Sep 29, 2019

BBC Pidgin and the Beauty of Pidgin English

By next month (October, 2019), BBC English will be celebrating its second-year anniversary.

As it celebrates this milestone, we consider it a critical stage when there should be stock taking, looking at the ts we failed to cross and the is we failed to dot. One thing that radio stations do, aside news, teaching and fun, is that they help hone the language fluency of their audience. BBC Hausa helped my Hausa language progress, exponentially. BBC English also helped to sharpen my English. My expectation, when BBC Pidgin was founded in October 2018, was that my Pidgin English would improve. Sadly, it is the first time I had reason to criticize the language of an international radio station.

A language, when spoken in many countries, must definitely have local variations. If an international radio station must transmit to a large population in a spectrum of countries, it must avoid the use of these peculiarities. Such words are colloquial and would not be in any dictionary from which one can find its meaning. So, it only stirs a muddle. There is no accepted dictionary for Pidgin English yet, but careful judgment should guide one to use words whose meaning he is sure would be understood in another locality other than his. I have seen BBC pidgin using the word, kerewa, to refer to sex. I think that it is hasty. That word, even in Nigeria, where it originates, hasn’t found a home in the hearts of Pidgin English speakers yet. One often sees other cases of such words in the text of BBC Pidgin. This is one of the areas where, I think, the BBC Pidgin deserves a red card.

The second issue borders on spellings. Pidgin English in Africa is a mix of English and African words. Everyone’s expectation would be that when an English word is used, it should retain its original spelling. In cases where an African word is used, the African spelling should also be retained. But what I have observed with BBC Pidgin is that there is an effort to create new spellings for English words. It is like trying to avoid a practice the language has naturally created for itself. “Pipo” instead of “people”, for instance.  “Gud” instead of “good.” I see this as a step backward. Something that would create confusion, since the spellings used to replace the English spellings are not in any dictionary.

What I have noticed about Nigerians is that each time a stranger shows interest in Pidgin English, they try to impress him, and, in so doing, end up overdoing things, distorting and contorting the language so that it loses its attraction. In the end, the stranger is not impressed. I have noticed this with BBC Pidgin as well.

I know that the BBC Pidgin is new and, like an infant, will grow with time. What we are writing here is an effort to be part of the process of shaping the future of BBC Pidgin. The language is ours, and we have a duty to nurture and preserve it. I hope that this would be understood.  

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