Should Pidgin English Be Taught In Our Schools?


Many things are being simplified in a bid to make life easier. The forms and structures of the English language have changed from what we used to know, even the spelling of hitherto complex words has been made simple. For some time, many people have been advocating the adoption of Pidgin English as the country’s lingua franca and its use as a medium of instruction and learning in our schools. Kuni Tyessi, in this peice, examines the issue.


The Merriam Webster dictionary defines pidgin as a “language that is formed from a mixture of several languages when speakers of different languages need to talk to each other.”

Another definition says “it is a simplified speech used for communication between people with different languages”. It was first used in 1876 in parts of east Africa, particularly with the Chinese who made use of it in order to promote their businesses. There is a Nigerian version which is believed to have originated from Benin of which many refer to as ‘street language’.

From its beginning, pidgin English has developed so much that it has become the dominant language in several communities across the country, particularly in the southern part of the country. Expectedly, there have been arguments for its formalization to ease communication difficulty among the over 400 ethnic groups of the country. Its promoters point to the need to make it a melting point for all the languages in the country as none of the three major languages, Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba can be accepted as the lingua franca for obvious reason.

The executive director of Youth Education Empowerment Initiative (YEEI) an educational non governmental organization, Christopher Edewor is a vocal supporter of the formalization of pidgin. He argued “pidgin can be used to complement English and the introduction will help most of our pupils and students especially in the north. It will help to break down school work. If you go to most government offices, you will discover that most of the workers cannot speak properly and yet are graduates. So it is a welcome idea as long as messages can be passed accross and understood properly.”

Asked to comment on the adoption of pidgin as a medium of instruction in schools, Ladidi Maidodo, a television producer said it would be limiting in scope. “It means we cannot upgrade to second world country”, he said.

For Binta Abdullahi, a civil servant, it is “no please. Pidgin should not be introduced. We have not finished learning proper English to start this one, which one is pidgin?”

Research has shown that several countries of the world have more than one lingua franca that are are applied to unite the people. The advocates of pidgin say it would help students in understanding their class work and ultimately in passing exams.

A stakeholder and politician, John Dara is of a contrary view. He said “the controversy of the importance of language in education will always be with us. Learning process will be better if taught in mother tongue but the problem is that of standardization. Lingua franca as a unifying force must not necessarily be taught in all of the geographical regions as each region can adopt the most commonly spoken language to teach. For example, Hausa is mostly spoken in the north even though there are other languages. So it can be adopted and the same goes for the other regions.”

Dara disagreed that our adoption of the English language as a lingua franca meant political subjugation and placed a limitation on our indigenous languages.

“I do not agree that it limits our ability to learn or affects our national identity. America was colonized by the British and yet it has grown stronger than Britain.

“Our problem of unfulfilled destiny is not in our ability not to have pidgin as lingua franca but leadership failure. Pidgin is not indigenous. It is colloquial English spoken by slave returnees and is a carryover of slave mentality and has a smack for mediocrity. So, language is not a magic wand to solving problems but good policy,” Drara further pointed out.

The executive director of Pyramid of Excellence Schools, Amb. Mrs Uzoma Ihedirimadu Abudu also disagrees with the formalization of pidgin on the basis that it is an ‘uncivilized’ way of communication which cannot help Nigerians especially in the global setting.

“English remains the best means of communication with our students in school. It is a language of prestige and of the elite. Nigerians will always communicate with others from other countries and English will be the means of communication. What role will pidgin have to play with that?

“Rather than formalizing pidgin, our indigenous languages should be encouraged and used in schools at the geographical level. We have done so much harm to the educational system already and there’s no need doing more harm with the introduction of pidgin. Besides we don’t even have a pidgin dictionary where students can run to in order to check out the meanings of words,” she contended.

It needs be mentioned that the first novel written in pidgin was published in 1985 with the title ‘Soza Boy’ by the late Ogoni human rights activist, Ken Saro-Wiwa. The ‘Palmwine Drinkard’ which was published before independence was written in English which literary analysts have described as broken English, a form of pidgin or rotten English as Wiwa referred to it.

The argument continues and it is yet to be seen which side carries the day at the end.

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