British English And Nigerian English: Setting A Clear Boundary By Ganiu Abisoye Bamgbose (GAB)

I deem it necessary to do this short essay because many people question my propagation of the British English. Some will even ask me if I do not reckon with the Nigerian English. And I say to them: I do!

The only variety of English available to a Nigerian is Nigerian English. It is our language of communal existence as a people who were unwillingly assembled under a sociopolitical umbrella called Nigeria. Nigerian English has helped capture our worldviews as a people. How would we have explained phenomena such as “go-slow”, “bean cake” (akara), “well done” and many more, if not for the creative affordances of the Nigerian English. Would I also have called my mum’s elder sister my aunt as the standard British English dictates? Thanks to Nigerian English that allows the compound noun “big mummy”. But!

A condition for deviation is a good knowledge of the norm. English is the most geographically dispersed language in the world and in this age of world compression, when you can be in Ibadan and engage in a deep talk with someone in countries far away, it is essential for anyone who desires international connections to have a mastery of the standard usage of the English language which guarantees global intelligibility.

If I post a lesson which, for instance, says “your mum’s elder sister is your aunt and not big mummy”, it is just an attempt to teach what I call English for Global Interaction. If your compatriots can culturally infer that your aunt  is your big mummy, you think people in other worldviews will get that? I doubt.

Now, I must confess and admit that certain standard expressions are culturally unpalatable in countries such as Nigeria where English serves as a second and official language. Some of them are:

1. When you don’t know the sex of a new baby, the standard way to refer to the baby is to use the pronoun ‘it’. Well, even I, a linguist, may not pardon any Nigerian who asks me “How is it?” enquiring about my baby. I would wonder if you’re culturally dumb.

2. When we mean to express sympathy for a bad experience, the standard expression is to say “hard luck” and not “sorry” but please I prefer “sorry” as a Nigerian because “hard luck” sounds like you wish me more harms.

However, as much as there are these culturally obnoxious standard expressions, Nigerian English should also not be an embodiment of errors. Nigerians should know that:

1. Custom is gain and so only a seller (and not a buyer) can have a customer. So don’t tell your son to buy you rice from your customer.

2. A dupe is the person that has been deceived and not the deceiver.

3. Abroad is anywhere outside your country and not just the UK and the US.

4. Local  means to descend from an indigenous population and not to lack in sophistication. So don’t say Saheed Osupa is a local musician; he becomes an international artiste once he gets to Togo and even the big name, R Kelly, is a local artiste there in America.

These misconceptions and more are not Nigerian English but clear errors. And so like I said, anyone who will deviate from the norm must first master it. British English is the mother variety and anyone who will argue for the existence, appropriateness and usage of the Nigerian English must encourage the initial mastery of the British English especially at the levels of grammar and vocabulary.

Keep speaking well!

(c)2017 Ganiu Abisoye Bamgbose (GAB)
University of Ibadan
8/12/2017

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