Nigeria is fast colonising the West African region with Pidgin English, you’d agree. And I must say we have really been creative about it. There are now variants of the language such that when a Warri, Yoruba or Hausa man speaks pidgin, you will instantly know where he is from.
The origin of Pidgin is a combination of several languages resulting from contact between European traders and local peoples. Although the history of Pidgin in Nigeria is remarkably unknown, it is believed that the language may have originated from the present South-South region of the country.
Pidgin is an interesting medium of communication, particularly if the speaker is involved in a telephone conversation.
Some days back, I was on a trip to some places outside of Lagos. Riding on a big bus like that was quite interesting with all kind of faces on it, some familiar and others not. It was fun to meet new people all the same. At least, it’s not a bad idea to add one or two friends to the bagful I already have.
It wasn’t a long trip but it was short enough to create the right atmosphere for the camaraderie characteristic of a group trip. As with most trips outside Lagos or the country, in the depth of our minds, it was a time to relive the last moment we all had with our loved ones. And some people had to make last-minute telephone calls. But you see, what surprised me the most that day was the rate at which the calls poured in. it was really amazing that you had almost everybody on board receiving calls at the same time. What a cacophony of voices it was! While some spoke in whispers, others shouted at the top of their voices.
“Yes, we deyour way,” someone said behind me. “Kola, we need 4, 000. Abeg, let me get am before next Monday,” said another person. “Wetinim need 4, 000?” 4, 000 what?” I asked myself. As if he could read my mind he said: “4, 000 litres of diesel for the generator weydey office.”
“O, na diesel no be naira,” I thought again.
Just then, another person burst into a hilarious laughter that could turn a corpse in the grave. For most of us, it was quite crazy for anyone to have laughed so loud alone, but the telephone has made that possible.
The various telephone conversations brought to my mind Wole Soyinka’s use of irony to depict the absurdity of racism in his poem, ‘Telephone Conversation’. This time, I’ll take some steps away from Soyinka. I would call mine experience the absurdity of humour, laughing aloud alone without anyone around. The speaker was just in a world of his own enjoying the humour coming in from the other end. The speaker of Soyinka’s poem, a dark West African man searching for a new apartment, tells the story of a telephone call he made to a potential landlady. Instead of discussing price, location, amenities, and other information significant to the apartment, they discussed the speaker’s skin colour. The landlady is described as a polite, well-bred woman, even though she is shown to be shallowly racist. The speaker is described as being genuinely apologetic for his skin colour, even though he has no reason to be sorry for something which he was born with and has no control over.
In short poem, the speaker is an intelligent person by his use of high diction and quick wit, not the savage that the landlady assumes he is because of his skin color. All of these discrepancies between what appears to be and what really is create a sense of verbal irony that helps the poem display the ridiculousness of racism. But that afternoon, no the speakers were all in a world of their own! They were not narrating their experiences even after the conversations, they just recoiled to themselves smiling secretly to themselves. You know, a kind of smile that usually refused to leave the face long after the conversation has ended.
And so, one of the speakers who sat close to me, heaved a sigh and began a kind of self-confession about a date she was supposed to honour but would not be able to because of the trip. The speaker had lied to the other person that she was on Victoria Island whereas she was heading towards Ibadan! It is ironic that I call it a self-confession since the speaker has nothing that he should have to confess since he has done nothing wrong. In fact, I was enjoying the conversation since the phone was a bit loud. What the person on the other end came through clearly.
I did not think some wrong had been done, that the speaker was a criminal caught committing her crime of lying. Telephone made that possible! Making the speaker actually seem sorry for her lies showed how ridiculous it really was for me to let the person know I was listening in on her conversation. But then, it seems almost comical to me for someone to tell such lie.