Pidgin English, according to Wikpedia, is actually a general term for the many variations of Pidgin that are derived from English. Many different countries have their own version of Pidgin, and of course there will be some overlap in words and phrases, particularly among regions that are geographically similar.
I wasn’t exposed to Pidgin among young folk until 2005. Up until that time, I lived in a blissful world where the only thing I had to master in order to be comfortable speaking with other Yoruba people was the Yoruba language. I worked to master my numbers and the alphabet (yes, I’m in my late 20s and I was learning these things a mere five years ago, in 2003) and short phrases, and I paid attention to my parents’ conversations to improve my vocabulary. My grandmother visited in 2004 and since her knowledge of the English language is limited to a handful of words, we spoke with a mixture of Yoruba, gestures, a few English words and what I found out later was broken English.
I joined a Nigerian forum in 2005. Since there were Nigerians from many different parts of Nigeria represented on the site, I didn’t think I would be able to communicate in Yoruba with all of them. I soon saw that no matter the origin of the members, it seemed that not only could they understand each other, but they were using the same “language”, with English words I recognized and other words that I did not. That language of course was Pidgin.
Pidgin English is not easy to master as my untrained eyes (I was reading the words off the computer screen) discovered. I soon came to understand (I think: don’t be too harsh in correcting me!) some basic greetings:
- How you dey? (How are you?)
- Wetin happen/Wetin dey happen/Wetin shele? (What’s happening/What’s going on?)
their possible responses:
- Body dey in cloth. (literally “Body is clothed”, a way of saying “All is well” or “It’s all good”)
- I dey kampe. (I’m doing fine/good.)
and some other expressions that would crop up too:
- Yarn, yarning (Talking)
- Chop (Eat)
- Throway face (Snub, ignore deliberately)
- Haba! (Good grief/Oh my goodness)
- Toast (Court a girl)
- Na wa o. (Oh man/Oh my goodnessâ€”but in a relaxed, not panicked/freaked out way/Wow)
That last one is one of my favourites and as I got ready to travel to Maryland in 2006 to meet some members from that forum, I drove my mom and sister crazy at the bus station by continuously uttering Na wa o!. I like it because it’s just the perfect expression for situations where you can’t believe what you’re hearing and want to make a comment expressing that in a way that also conveys a sort of weariness with the world we live in. I think I’m a pro at saying it, yet of course, I’ve never had an opportunity to use it.
To this day I still struggle to understand exactly what people are saying when they speak in Pidgin. It’s kind of like when you read a book full of big words: you may not be able to understand each individual word but in the end, you get the general idea of what is being said and what the individual words must mean based on their context. Now that reminds me of another Pidgin word, gist. To me, before Pidgin, “gist” meant the main point of something, usually a story, or lesson that is learned. In Pidgin, gist is another word for conversation or even gossip, ala “Ooh, I heard you were there when Tunde and Kelly broke up…oya give me the sweet gist!”
There are some words that I thought were Yoruba words but according to my resource* on all things Pidgin are actually Pidgin words:
- gbadun (to enjoy)
- wahala (trouble)
- oyinbo (Caucasian or English)
I could go on and on about this but instead, I’ll give you some quick homework:
Please give me one or two Pidgin words or phrases that I must know and let me know what it means and when I’d use it.
Want my monthly messages?
Subscribe for a monthly, often personal, message from Good Naija Girl.