English words.  Many Nigerian languages do not have the dental fricatives /θ, ð, z/ and the affricates /tʃ and dʒ/. As a result, the production of these sounds in certain English words becomes a major challenge for Nigerians. For example, thee dental sound /θ/ in ‘truth’, ‘thank’, ‘thrust’ is pronounced /t/ by Nigerians. The affricate /tʃ/ in ‘church’, ‘cheat’ and the palato alveolar fricative /ʒ/ in ‘pleasure’, measure etc. is realized as /ʃ/ by Nigerians.

Nigerians also have a way of shortening almost all long vowels of English. For example, the long /i:/ in ‘seat’ is pronounced /ɪ/, so you hear ‘sit’ instead of ‘seat’. In the same vein, the long vowels in ‘part’, ‘pool’, ‘port’ and ‘bird’ are usually shortened, so you hear ‘pat’, ‘pull’, ‘pot’ and ‘bed’ respectively.

The foregoing validates the claim that Nigerian English exists and is a variety of English used by Nigerians to communicate across sociocultural boundaries. Though it is a variety that is distinct from that of the native speaker, we still try to keep certain rules in order to maintain international communication and intelligibility in cross-cultural communication, without necessarily sounding like a native speaker.

Tamuno Reuben

Those who seek knowledge seek power because the pen is mightier than the sword.


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