BBC Pidgin Language Service.

Monica Mark reports:

On Monday, BBC World Service launched a Pidgin service, unveiling a website and radio bulletins that will run entirely in the lingua franca spoken across West Africa.

It’s the BBC’s biggest expansion in 40 years, and means the broadcaster will join the ranks of local stations that already reach audiences of millions through speaking Pidgin — a mashup of English, Portuguese, and a bunch of local languages.

“Pidgin is the language spoken among so many people across West and Central Africa and for the first time we will be connecting with the next generation of speakers. Pidgin is the common thread in the region,” BBC editor Bilkisu Labaran said.

There’s a nice little video featuring the presenters talking about how excited they are (“We don land gidigba!” = We’ve finally arrived!) and a selection of pleased tweets (“Una welcome @BBCAfrica , noting better pass dan say person hear tory for him own language. May your town crier reach every village square!”). Here‘s a related BBC story about Pidgin, with some examples, and here‘s the Pidgin news website (lead story at the moment: “Nigeria: Rats chase President Buhari from office/ After over 100 days of medical vacation, President Muhammadu Buhari still dey work from home because dem say rats don spoil im office”). Good for them!


  1. good for the rats or for the BBC?

  2. I wonder how Uzbek from Buhara managed to become president of Nigeria

  3. Athel Cornish-Bowden says

    Do they really mean Pidgin? Has West African Pidgin never evolved into a Creole?

  4. Technically, this should be considered a contradiction in terms: “Pidgin is the language spoken among so many people across West and Central Africa and for the first time we will be connecting with the next generation of speakers.”

    Loosely speaking, however, Pidgin may refer to any of the creole descendants of old West African Pidgin (of Guinea Coast Creole, as its creolised variety is sometimes referred to). There are many of them, but in this case, the reference to Nigerian Creole English (possibly including the closely related Ghanaian and Cameroonian varieties, judging from where the BBC has been recruiting local reporters).

  5. There’s no reason a creole can’t be called Pidgin, just as there’s no reason a language mostly spoken outside England can’t be called English. History beats definitions every time.

  6. good for the rats or for the BBC?

    Heh. Both, I suppose!

    Do they really mean Pidgin? Has West African Pidgin never evolved into a Creole?

    What JC said. Pidgin is its name.

  7. Some Pacific creoles with Pidgin in their names: Hawaiian Pidgin, Solomons Pijin, Papua New Guinea Tok Pisin.

  8. I know that Nigerian Pidgin English and that of e.g. Ghana are mutually intelligible, because Fela Kuti toured elsewhere in West Africa and intentionally chose to sing in Pidgin to have as wide an audience as possible. Appallingly, I have occasionally seen people complain that “Fela’s English was so awful”, unaware that he was singing in Pidgin and choose to do so, and he was perfectly capable of speaking standard English too (being from a prestigious family, schooled in English and even partly in England.)

    But I am curious if any speakers of those non-Nigerian varieties ever complain that Nigeria usage dominates the media market, because of the sheer population of Nigeria (and growing) compared to other countries. Is there any resentment from Ghana or Cameroon speakers along the lines of UK English speakers complaining that US English is crowding non-US varieties out?

  9. 1-Nigerian Pidgin English described as “a mashup of English, Portuguese, and a bunch of local languages” -Well, it is nice to see that the BBC is as accurate in linguistic matters as other major news media. *Sigh*…what on earth will it take for things to improve on that front? Perhaps some linguistic equivalent of the IgNobel Prize?

    2-The nativization of Nigerian Pidgin English, Solomons Pijin and Tok Pisin (i.e. the process whereby each became the L1 of a sizable number of speakers) took place recently: Back in the sixties, when creolistics first emerged, calling each of these languages a “pidgin” was quite accurate.

    In one sense one could say all three still are pidgins, inasmuch as a majority of the speakers of each language remain L2 speakers. Hawaiian Pidgin is much more anomalous: even back in the sixties a majority of its speakers were L1 speakers, and thus it had technically already become a creole.

    3-In Guinea-Bissau and Sierra Leone the reverse phenomenon can be found: each country’s lingua franca is called creole (Kriol/Krio, respectively), despite the fact that in both instances a majority of its speakers are L2 speakers. And, just to make things more confusing/frustrating/chaotic/entertaining (take your pick), Krio is often considered to be a local variety of West African Pidgin English.

