Of Pidgin, Nigerian Pidgin Poetry, and Minority Discourses

The pidgin poems of Ezenwa-Ohaeto

Authored by: Chike Okoye

Routledge Handbook of Minority Discourses in African Literature

Print publication date:  May  2020
Online publication date:  April  2020

Print ISBN: 9780367368340
eBook ISBN: 9780429354229
Adobe ISBN:


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Pidgin, for the layman, is a language formed from a mixture of several languages as the only option for communication among people from diverse and mutually unintelligible linguistic backgrounds. This mixture that necessitates the emergence of a pidgin is as a result of contact. Brian Tiffen describes it cryptically as “the language of the market place” (9), and Bolander et al. define it as “any mixed language spoken usually in trade, which uses the vocabulary of two or more languages and a simplified form of the grammar of one of them” (760). The issue of contact is reinforced with J.E. Reinecke’s position that “a minimum or makeshift language” comes into being “when men of different speech are thrown into contact and must reach an understanding” (534), while the context of trade is underscored further with De Camp’s position that pidgin is “used in trading or in any situation requiring communication between persons who do not speak other’s languages” (Elugbe and Omamor, 1). Loreto Todd is more elaborate:

(Pidgin is) a communication system that develops among people who do not share a common language. In early stages of contact, such as the first encounter between British sailors and Coastal West Africans or between American Soldiers and the Vietnamese, a make shift system emerges involving a few simple structures – mostly commands – and a limited number of words, drawn almost entirely from the language of the dominant group.

(3) At this point, a clear picture emerges: pidgin is a language that arises as a result of a necessary contact between people of diverse linguistic backgrounds, a language made up of elements in varying degrees of all the contact languages involved. Many a time, though, pidgin’s nature as a minimum or makeshift language is put to the test. According to Elugbe and Omamor, a pidgin is likely to “disappear if the condition which gave rise to it ceased to exist” (2), but then if it develops beyond that, it transforms into a creole. A creole is described as a language that evolved from a pidgin but becomes more relevant, as it then serves as a native language of a speech community. Elugbe and Omamor describe it aptly thus: “creolization simply means the acquisition of first language speakers by a pidgin” (3).

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