Nigerian Pidgin

Nigerian Pidgin
Naijá (languej)
Native toNigeria
Native speakers
L1: 4.7 million
L2: 116 million (2020)
English Creole
  • Atlantic
Language codes
ISO 639-3pcm

Nigerian Pidgin, also known as Naija or Naijá in scholarship, is an English-based creole language spoken as a lingua franca across Nigeria. The language is sometimes referred to as Pijin, Brokun 'Ullu' or "Vernacular". It can be spoken as a pidgin, a creole, dialect or a decreolised acrolect by different speakers, who may switch between these forms depending on the social setting. In the 2010s, a common orthography was developed for Pidgin which has been gaining significant popularity in giving the language a harmonized writing system.

Variations of what this article refers to as "Nigerian Pidgin" are also spoken across West and Central Africa, in countries such as Benin, Ghana, and Cameroon.


Nigerian Pidgin is commonly used throughout the country, but it has not been granted official status. Pidgin breaks the communication barrier between different ethnic groups and it is widely spoken throughout Nigeria.

In 2011, Google launched a search interface in Pidgin. In 2017, BBC started BBC News Pidgin to provide services in Pidgin.


Many of the 250 or more ethnic groups in Nigeria can converse in the language, though many speakers will utilize words from their native tongues. For example:

  • Yorùbá ṣebi (pronounced 'sheh-be') is often used at the start or end of an intonated sentence or question: "You are coming, right?" becomes Ṣebi you dey come?[citation needed]
  • Yorùbá abi (another variant of the words ṣebi and ba)
  • Igbo unu, equivalent to the English term "you people", has been adopted as una. For example, Una dey mad in Nigerian Pidgin means "You people are crazy." Unu has also found its way to Jamaican patois and Sranantongo (Surinamese Creole) with the same meaning as in Nigerian Pidgin.
  • Igbo biko, meaning "please." For example, the sentence Biko free me means "Please leave me alone".
  • Igbo oga equivalent to the English term "my boss or my mentor", has been adopted from the Igbo word ogaranya
  • Hausa ba at the end of an intonated sentence or question: you no wan come, ba? means "You don't want to come, right?"

Nigerian Pidgin also varies from place to place. Dialects of Nigerian Pidgin may include the Sapele-Warri-Ughelli dialect that has majorly influenced large parts of Nigeria, Benin City dialect that has its influence from Bini language, Port Harcourt dialect that has elements of the mixed tribes in Rivers State, Lagos (particularly in Ajegunle influenced by sizeable Niger Deltan populace); and Onitsha varieties that draws influence from Igbo language.

Nigerian Pidgin is most widely spoken in the oil state Niger Delta where most of its population speak it as their first language. There are accounts of pidgin being spoken first in colonial Nigeria before being adopted by other countries along the West African coast.

While pidgin is spoken by many, there are wide swathes of Nigeria where pidgin is not spoken or understood, especially among those without secular education in core northern parts — Gombe State, Yobe State — of Nigeria.[citation needed]

Relationship to other languages and dialects

Similarity to Caribbean Creoles

Nigerian Pidgin, along with the various pidgin and creole languages of West Africa, share similarities to the various English-based Creoles found in the Caribbean. Linguists[who?] posit that this is because most of the enslaved that were taken to the New World were of West African descent. The pronunciation and accents often differ a great deal, mainly due to the extremely heterogeneous mix of African languages present in the West Indies, but if written on paper or spoken slowly, the creole languages of the Caribbean are for the most part mutually intelligible with the creole languages of West Africa. The presence of repetitive phrases in Caribbean Creole such as su-su (gossip) and pyaa-pyaa (sickly) mirror the presence of such phrases in West African languages such as bam-bam, which means "complete" in the Yoruba language. Repetitious phrases are also present in Nigerian Pidgin, such as koro-koro meaning "clear vision", yama-yama meaning "disgusting", and doti-doti meaning "garbage".

