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The Evolution of Pidgin To Naija Language

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At the just concluded Naija Symposium, the verdict of the doctorate and professorial community of Pidgin and Creole languages on the future of Naija language, otherwise known as Common Nigerian Pidgin, is that the future is bright, with plans in motion to create the first Encyclopaedic Grammar of Naija.

LEADERSHIP Books & Arts, explores the evolution of the Nigerian Pidgin, the language developed in Nigeria upon the people’s first contact with the colonials, to its present form, Naija language, a new name identifying the evolution of that contact language that has taken a life of its own, sixty years after independence.

Originally known as Nigerian Pidgin, it was a creole and first language spoken in the Niger-Delta area, with larger concentration of its speakers in Warri, Sapele, and the Ajengule district of Lagos. Today, the language has evolved to from a contact language, language created from the meeting of two languages; to an indigenous and a second unofficial language, spoken by a majority of Nigerians regardless of their geographical origin, education and social background.

Its evolution stems from its changing form from a contact to a native one. There are people for whom Naija is language they have spoken from birth, thus nativizing the language. For others it’s a second language, one they use as a means of inter-ethnic communication, as is often the practice when people travel from one part of the country to another, where Naija is often the only means of intelligible conversation.

The evolution is also seen in its ability to function in several domains. This, Ph.D student at the Institute of African Studies, University of Ibadan, UNIbadan, and Junior Researcher and annotator, Naijasyncor Project, Mr. Emeka F. Onwuegbuzia, says only occurs with the elaboration of a language.

Naija language has expanded from the non-formal spoken domains (entertainment – music and comedy) and some formal domains of traditional media (Radio and TV) into newer domains of ICT (internet, social media, and mobile phone services) where predominantly young literate audience speak and write in the language on social media, according to the conference’s report.

Naija has further expanded to be used in political campaigns, religious and commercial activities and in literature (drama, prose, poetry) with several texts such as Bible translation, literature adaptation, written and spoken poetry and advertisements.

Currently, adaptations of William Shakespeare’s works Romeo and Juliet, and Hamlet, into Naija language exist, as Rukewe na Julie, Hamlet for Pidgin by Theatre and linguist scholar, Bernard Ogini. Likewise, the flourishing of pidgin poems chaired by former president of the Association of Nigerian Authors, ANA, and founder of PIN Poetry Contest, Mr. Eriata Eribhabor.

“Naija language has lots of potential,” Onwuegbuzia says. “As the language with which a majority of Nigerians communicate, especially in a multi-ethnic nation as ours, it has the potential of broadening participation in national discourse.”

With the expansion of its use in the traditional media channels and literature comes the challenge and the need for a systematized version that harmonizes all the variations in different ethnicities dialect of Naija.

Onwuegbuzia notes that for the most part, Naija language is homogeneous. “Naija is mutually intelligible. There maybe a few words peculiar to a particular area, or a peculiar way in which a word is pronounced in another area, but a lot is generally the same all over the country.”

He says NaijaSyncor Project supported (and supervised) by the IFRA, investigated the orthography used online to ensure a more systematic language. About 500,000 word corpus (collected writings) provided adequate materials to develop a definite pattern, with some recorded progress.

Notators had to come up with ways to distinguish homonymous words, words that have same pronunciation but different meanings; as well as decisions on how to represent English words that have found their way into Naija, and other indigenous languages that in Naija language.

“Some of the English words that have found its way into Naija include the pronoun ‘they’. ‘They’ is sometimes written as ‘dey’. To make it more systematic, we decided to use ‘de’ as the pronoun, and ‘dey’ as a verb. ‘Come’ functions as both auxiliary and verb, with ‘con’ as auxiliary and ‘come’ as verb.

In spite of challenges such as limitation of the SUD notation technique for Naija language still undergoing evolution, linguists and NaijaSyncor project researchers and sponsors are optimistic of its future as it works towards the creation of an online Encyclopaedic Grammar of Naija, with Dr. Melanie Green of the University of Sussex, as the Editor-in-Chief of the project.

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