Visiting Nigeria: What You Need to Know About Nigerian Languages

The Voice of America, BBC and the German international broadcast network, Deutsche Welle broadcast in Hausa. Yoruba (west) and Igbo (east) are also main languages in Nigeria. Nigerian English Most Nigerians speak English – or some version of it. Read more...
Nigerian Languages - Nigeria Languages
Nigerian Languages

English is the official language in Nigeria. But there are hundreds of local languages. Hausa is the dominant language in the north. It is also the main language, with some variations, in neighbouring Niger Republic, and is widely spoken in Chad, Cameroon, Benin, Togo, Ghana, etc. The Voice of America, BBC and the German international broadcast network, Deutsche Welle broadcast in Hausa. Yoruba (west) and Igbo (east) are also main languages in Nigeria. Nigerian English Most Nigerians speak English – or some version of it.

The local languages Nigerians speak often thrust themselves on their English speech and grammar – giving birth to both the Nigerian accent and the so-called Nigerian English. The visitor who understands the regional variation in the English phonology is likely to understand the Nigerian speaker more easily. In the Hausa speaking north, the following English sounds emerge differently from the Hausa speaker: The English p sound becomes an f and vice versa, thus: Paul is pronounced Fall Papa becomes Fafa But Perfect is Fer-pect Paul fell down becomes Fall pell down.

Some vowels also sneak between consonants, among Kano people: Speak is pronounced – soopik School becomes soo-kool For some Hausas, Education sounds like edoo-cajin, and Nation sounds like nay-shing, etc The Ibibios in the far east also have significant, and sometimes hilarious, disagreements with English sounds: Because their language does not feature sounds like j, p, l, g, z, they often approximate the sounds thus. Jos becomes yoss Paul becomes ball Goat is coat Left is deft Zoo sounds like Sue. Among the Yorubas, an s sound often becomes a sh; for example, son of the soil is shon of the shoil.

But there are Nigerian pronunciations that transcend the limitations of the individual local languages. Here is how the Nigerian, no matter what part of the country he comes from, is likely to pronounce the following words: Cut – court Hat – heart Girl – gell Sun – sawn Later – lettah National – nationarl Beer – biyah or biye In Nigeria, the stress on several words stray to different syllable. For example the stress or emphasis the words journalism, communism, etc., is not on the first syllable, but on the second. Meanings It is extremely important to know that Nigerians sometimes mean something different when they use a familiar English word or statement.

Here are the meanings Nigerians have given to the following word and expressions: Bogus = big, huge (That bag is too bogus) Hear = smell (Can you hear the smell of flowers?) Rewire (verb in English) = noun, meaning, an auto electrician. (I want the Rewire to fix my headlamp. Note: This usage is common in the Lagos area) Yellow fever= A traffic warden. Toast = court, make propositions to (a girl) Chike (same Toast) Contravene = charge for a traffic offence. Used by police and traffic wardens. (I am contravening you for illegal parking) Roger = gratification!

My friend (pronounced like a question) = you idiot (or used in other contemptible contexts) Parlour = living room Drinking parlour = public bar Many words have an extended meaning in Nigeria. Uncle refers to any man older than you or (if not older) higher than you in status (West) Auntie (same as uncle, but female) Brother – sometimes, brother, cousin, friend, fellow church member… Sister –(same as brother, but female) Common Nigerian words used in Everyday English: Okada – a motorcycle taxi Kabu-kabu – unregistered taxi Suya – beef kebab Maiguard – security guard (mostly for private houses) Murtala – a N20 (twenty Naira) bill – it has the image of dead hero Murtala Mohammed. Area boy – neighbourhood riff-raff. Egunje – a bribe.


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Nigerian Pidgin English Unlike many countries even educated Nigerians communicate in pidgin. It gives them a sense of Nigerianness. Pidgin is a linguistic and social bridge between classes. A grasp of pidgin eases the relationship with drivers, workmen, junior staffers, etc, and shows intimacy among equals and with subordinates. In other words if the chief executive switches to pidgin, he is often expressing a kind of conspiratorial trust.

Because pidgin English is widely used socially and in some official circumstances, it is always useful to learn a few pidgin words. In any case, foreigners who have a smattering of pidgin charm Nigerians and get a better feel of things. Some common pidgin words and expressions are: Oyinbo – White person Well done oh – Hello How now? (Or: How you dey?) – How are you? I dey kampe – I am doing great. Which one you dey? – What’s up? What’s your problem? Etc. Pikin – child Siga – cigarette Machine – motorbike Siddon – sit (down) Wahala – trouble, problem.

Tanda – to stand Komot – go away I don taya – I am tired E-do – It is enough Sabi – know Land – To arrive (E.g: Oga don land = the boss has arrived) I no sabi – I don’t know Gree – agree (e.g I no gree – I don’t agree) Shine – disappear (e.g. Make you shine – flee now) Abi? Or no be so? – Isn’t it? Tiff – thief Ashewo – hooker, prostitute Tokunbo – second-car (also known as Belgium), also a Yoruba first name.

Siga – cigarette (not cigar) Egunje – bribe, gratification (also called Roger) K-Leg – hitch (only in: tori don get K-leg = there has been a hitch) Yeye – Useless, despicable (as in yeye man) J.J.C (= Johnny Just Come) – a newcomer, someone unfamiliar with things, expectations. Be = is, are, am, etc. (She be tiff = she is a thief) Na = it is (na me = It is I) Him = it, she, he. It can mean her, too: John na im friend: John is his/her friend) Na im = (It’s he/she).

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