The Nigerian Pidgin language is one of Nigeria’s most widely spoken languages, with about 40 million people speaking it as a first language and over 60 million as a second language. Pidgin in Nigeria is well accepted among people of different classes, ages, and ethnicities. It is often used as a language to bridge the gap that other Nigerian languages may come with. Pidgin is used in many day-to-day activities in Nigeria, including an exchange in the marketplace, places of worship, music, and media, among others.
Generally, pidgin is a language made up of lexicons and other features from more than one language. Typically with easy grammar and a reduced vocabulary than the languages from which it is derived and used among people who do not share a common language (i.e., lingua franca) for communication. Also, Pidgin English speakers maintain their own languages for conversation purposes within their own people. This is no exception in Nigeria.
How Nigerian Pidgin Language Originated
The Nigerian pidgin started during the pre-colonial era in the 17th century. The language was developed to foster communication between British slave traders and the locals. Following the colonial area, it became more dominant between the British and their indigenous staff, and at the turn of independence, the language continued to grow. Alternating from a reference to the uneducated and rather used as a show of national identity.
The Nigerian pidgin, like any other pidgin, borrows words and language structure of indigenous languages. For example, I wan chop (I want to eat). Many Nigerian languages describe eating in the same manner as chopping (cutting into pieces). Also, many Nigerian languages omit the preposition ‘to.’ This influences an instance such as I wan go market (I want to go to the market).
In the history of Nigerian pidgin, words were borrowed from many indigenous languages. For instance, Walahi (sincerely – Hausa), obodo oyibo (white man’s land – Igbo), Koro (short cut, dark alley, or dirt road – Isoko), Una (plural of you (from unu) – Igbo), and Abi (Right – Yoruba). Similarly, many Nigerian languages have reduplication, which has been infused into the pidgin language. For instance, di food burn well well (The food really got burnt), I fit die now now (I can die immediately), di money don finish kia-kia (The money has finished quickly-quickly).
In recent times, Pidgin English usage among the youths has boosted the vocabulary content, and it is widely spread through pop culture, music, comedy skits, and movies, among others. The new generation slangs in Nigeria have opened the Nigeran Pidgin to numerous short trending phrases and expressions that bear little importance to the wider population but can form the entire basis of a conversation among young Nigerians.
The advancement in urbanization and national integration has fostered the spread of the Pidgin English language beyond the local/rural communities, into big cities, and even outside the country. As a nation composed of over 500 different languages, Pidgin English gives a means of understanding among the country’s people. Therefore, on a broad view, it is spoken in all geopolitical zones with documented statistics showing a higher use in the oil-rich South-South regions such as Warri and Sapele. Also, it is common among Eastern trading regions, including Onitsha, Aba, Umuahia, and notably in use in Port Harcourt, Lagos, and Benin City.
The Nigerian pidgin has a huge acceptance in Nigeria and other countries outside of the country. Due to this, many words that originate from the Nigerian pidgin have found their way into the Oxford English Dictionary. Some of these words include sef (used to emphasize a preceding statement), chop-chop (one who eats a lot, embezzles, or mishandles), and gist (chat/gossip), among others.
Nigerian Pidgin Phrases Every Beginner Should Know
1. How You Dey?/ How Body?
This translates to how are you in English.
Appropriate responses would be either of the following:
- I dey fine
- I full ground/I gallant
- I dey kampe
- Body dey inside cloth (lit. means I’m still wearing clothes but translates to I am fine)
The responses mean I am fine, or I am very fine.
2. How Far?
This does not directly mean asking a question to know the distance of a place as in standard English language but has a wide range of meanings that include:
- How are you?
- How is your day going?
- What’s the progress?
- Shall we?
- What’s the update?
3. You too much
This translates to
- you have done well
- good job
- you are kind
- thank you
4. Ah beg/Abeg
This translates to ‘please’ or asking for a request in standard English. For example, one can say Abeg no try me (please don’t test my patience).
Also, abeg could be used to show disbelief in something or someone. For example, when transacting and feel the price of the commodity is high. You can say abeg!
In some instances, it can be used by someone to exonerate himself. An example is where someone accuses you of picking or probably spoiling their belonging. You can exclaim abeg! to show that you didn’t do it or you’re disgusted.
Other variants include:
- Haba na (please)
- I take God beg you (I beg you in God’s name)
- No vex
- Jor (joor): originally a Yoruba word that means ‘please.’ In Nigerian pidgin language, it is mostly not used independently but often used as part of a phrase or sentence to emphasize something or make a request. Example: Free me jor (Please, leave me alone). Comot for here jor (Please, leave this place). The speaker’s tone is essential whenever jor is used in a statement. Although it directly means please, it may also serve as a warning when the tone changes from a rather friendly one to a more stern manner. However, it is mostly seen as rude.
This originated from the Igbo language, and in the Nigerian pidgin language, it is used in terms of confirmation. I.e., it means exactly or precisely.
One can decide to add the suffix -solutely as in English absolutely to become Gbamsolutely.
Example: Speaker – Dis country dey go jaga-jaga (This country is heading towards disorderliness or confusion). Respondent – Gbam or gbamsolutely (exactly).
5. No wahala/Notin Spoil or No yawa
This is the pidgin that is used when confirming or approving something. Although individually No shows negativity and wahala is originally an Arabic word borrowed by Hausa and Yoruba languages to mean trouble/problem, together, no wahala means yes, or no problem.
6. Go Slow
If you happen to be in Nigeria, this is one phrase that will occur every now and then. It means traffic jam.
