Photo has been used for illustrative purposes.
Saratu Abubakar, Staff Reporter
Language is the key element of culture, beyond a tool for communication, it also serves as a tool of identification. Across the globe, English serves as a universal language. Either as an official language after colonisation or as a language of business, in every country there are English speakers.
Across location and culture, different variations of this universal language are used for communication. When culture was defined as a way of life, it wasn’t just about the way we act but also the languages we speak. Across more than 500 indigenous languages, one of the many things that unites the people of Nigeria irrespective of their ethnic groups is the official language. English as the official language of Nigerians is the reason why Uduak from Awka Ibom can communicate fluently with Oche from Benue state.
The intertwining of Nigerian cultures, English and ethnic languages led to the creation of what is referred to as Nigerian English. This is a variation of English where words specific to the Nigerian environment have been culled. From marketplaces to gatherings of political leaders those words are found in the vocabularies of over 190 million people. In 2020, the Oxford English Dictionary included 29 Nigerian English words in the dictionary.
According to Kingsley Ugwuanyi, sociolinguist at Northumbria University, “Nigerians, like many other speakers of English around the world, can/do exercise ownership of English.”
On the path of the Oxford English Dictionary, telling a complete story of the English language is very important, thereby the decision to add those words, he added.
The words added include: gist, which means to idle chat or gossip; ember months, which means the last four months of the Gregorian calendar; mama put, who is a vendor that sells street food and severally, which means on several occasions.
Ugwuanyi, who served as a Nigerian consultant to the Oxford English Dictionary team, said, “Each Word English variety is a living, changing variety with its own distinct vocabulary, which encompasses all sorts of lexical innovations, from borrowings from local languages to new abbreviations, blends, and compounds. They give a flavour of what its speakers have contributed to the development of the English language.”
Nigerian music, books, art and films have been transported to different parts of the world, leaving the bulk of consumers of those content familiar with Nigerian English words.
Therefore, the inclusion of those words in the Oxford English Dictionary didn’t seem far-fetched.
“The OED is committed to making space for words that may not have international diffusion, but do reflect the unique culture and experience of a specific community,” said Ugwuanyi.
He added that with the way the world is connected and contents are easily transported, a word can be born in an African country and be spoken on the streets of Europe.
Among a lot of Nigerian English words, the Oxford English Dictionary team choose to include 29 words in the dictionary.
According to Ugwuanyi, the words were selected based on the Oxford English Dictionary criteria. The words added have either been used frequently for a long time in the place culled, or they are relatively young but have had a huge social impact.
Looking forward to the future, “we should expect more, not just from Nigeria but from other English-speaking countries,” he added.
For writers, the inclusion of the Nigerian English words in the Oxford English Dictionary is liberating. It is like breaking off one of the chains that shackles their creativity.
“As an upcoming writer, more than anything adding Nigerian words to the dictionary has reduced my apprehension when writing. I no longer have to hold back when telling stories, because I know that my international readers can always look up some Nigerian English words in the dictionary,” said a writer.
Nigerian English is not just another variation of English, it is a language that carries the weight of Nigerian experience, it helps writers maintain the cultural colour of the context they are writing.
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