    4-Piotr: to my mind it is clear that all West African pidgin/creole varieties of English descend from a variety transplanted from the Americas. All American English creoles, in turn, descend from an ancestral pidgin once spoken in West Africa, but, crucially, this West African pidgin English disappeared in West Africa after it had been transplanted in the Americas.

    5-Christopher: the lack of any deep typological divide among West African pidgin/creole varieties (In sharp contrast to what can be found in the Americas: Ndjuka and Gullah, for example, differ far more profoundly from one another than any two West African pidgin/creole English varieties do) is part of the reason why I accept the claim that pidgin English in West Africa is a recent transplant form the Americas.

    As for non-Nigerians complaining about Nigerian Pidgin English crowding out non-Nigerian varieties -I wonder: I have never heard of such a thing, and I would not be at all surprised if within Nigeria there was as much variation as there is outside Nigeria in terms of linguistic variability, and thus to users of West African Pidgin English there may not exist a clear divide between Nigerian and non-Nigerian varieties of West African Pidgin English.

  10. I’m surprised that it’s so close to standard English, compared to Tok Pisin, for example. Basically mutually intelligible.

  11. Etienne: I think we can reasonably call a language a creole as long as there are a non-negligible number of L1 speakers. Beyond that, it shouldn’t matter if the number of L1 speakers is a minority or a majority, any more than we distinguish between Mandarin with a majority of native speakers, English with a majority of non-native speakers, and Persian with about an equal number of native and non-native speakers.

  12. David Eddyshaw says

    @Christopher Culver:

    Is there any resentment from Ghana…

    West African Pidgin is not in fact greatly used in Ghana; in the South of the country, Twi/Fante serves as a pretty effective interlanguage (helped along by the fact that in the South, it’s far and away the largest language in terms of L1 speakers anyway.) The North in linguistically much more complex, but Hausa is much more important as an interlanguage there than Pidgin English.

  13. David Eddyshaw says


    I’m surprised that it’s so close to standard English, compared to Tok Pisin, for example. Basically mutually intelligible.

    Must be a pretty acrolectal variety. The sort I heard in Nigeria when I lived there, Mi fa, a no nak am atol.

  14. Squiffy-Marie van 't Blad, Dutchman-at-large says

    I got the impression – I thought from John Wells but I can’t find a link – that it was common for Caribbean creoles to have a set of registers that go from Standard English at their most H to typologicaly much more clearly West African at the L end of the spectrum, and that these were negociated polyglossially according to situation, circumstance and ability.

    It seems to my idle mind that this outcome is going to be more available, at least, in situations where the creole grows up in close proximity to a speech community using the language from which its lexical stock is derived.

  15. J.W. Brewer says

    I would have thought that the subset of the Nigerian population that is fully fluent in standard English (with whatever vagaries of regional pronunciation) would have been very heavily overrepresented among those Nigerians with internet access and interest in BBC-sourced news. I am curious as to whether this means that internet access is now sufficiently widely dispersed as to include many of those Nigerians fluent in Pidgin but with much shakier standard English knowledge, or whether the target audience is more those who are fully diglossic but would prefer the option to read news in Pidgin even though they could read the English version perfectly well.

  16. I agree, but I suppose the radio part of the service is functionally the most important part, with the website tagging along because it’s easy.

  17. Squiffy-Marie van 't Blad, Dutchman-at-large says

    The number of Nigeria’s mobile subscribers has reached 150 million, and the number of its internet users has climbed to 97.2 million at penetration rates of 81% and 53%, respectively, according to a new report published by Jumia, Nigeria’s largest online retailer.

    It is a commonplace among tech trendwatching that developing markets, including parts of Africa, are leapfrogging PCs and rapidly adopting smartphone internet devices instead. As is traditional with futures, this is undoubedly unevenly distributed on a national as well as continental scale, but 100 million people is quite a lot.

  18. Given Nigeria’s literacy rate, this means that Nigeria has more Internet users than people who can read and write.

  19. Squiffy-Marie van 't Blad, Dutchman-at-large says

    Given Nigeria’s literacy rate, this means that Nigeria has more Internet users than people who can read and write.

    Our household children, born this century, were adept users of mobile internet devices before they could really talk, never mind read.

  20. Mi fa, a no nak am atol

    Is that mi fa cognate with [by] my faith?

  21. I strongly doubt it, but now I’m curious myself.

  22. I believe fa is a topic particle, maybe from Hausa.


  1. […] Hat reports on BBC’s introduction of a new Pidgin-language […]

Speak Your Mind