Nigerian English

Nigerian English, also known as Nigerian Standard English, is a dialect of English spoken in Nigeria.[1] It is based on British English; but in recent years, it has been influenced by American English from the United States of America. Additionally, loanwords and collocations have emerged from the native languages of Nigeria, which come from the need to express concepts specific to the culture of the nation (e.g. senior wife).[2]

Nigerian Pidgin, a pidgin derived from English, is mostly used in informal conversations, but the Nigerian Standard English is used in politics, formal education, the media, and other official uses.

Sociocultural implications of Nigerian English usage

Nigerian English is a nativized form of English. Like South African English, its nativization and development as a New World English corresponds roughly with the period of colonization and post-colonization by Britain.[3] Nigerian English became a nativized language that functions uniquely within its own cultural context.[4]

Nigerian English has long been a controversial idea, in that the idea of a "Standard Nigerian English" (SNE) is difficult to establish,[5] considering the fossilization that has occurred in the formal instruction of English in many regions of Nigeria, due largely to a variety of factors including "interference, lack of facilities, and crowded classrooms."[6] Due to the contact between British Standard English and Nigerian English, which have two very different sets of grammatical, pronunciation, and spelling rules, there has arisen a predominant occurrence of "faulty analogy" (the assumption that because one grammatical feature resembles another in usage, the rules applying to the former also apply to the latter) in what Okoro refers to as "substandard" varieties of Nigerian English.[6]

However, there are a few features that have united across NE communities that bridge the differences between different varieties even within NE, all pertaining to cultural values that are expressed uniquely in English terms. Two prevalent examples are "sorry" and "sir."[4] The literal meaning of sorry usually indicates some sort of responsibility on the part of the person saying it; however, for all of the varieties of NE, it is used to express sympathy in a unique way, or to show empathy to whoever has experienced misfortune. "Sir," or the replacement of names with titles, indicates respect and a high value for politeness. The tacking on of "sir" to another title (i.e. "Professor sir")[4] illustrates a greater level of prestige than normal, or an instance of being more polite than the norm.

Though the exact levels of Nigerian English usage are contested, one suggestion indicates there are 4 levels of usage within this nativized (but not indigenous) English:[7]

  • Level 1: Pidgin, spoken as the casual language
  • Level 2: A step above, and the most spoken. Spoken by those with elementary education[7]
  • Level 3: Marked by more expansive lexicon, fluency, and using features of Level 1 speakers are "avoided," spoken by those with "secondary education"[7]
  • Level 4: Proposed as the NSE as its features are very similar (but still characteristically Nigerian) "to Standard English," spoken by those with a college education[7]

These levels are only one proposed differentiation of the pragmatic realizations of Nigerian English. Because of the nature of its presence in Nigeria, English has been a point of contention among Nigerian residents who strive for a more nativisitic lifestyle (i.e. returning to the predominant speech of indigenous languages of the country).[8] However, due to the nature of English's introduction and role in exerting the values of colonization on a post-colonial Nigeria, some would call English inseparable from the nature of language in the region.

Lexico-semantic innovations

There are three basic subsets of innovations that have occurred as a result of the nativization of English in Nigeria:[9] "loanwords, coinages, and semantic shifts."


A loanword is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as "a word adopted from a foreign language with little or no modification." Nigerian English has a plethora of loanwords that have no direct English equivalents, but have rooted themselves into the dialect and have a unique meaning.[10] The examples below of prominent Nigerian English loanwords are provided by Grace Ebunlola (quoting them):[10]

  • agbada: a kind of flowing dress for men, especially among the Yoruba: ‘Chief Ogini wore agbada to the wedding ceremony.’
  • babanriga: a kind of long, loose dress for men, especially among the Hausas: ‘I really like your babanriga.’
  • akara: an item of food, also referred to as ‘bean cake’
  • akamu pap: a kind of corn porridge: ‘This morning I ate akara and akamu.’
  • akpu, banga, eba, egusi, ogbono, tuwo: ‘soup’ (in various Nigerian languages), as in: ‘Anytime I eat eba I have stomach upset’; ‘Can I eat some tuwo rice?’; ‘I don’t like the smell of akpu’; ‘I will like to eat ogbono soup mixed with egusi.’
  • danfo, okada: a mode of transportation: ‘You either go by danfo or you take an okada.’
  • adakaji, oba: chieftaincy titles, as in: ‘The Adakaji II was at the coronation of the oba of Lagos.’


Coinages, though similar to loanwords, function as a sort of colloquialism that is spoken in English but has a unique cultural meaning. These are also especially prolific in Nigerian English.[11] Compared to loanwords, coinages typically have a short lifespan and are adopted for unique cultural purposes of the present, and as such, die out quickly after their acquisition.[11]

Examples are provided by Abdullahi-Idiagbon and Olaniyi:[12]

  • Long-leg
  • Free and fair
  • Come of age
  • Carpet crossing
  • No-go area
  • Man of timber and caliber
  • Money bag
  • Political juggernaut/Heavyweight
  • Political bride
  • Accord Concordia
  • Bottom power

Coinages are not the same as acronyms, though Nigerian English also has unique acronyms.

Acronyms serve a variety of functions, and follow the same rules as Standard English acronyms: the first letters are taken from each word in a phrase (especially titles of office, agencies of the government, etc.).

Semantic shifts

The study of semantics is, overall, a general study of the meaning of words.

A common example of semantic shift is in the reappropriation of the meaning of English words for Nigerian purposes and uses. This can cause the original English meanings to be "shifted, restricted, or extended."[13]

For example, in some areas, though the international meaning of trek has a connotation of long distance or difficult journey, the Nigerian use is to "walk a short distance."[13]

A particularly expansive example of semantics in NE is the use of a variety of greetings. This stretching of meaning can not only change the meaning of the English phrase, but also represent something from Nigerian culture: for example, the saying "goodnight, ma" can be said regardless of time of day, and functions simply as an assumption that the person in question will not be seen until the next day.[4] This has especially been noticed in Yoruba culture.[4]

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português: Inglês nigeriano