History of Nigerian Pidgin English

Lagos, Nigeria

The origin of Nigerian Pidgin English (NPE) lies historically as a lingua franca for trade purposes amongst Nigerians, the British and Portuguese merchants during the seventeenth century.

According to Linda Nwocha Okeh; she wrote that during the European’s quest for new markets and raw materials in the seventeenth century, many Portuguese missionaries and traders arrived on the shores of Jamaica and West and Central African countries like Sierra Leone, Cameroon and Nigeria, these countries were largely visited by the missionaries for trade and religious purposes with no language in common, they created a form of communication with bases from the European language given birth to most African languages such as Creole, Pidgin and Patios. 

Nigerian Pidgin English (NPE) is broken English spoken along the coast of West Africa and it has extended to the diaspora due to Nigerian migrants. Nigerian Pidgin English (NPE) is sometimes referred to as ‘pijin’ or ‘broken’. It can be spoken as pidgin, a creole, slang or decreolised acrolect by different speakers who may switch between these forms depending on the social setting.

The use of Nigerian Pidgin English (NPE) varies among Nigerians mainly in the use of words. For example, the Yorubas use the word ‘sebi’ and ‘abi’ when speaking pidgin. They are often used at the start or end of an intonated sentence or question: ‘ you are coming right?’ becomes ‘shey you dey come abi?’. Another example is the Igbos adding the word ‘nna’ also used at the beginning of some sentences to show camaraderie: for example, ‘Man, that test was very hard’ becomes ‘Nna men, that test hard no be small’.

Another example is Hausa who adds the word ‘Ba’ at the end of an intonated sentence or question. For example, ‘you no wan come ba?’ which translates to ‘you don’t want to come right?’. 

The Nigerian Pidgin English (NPE) used to be perceived to be for the non-educated people and seen as very low graded. But as it began to gather momentum, the language became an inextricable part of the society which the political class and professionals now use to communicate with the electorates, patients and clients for better cohesion and understanding of each other, and because it is not particularly or completely attached to any ethnic group makes it a very good candidate as an unofficial lingua franca among Nigerians.

According to Francesco Goglia who is an internationally acclaimed researcher and lecturer, offered his input on the Nigerian Pidgin English (NPE): nowadays the use of Nigerian Pidgin English is more widespread even among educated people and elites. It is perceived as more “Nigerian” than English. Indeed, using Nigeria Pidgin English is increasingly popular among young people, many writers, and musicians.

Nigerian Pidgin English is mostly spoken in the oil-rich Niger Delta where most of its population speak it as their first language.

While pidgin is spoken by many, there are wide swatches of Nigerians where pidgin is not spoken or understood, especially among those without secular education in core northern parts of Nigeria.


ThankGod E. Airiohuodion


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