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Comments and my responses to “English Nigerian children speak”

I normally don’t publish letter from readers on this column, but I’ve received a lot of thoughtful and informative responses to my series with the above title and thought many of my readers would benefit from them. I have included my responses to some of the comments. Enjoy.

Interesting read. Another distinct group is emerging in Nigeria that fascinates me: the foreign-born children of the upper middle class. They attend elite schools in Nigeria, spend all holidays in the West, are almost completely sheltered from local linguistic intrusions, and are exposed to America-influenced media channels that cater to their age. They tend to speak natively and frequently correct the diction and grammar of their parents. This generation is supremely digital, born in the millennium, and is disconnected from the harsh realities of Nigeria despite being raised within it. I will like to read your opinion on this demographic.

BamideleAdemola-Olateju, Bellville, Michigan, USA


My Response

That’s a really thoughtful addition. I had never given a thought to that group. Nigerian children in this group are certainly in the twilight zone between native speakers of English and those for whom English is a “native second language.” While they don’t commit the kinds of errors that I identified in my series, they certainly do not have the same level of proficiency in the language as native speakers of English. Yet, they are several notches more proficient than well-educated speakers of English as a second language, precisely because they have episodic access to native-speaker linguistic climes and their accompanying cultural repertoires. No scholarly literature, to my knowledge, has captured this fascinating group of English speakers.

What a wonderful write-up! I used to think of where to categorise such children when I was in school because the classifications of World Englishes known to me are: Norm Producing, Norm Developing and, Norm Dependent countries, which take into cognizance geographical location and which language a child acquires first. Geographical location prevents such Nigerian children from being called “native speakers,” and though they still acquire English first, there are still traces of indigenous languages in the English passed to them by their input sources (teachers, family members, etc.). I’ve also learnt the fourth category from this write-up (English as an Alternate Language).

However the term “English as a Native Second Language” seems inappropriate for such a situation. The reason is that the term means English is the Second Language of such children although the English has been nativised in their environments (Nigeria being the case here). I would suggest “Nativised English in a non-Native English Speaker Environment as First Language” for such a situation. I feel it captures the situation better.

I’ve gained more knowledge from your write-up and I must say a very big thank you for that. I’m still waiting for your opinion on my suggestion.

OlayemiOluwatobilobaOnakunle, Ibadan


My response

“Nativised English in a non-native English Speaker Environment as First Language” is a creative, if clumsy and long, coinage. I was looking for a short descriptive phrase that captures the reality ofan emerging group of people who speak English as a native language but with non-native characteristics and I thought “English as a Native Second Language” encapsulates that.”

Nigeria’s “English as a Native Second Language” speakers seem to be similar to people in the Caribbean Islands (such as Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Bermuda, etc.) who don’t speak any “ethnic” language. People in the Caribbean Islands often speak English-based creoles as a first language. But the Nigerian children I profiled don’t even speak Nigerian Pidgin English well—if they speak it at all. So they still belong in a unique category.

We are there already, Nigeria! We have been there for 50-plus years: the African with veneer-thin ethnicity. Most English-speaking Cameroonians you have ever met are like what you describe. They do not speak any ethnic language with fluency.

Emil Mondoa, a Cameroonian who lives in Wilminton, Delaware, USA


An incident happened in a part of Nigeria which illustrates your point.A boy was beaten up by his play-mate. He ran home crying. The father asked him what happened to him.The boy tried answering him in the halting Yoruba he managed to pick up from his play mates.The father got angry and told the boy to speak in English; otherwise, he wouldn’t solve his problem. The boy kept crying. The father paid him no heed. Why would he? After all, the childdidn’t speak English,”the language of solutions.”The irony is that many of those brought up like that still fail IELTS [International English language Testing System] and TOEFL [Test of English as a Foreign Language]. I’ve written IELTS and I know.

TajudeenSanni, Kampala, Uganda


I don’t have much to contribute to this note, given that I find Nigerian Pidgin very entertaining, although I’m often left baffled by its peculiar parlance. However, something I find terribly bewildering is a unique expression which I think crosses intellectual and class divides—something uniquely and idiosyncratically Nigerian, as I don’t hear it anywhere else from other African speakers. I may be wrong. It is the expression of ---”She is pregnant FOR ....” E.g.:  “She is pregnant for her husband or fiancé.----” It is puzzling how this came about. Whenever I hear it, I wonder if it is a direct translation from the vernacular. Clearly the wrong usage influences the diction of kids? It is “she is pregnant WITH a (child)” or “she and her husband are expecting.” Or simply, “she’s pregnant.” A woman cannot be pregnant for somebody else except for herself!Anyway….

And talking of that funny word “chook,” it is also used in Cameroon. There’s a joke in Cameroon that goes like this: “A Nigerian mother came home and found her son,Chukwu, crying. She asked her daughter Ngozi what had happened. Hear Ngozi: ‘Mama, nachookoochookoo chook Chukwu e foot.’ I find this rib-crackinglyhilarious. “Chookoochookoo” being a sharp point like a needle or a thorn.

Duchess Samira Edi, London


My Response

Thanks for your humorous and thoughtful response. Yes, it is true that only Nigerians say a woman is pregnant “for a man.” It’s probably a translation of socio-cultural thoughts from some Nigerian languages, but the Nigerian languages I am familiar with have no equivalent expression for that phrase. I will only add that native English speakers usually say they are “pregnant with a man’s child” or “pregnant by a man” to show that the “man” is responsible for the pregnancy. Americans (both wife and husband) now say “we are pregnant”!


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