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Nigerian English comes of age

Nigeria must continue to contribute to world civilisation in culture and language

To no surprise and popular acclamation, the venerable Oxford English Dictionary (OED) recently added 29 Nigerian expressions to the Oxford English Dictionary. The OED previously included 57 words of Nigerian origin.

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OED affirmed the appeal of Nigerian usages and conditioning of the English language to suit the purposes of citizens. Oxford English Dictionary said that the addition of more Nigerian words reflects Nigeria’s position as one of the world’s biggest English-speaking nations.

The words “rooted in Nigerian experience” that the OED added to the world’s heritage include agric, adj. & n.; barbing salon, n.; buka, n.: bukateria, n.; chop, v./6 and chop-chop, n./2.  Others are danfo, n.; to eat money, in eat, v. and ember months, n..

OED nods positively to Nigerian expressions flag-off, n.; to flag off in flag, v.; gist, n./3; gist, v./2 and guber. Kannywood joins Nollywood in the OED. Other words and expressions include K-leg, n.; mama put, n.; next tomorrow, n. & adv.; non-indigene, adj. & n.

Okada, the subject of much disputation and anguish currently in our commercial capital of Lagos, enters the OED as a noun. There is our quaint expression to put to bed, in put, v. and qualitative, adj.. OED also adds to the dictionary to rub minds (together) in rub, v./1; the Pidgin sef, adv.and our peculiar coinage send-forth, n..

The remaining entries are severally, adv.; tokunbo, adj.; zone, v.and zoning, n.

It is an interesting turn in the relationship between Nigerians and their former colonial overlord Britain, home of the Oxford English Dictionary. Citizens recall earning punishment in school for speaking indigenous languages termed vernacular in efforts to enforce speaking in English language. Over the years, Nigerians learnt the language then engaged in creative adaptation. Pidgin, the grammar of the masses in the country, is an example of such original adaptation.

Nigeria gave notice over 50 years ago of its intention to bend the English language to suit the communication needs of citizens. Africa’s foremost novelist, the late Chinua Achebe famously declared, “The price a world language must be prepared to pay is submission to many different kinds of use. The African writer should aim to use English in a way that brings out his message best without altering the language to the extent that its value as a medium of international exchange will be lost. Let no one be fooled by the fact that we may write in English for we intend to do unheard-of things with it.”

More recently, world-acclaimed novelist Chimamanda Adichie stated, “My English-speaking is rooted in a Nigerian experience and not in a British or American or Australian one. I have taken ownership of English.” The OED agreed with her, saying, “By taking ownership of English and using it as their own medium of expression, Nigerians have made, and are continuing to make, a unique and distinctive contribution to English as a global language. We highlight their contributions in this month’s update of the Oxford English Dictionary, as a number of Nigerian English words make it into the dictionary for the first time.”

The Oxford English Dictionary is widely acknowledged to be the most authoritative and comprehensive record of the English language in the world, tracing the evolution and use of more than 600,000 words through three million quotations. Its success led to several offspring projects. They include the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, the Concise Oxford Dictionary, the Pocket Oxford Dictionary of Current English and the New Oxford Dictionary of English. Some versions recognise country peculiarities such as the New Oxford American Dictionary, the Oxford English-Greek Learner’s Dictionary.

An Oxford English-Nigerian Learner’s Dictionary is within contemplation. Nigeria must continue to contribute to world civilisation in culture and language.

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