I’ll admit. Whenever a foreigner spews a few words of Yòrubá to me, regardless of delivery quality, I instantly warm up, throwing them a cheesy grin of approval. This gesture shows they’ve made an effort to learn my tribal tongue, one of 521 estimated Nigerian languages they could have chosen from.
If they open up with Pidgin English instead, I instantly perk up. Speaking Pidgin transforms them from visiting foreigner into one of hundreds of well integrated expatriates in Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial capital. There’s a certain intimacy that this form of broken English emits; a down-to-earth, survivalist approach to everyday living and hustling in Africa’s most populous nation.
Pidgin English is extremely popular in most parts of Africa, particularly West Africa, and has been accepted as the de-facto language of blue collar trade and merchants. Pidgin remains the “great” equalizer – a way of communicating on a base level that cuts through bullshit.
With roughly 250 tribes speaking 521 languages and dialects, English is the country’s official business language.
For citizens without easy access to higher education and white collar jobs, picking up a few words of English and mixing it with elements of their native tongues has been the default way of communicating across tribal cultures.
Variations of Pidgin English can be found all over the world, from the Caribbean to China, and each comes with its own library of everyday words.
As you travel across West Africa, the style of Pidgin spoken becomes more familiar, but still differs based on local language elements infused into it.
Even if you don’t find yourself traveling to Nigeria in the distant future, try one of these phrases on one of your Nigerian friends, and fully bask in their glowing response.
How Bodi? / How You Dey? – How are you doing today?
How Far? – Hey, Hi
Wetin? – What?
I no no – I don’t know
I no sabi – I don’t understand
I dey fine – I’m fine. I’m doing well.
Wetin dey happen? – What’s going on? What’s happening?
Wahala – Problem/Trouble. Example – Why you dey give me wahala? Which means why are you giving me so many problems?
Comot! – Get out of here!
Comot for road – Make way
Dem send you? – Have you been sent to torment me?
Gi mi – Give it to me.
K-leg – Questionable. Example – Your story get k-leg! Which means your story or gist sounds suspect or exaggerated.
I Wan Chop – I want to eat
Come chop – Come and eat
Abeg – Please, but usually not a repentant plea. Example – Abeg! No waste my time!; Which means Please! Don’t waste my time!
Vex – Upset. Example – Make you no vex me! ; Which means “Don’t upset me!”
I no gree – I don’t agree, I disagree
Abi? – Isn’t it?
Na so? – Is that so?
Wayo – Trickery. Example – That man be wayo; which means “that man is a fraud!”
Area boys -Street-smart young men that loiter around neighborhoods.
Butta my bread – Answered prayers. Example – “God don butta my bread” which means God has answered my prayers
Go slow – Traffic jam
I go land you slap – I will slap you!
Listen well well – Pay attention
For a complete library of Nigerian Pidgin English, check out the links below:
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Lola (Akinmade) Åkerström
Lola (Akinmade) Åkerström is a MatadorU faculty member and Network contributor. Her work has appeared in National Geographic Traveler, Vogue, BBC, Fodors.com, and many more. Follow her photoblog at Sweden.se.
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