7. I dey hungry/I dey H or I wan chop
All of these show that the speaker is hungry and would want to eat. Other ways to say you are hungry include:
- Hunger dey do me
- Hunger wan tear my belle (in extreme hunger)
- Hunger go kill me
- I wan die of hunger
8. Na so/Na so?
This means ‘It is so’/’Is it so?’ or ‘I concur or agree/is that so? Na so can directly translate to ‘yes.’
The negation of Na so or no be so? is as follows:
- No be so (it isn’t so)
- I no gree (I disagree)
- ehn-ehn (no)
For instance, you could ask: ‘Na so dem dey marry for una area, abi? It means: ‘This is how wedding rites are performed in your place, right?’
9. Na lie!
This is often used to show that what someone says is a lie or a big surprise when you hear something stunning. The facial expression and accompanying hand gestures differentiate both scenarios.
A similar expression here is No be lie! which translates to show agreement, concur with what another person is telling you, or express a mutual opinion.
10. Notin Spoil
This means ‘all is well.’
An example is when someone steps on your toe and apologizes and probably offers to clean your shows. You may say no wahala (don’t worry or there’s no problem) or notin spoil (all is well, there’s no ruin).
11. I no get
This translates to many things in English that include:
- I don’t have
- I don’t understand
- I have nothing to say to you
- I have no words
For instance: someone asks you if you have money to lend him, you can reply with I no get (I don’t have).
Another scenario is when someone tells you something you have no clue about or find it difficult to understand, you can say I no get/I no dey follow or I no understand (I don’t understand).
12. E Shock me, or I shock
‘I was amazed’ or ‘I am so surprised.’
For example, when explaining to someone how someone came to your rescue when you felt you were doomed, you could add e shock me or e shock me oo. E.g., E shock me se Bola kuku dash me 2k when I bin no get any money (it amazed me as Bola suddenly gifted me 2 thousand when I had no money). Another example is: I shock as I see him nee down to propose (I was shocked when he knelt down to propose).
13. Leave dat tin or Leave am
In conversation, this is used to change an unwanted line of discussion. It can also be used to warn you to stay off something. Most times, speakers use oo at the end of the phrase to show emphasis.
Example: Leave dat tin (leave that thing/stop it or enough!) or Leave dat thing oo (you should really leave that thing).
Leave am can also be used to mean that one should stay off something. However, the difference between leave dat tin and leave am is that the former cannot be used on living things while the latter can be used for things and beings alike.
Example: Leave am there (leave him there or leave that thing there). Leave that tin there can only be directed at things such as conversations or objects.
14. Na wa
This phrase is used when expressing displeasure at someone’s actions or when surprised—for instance, Na wa for you oo (you really surprise me). Most times, however, speakers prefer to use na wa oo instead of na wa.
15. I Sabi
‘I know’ or ‘I understand.’
Example: I sabi wetin you dey yan (I understand what you’re saying).
When you don’t know or understand something, no will be added before the sabi. For example, I no sabi the road (I don’t know the way, or I can’t find my way).
16. Wetin dey?
Standing alone, wetin means ‘what’ while ‘dey’ is the verb to be. Together in Nigerian pidgin, the phrase means ‘What is it?’
Example: Wetin dey happen (what is happening or what’s going on?). Wetin dey your mind? (What’s on your mind?) Wetin dey your body? (What’s on your body (lit) What are you wearing?)
17. E don do
It means “that’s enough” or “it’s alright.”
Example: E don do abeg (That’s enough, please).
It can also be used by a speaker to show that something is done. Example: Di food don cook finish (is the food ready)? One can respond with eh, e don do (Yes, it is ready).
18. Comot for road
In Nigeria, especially when on the road or in the marketplace, this phrase comes up every now and then. It means leave the road, make way, excuse me, or give chance.
This is used when something is questionable. i.e., someone finds it difficult to find something to be real.
Example: dis your story get k-leg (your story is exaggerated or untrue).
20. Butta (butter) my bread
This means answered prayers or blessed
Example: Dis man don butta my bread wit dis job weh him gi me so (This man has answered my prayer or blessed me with the job he has offered me).
21. Baff up
Although baff means to shower or take a bath, pidgin English in Nigeria sees it in a more fashionable sense. Baff up means to dress well.
Example: Omo! dis girl dey baff up oo (man/buddy! this girl really dresses well).
Although this may mean the same thing as show in the English language, it can also mean come here or can I see you in Nigerian pidgin English.
Examples: Guy, you fit show? (guy/dude, can I see you)? I go show you see khaki no be leather (I’ll show you that we’re not mates).
23. Shine your eye
This has a wide range of meanings that include:
- Be vigilant/be on your guard
- Be streetsmart
- Be aware
- Keep your eyes open
Shine your eyes for dis street oo (Be really vigilant in the street or neighborhood).
This is originally a Hausa word that means smart. However, in pidgin, it is used to mean dubious, trickery, or fraudulent.
Examples: Dis man wan show me wayo (This man wants to trick me). Dat woman be wayo (That woman is dubious). No come show me wayo (don’t try to dupe/deceive me).
Ojoro is a variant of wayo.
This means, isn’t it?/right,
Example: You no wan make I chop abi (You don’t want me to eat, right?)? Abi no be so una dey do (Isn’t that how you do)?
26. I Fit
Instead of I fit, some speakers may choose to say ah fit. This can mean I can or Can I?
Examples: I fit enter moto from here go Agege (can I board a car from her to Agege)? I fit settle am (I can settle it).
27. Na God
This final expression on our list is a common one used by many Nigerians. It is often used in response when asked about how one achieves a feat or escaped some harm or generally in a situation they cannot fully explain. Rather than give an elaborate explanation or description, a brief answer Na God will follow, and it means ‘It was God’ or ‘It’s a miracle.’