Furthermore, the use of words of West African origin in Surinamese Creole (Sranan Tongo) and Jamaican Patois, such as unu and Bajan dialect wunna or una – West African Pidgin (meaning "you people", a word that comes from the Igbo word unu or unuwa also meaning "you people"), display some of the interesting similarities between the English pidgins and creoles of West Africa and the English pidgins and creoles of the The Caribbean, as does the presence of words and phrases that are identical in the languages on both sides of the Atlantic, such as Me a go tell dem (I'm going to tell them) and make we (let us).

A copula deh or dey is found in both Caribbean Creole and Nigerian Pidgin English. The phrase We dey foh London would be understood by both a speaker of Creole and a speaker of Nigerian Pidgin to mean "We are in London" (although the Jamaican is more likely to say Wi de a London and the Surinamese way is Wi de na London.) The word originates from the Igbo word di meaning the same thing and pronounced similarly[citation needed]: anu di na ofe (literally "meat is in pot") and anyi di na london (lit. "we are in London"). Other similarities, such as pikin (Nigerian Pidgin for "child") and pikney (used in islands like St.Vincent, Antigua and St. Kitts, akin to the standard-English pejorative/epithet pickaninny) and chook (Nigerian Pidgin for "poke" or "stab") which corresponds with the Trinidadian creole word juk, and also corresponds to chook used in other West Indian islands.

Connection to Portuguese language

Being derived partly from the present day Edo/Delta area of Nigeria, there are still some words left over from the Portuguese language in pidgin English (Portuguese ships traded slaves from the Bight of Benin). For example, you sabi do am? means "do you know how to do it?". Sabi means "to know" or "to know how to", just as "to know" is saber in Portuguese. (According to the monogenetic theory of pidgins, sabir was a basic word in Mediterranean Lingua Franca, brought to West Africa through Portuguese pidgin. An English cognate is savvy.) Also, pikin or "pickaninny" comes from the Portuguese words pequeno and pequenino, which mean "small" and "small child" respectively.

Nigerian English

Similar to the Caribbean Creole situation, Nigerian Pidgin is mostly used in informal conversations. Nigerian Pidgin has no status as an official language. Nigerian English is used in politics, education, science, and media. In Nigeria, English is acquired through formal education. As English has been in contact with multiple different languages in Nigeria, Nigerian English has become much more prominent, and it is often referred to as a group of different sub-varieties. Although there is not a formal description of Nigerian English, scholars agree that Nigerian English is a recognizable and unique variety of English.


Nigerian Pidgin, like many pidgins and creoles, has a simpler phonology than the superstrate language. It has 23 consonants, 7 vowels, and 2 tones.


Labial Alveolar Post-
Palatal Velar Labial-velar Glottal
Nasal m n ŋ
Plosive p b t d k ɡ kp ɡb
Tap r
Fricative f v s z ʃ h
Approximant l j w


Front Back
Close i u
High-mid e o
Low-mid ɛ ɔ
Open a


Nigerian Pidgin has been described as a tonal language, having a high tone and a low tone. The high tone can be written with an acute accent, and the low tone, though typically left unmarked, can be written with a grave accent. Additionally, monosyllabic high-tone words shift into a high falling tone before a pause.

Pidgin Word
(tones fully marked)
Tone pattern English Meaning
/bàbá/ LH father
/bábà/ HL Roman Catholic priest
/fádá/ HH father
/fàdá/ LH Roman Catholic 'father'
/sìsí/ LH young maid
/sísì/ HL sixpence (5 kobo)

However, this has been contested by subsequent linguists, due to variance in pitch intonation on lexemes, especially for questions. One rival suggestion is that Nigerian Pidgin "is something of a pitch-accent language in which, given a word there may be only one high tone, or one sequence thereof in opposition to one low sequence"; downdrift is attested in the intonational system.

Most written texts in Nigerian Pidgin do not show any tonal markings, and do not reflect any lexical pitch differences.

See also

This page was last updated at 2024-04-19 18:11 UTC. Update now. View original page.

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