It hasn’t always been so.
I learnt how to speak and write proper Queen’s English growing up. I also read a lot. I had a good grasp/understanding of the language. This reflected in every English exam I have ever written. I always had an A. Never a B. And I am not “prouding” here.
(RELAX, shey you understood what I meant by prouding….)
So, for the first 20 + years of my life, I was a grammar snob. My friends and I would snigger at mistakes and even genuine lack of knowledge. I once cancelled a dude that was toasting me because he said
“You did not even cares to check on me”
I refused to learn how to speak pidgin English till I went for my Youth Service and that was the only language people could communicate in apart from their indigenous language.
It had always been ‘beneath’ me. (I wrote that with an English accent and an upturned nose and plenty of priding).
“I think it was from Youth Service that I started having a rethink.
I loved a song we sang in church. It was in Pidgin English.
Oga Jesus, you dey sweety my belle
You do good for me.
You dey make me wonder.
Oga Jesus, you de beless me yanfu yanfu
All for good o
Jesus na waya.”
We had done it as a special song in church and it was a song I led.
I had a thing in those days of giving a little interesting intro before singing.
I asked people how you would say the words to the chorus in proper English.
Nothing delivered it the same way.
This is because to say “You dey sweety my belle” packs a better punch than “You make me very happy.” They mean about the same thing but they are different in the way that bitter leaf soup spiced up with ogiri, yellow pepper and stock cubes would be different from bitter leaf soup without any spices… not even salt.
That is what Nigerian English is to me.
It is an improvement on a cold frosty language.
It is infused with our flavor, our personality, our passion, our essence.
“Do you understand me” cannot compare with “You dey feel me.”
Ok, I know I am kind of mixing both pidgin English and Nigerian English. They are different but the same.
When a Nigerian says “I cannot come and kill myself” we are not talking about suicide. We just mean “I won’t get myself worked up about this.”
When we say “My friend, come and be going.” We are not being friendly at all. We are actually asking someone to piss off.
When we tell you that we trafficated, it simply means we signaled before turning our car into a direction.
These things climb into even our formal conversations so much so that most people do not know that trafficate is not a recognized English word.
I am cool with all this.
After all, the whole point of language is communication. If you understand me then we have successfully communicated.
Now, I will get to the bit that annoys me.
I am super mad about people that dismiss Nigerian English as inferior and are angry when it is used even in casual conversations.
The grammarphobes and snobs.
People that will be quick to point out that there is no such thing as ‘cousin brother’.
If I said “my cousin came over” you would not be able to tell the gender of my cousin.
But if I say “My cousin brother came over” there is more information. You would argue that I could have said “My male cousin came over”. But male cousin is incredibly impersonal. In our extended families, we are all brothers and sisters regardless of the fact that we have different parents. So saying male or male cousin does not portray the level of closeness. Cousin alone is simply inadequate.
Some people would even shun the use of the word ‘cousin’ altogether. They would say something like “Meet my brother, our mothers are sisters.”
If this is not an improvement on the British English I don’t know what is.
And now to the highly controversial use of
“How was your night?”
This was not always used. In fact it is a recent occurrence that is even being used formally.
I understand this is considered offensive to the British people. I once heard of a guy who got slammed with a sexual harassment allegation for asking how a lady’s night was in London. The thing is, the guy is Nigerian and this has become standard greeting here.
It is simply pleasantry and not an enquiry into one’s sexual life. It is like saying ‘good morning’ but people prefer it because it portrays affection/care though still cordially.
I don’t get it when Nigerians get offended and answer “It is none of your business.”
No one is asking you about the little fornication you have got going (camdan, just kidding.).
We just want to know that you are good. So the correct answer to this beautiful piece of Nigerian English is
“We thank God.”
See. That simple.
There is this little argument that it wasn’t always so. That this ‘how was your night’ was not always part of us.
But isn’t language motile?
Thou shalt be reminded of a time that one had no choice but to sayeth things differently.
We now ‘shalt’ no more… unless your pastor is obsessed with the King James Version of the bible.
If there are legitimate things such as Queen’s English and American English, why can’t there be Nigerian English which recognizes how we speak legitimately.
We are not British.
We are Nigerians and we say things differently.
I know I have annoyed a lot of teachers all over the place that are complaining that people used relaxed language and abbreviations in informal social media spaces. People that would use red ink all over your status updates if they could.
On a serious note though, it is ok to learn how to use the English language formally because that is regrettably our lingua franca. But despite the insistence of Nigerian memes, using English in alternative ways is not the same as shooting people with guns.
Una no get issues, my readers. This is because una sabi… get it? You sabi say Sabinews readers too sabi…..