Sunday, October 8, 2017

Excerpt From A 1992 Dissertation - History & Contemporary Use Of Pidgin English In Ghana & In Nigeria

Edited by Azizi Powell

This is Part I of a two part pancocojams series that presents information and examples of Ghanaian Pidgin English.

This post provides an excerpt from a dissertation about Ghanaian Pidgin English (GPE) that was written in 1992 by Joe K. Y. B. Amoako (University of Florida). A portion of this excerpt also provide information about the history & contemporary use of pidgin English in Nigeria.

Click for Part II of this series. Part II presents another excerpt about Ghanaian Pidgin English from the 1992 dissertation that was written by Joe K. Y. B. Amoako (University of Florida). That excerpt includes examples of some Ghanaian Pidgin English words. Because that dissertation was published in 1992, it's possible that some of these words may no longer be used now (in 2017) or their meanings may have changed.

The content of this post is presented for historical, linguistic, and cultural purposes.

Pancocojams present hyperlinked excerpts from online articles, books, and dissertations as a means of alerting people to these texts. Pancocojams visitors are encouraged to read these entire texts.

Thanks to Joe K. Y. B. Amoako for his research and writing and thanks for sharing this dissertation online.


Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy

By Joe K. Y. B. Amoako
December 1992


[page] viii
The study consists of six chapters which deal with the definitions and etymologies of pidgin and Creole, the history of West African Pidgin English, the methodology of the research, history of GPE, a detailed linguistic analysis of GPE, the sociolinguistics of GPE, as well as conclusions on the survey.

Data were collected on GPE over a period of nine months. Out of the 400 copies of questionnaire distributed, 3 04 were retrieved. This period was also used in tape- recording interviews, conversations, and songs, as well as collecting magazines and newspapers. The informants who consisted of both sexes ranged from school children to a secretary of state.

The survey shows that there is a pidgin English in Ghana, and that it has been influenced by the substrate
languages. It is spreading fast, especially among the youths because it is being used not only as a means of communication but also as a means of solidarity."


[page] 7
Summary [Chapter 1; Definition Of Pidgin]

"In this chapter, we have attempted to deal with the definitions of pidgin and Creole languages. Pidgin evolves when people who do not understand each other's language meet and they want to communicate verbally. This is the social definition of pidgin. The structural definition states that pidgin has a reduced language structure which means that its phonology, morphology, syntax, and semantics are simpler
than those of the language or languages that it may evolve from. By definition pidgin does not have native speakers.

Pidgin becomes creole when it acquires a native speaker. The linguistic structure of a creole is more complex than that of pidgin. Ghanaian Pidgin English (GPE) which is the topic of this work has no opportunity of being creolized in the near future, because the Ghanaian children have access to one or more of the 45 Ghanaian local languages.

[page] 8
Moreover GPE is not a popular language in the homes of its speakers. This means GPE will remain a pidgin for a long time to come."


[page] 9

This chapter contains two subsections. The first section deals with the step-by-step history of pidgin
English in West Africa; we will discuss how Portuguese, Dutch, and British have contributed toward pidgin English in West Africa. The second section deals with an enumeration of the principal pidgin English varieties in West Africa, which are Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Cameroon.

A Step-bv-Step History of Pidain English in West Afrina

The exact date of the development of an English-based pidgin in West Africa cannot be determined. It probably began with the first contacts with the British in the sixteenth century (Mafeni 1971:97; Spencer 1971:8). Before the British built their first English fort at Cormantine on the Gold Coast in 1631, the Portuguese, who were followed by the Dutch, had traded with the people of West Africa and had made some impact on the linguistics of this area.


[page] 21
pidgin English in Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Cameroon, and Ghana.


The area that is now coastal Nigeria never had forts built by the Europeans for the slave trade. Although the Portuguese began the traffic in slaves in this area early on, much of the coast from Nigeria to Cameroon was relatively ignored by the Europeans, partly because of its difficult conditions (Tonkin 1971:143). However, the growing demand for slaves in the eighteenth century drove slavers further eastward to the lagoons of what is today Lagos and the creeks of the "Rivers" at the mouth of the Niger. Here the Europeans could anchor their vessels for the brief period needed to load the slaves that the African
traders kept ready for them (Osae et al. 1973:180). By the end of the eighteenth century Bonny and Calabar on the Bight of Biafra had become two of the most important trading ports.

The British made the slave trade illegal in 1807, and their navy patrolled this area to enforce the new law; however, trade in palm oil and other goods remained important. Protestant missionaries from England and Sierra Leone began coming to this area in the 1840s and were welcomed as teachers of arithmetic and English (Tonkin 1971:144). Britain annexed Lagos in 1861, the Rivers in 1885, and then all of Nigeria in 1900. Although Nigeria

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retained English as its official language after independence in 1960 and a knowledge of the standard variety is essential for higher education and socioeconomic advancement, Pidgin still plays a major role in interethnic communication in linguistically heterogeneous urban centers, particularly in the south (Mafeni 1971:99).

Nigerian Pidgin English is a lingua franca for many, and thus a true pidgin in Hall's sense; it is also a mother tongue for a number of families in certain areas and communities, and as such might in these cases be defined as a Creole language (ibid. 95). Mafeni describes how the Creole English has emerged in Nigeria like this:
Inter-tribal and international marriages have become increasingly common in urban society. In many such
cases husband and wife may not share a common indigenous language, and as a result will often use Pidgin as their chief meduim of communication in the home; or, of course, Pidgin alongside standard English.
Children brought up in such homes naturally speak Pidgin, sometimes alongside standard English, as their
first language, although they may also speak the native language (s) of either or both parents. The children therefore learn to operate several linguistic systems, of which Pidgin is one of them; and in many cases it may be the primary and predominant system. However, even where both parents speak the same native language, many urban and partially detribalized children learn Pidgin very early although it is not the language of the home. Often several families live in the same compound, and if they differ in linguistic background Pidgin serves as a convenient lingua franca. The children in such compounds and neighborhoods find Pidgin an efficient means of communication among themselves, and may also use it at home even though their parents may not approve. (ibid. 98)

According to Mafeni, some Nigerians have two types of pidgin. The majority of servants employed by European

[page] 23
families use two quite different varieties of pidgin; one, a minimal variety, which they use to their employers — and which is the only kind of pidgin which most Europeans come across — and a fuller variety, pidgin proper, which they use elsewhere. Many Nigerians, although use pidgin as a register in certain, especially familiar, contexts, are nevertheless ashamed to be associated with the language in public. This is probably a result of the influence of parents and school authorities, who have often discouraged
its use because they consider it a debased form of English and not a language in its own right (ibid. 99).

Nigerians use their pidgin in variety of ways, in spite of the traditional attitudes of disapproval towards the language. Many Nigerian novelists, playwrights, advertising agents, trade unionists and even politicians have realized and are exploiting the great potentialities of the language as a medium of mass communication. The various broadcasting corporations in Nigeria have done much to popularize pidgin
by allowing its use in advertisement; the NBC radioserial "Save Journey" has been running with great success for a number of years; Achebe and other writers have used pidgin in their novels and poems (ibid. 100).


[page] 34

Research Background

Considerable misinformation has been circulated about Ghanaian Pidgin English. Some Ghanaians attribute the worsening of standard English to the emergence of pidgin English.


But pidgin English is serving a very important purpose which many critics overlook. It serves as an important medium of communication. It is spoken on a wide scale in educational institutions, work places, airports, seaports, drinking places, markets, on the radio, in popular songs, on political platforms, and on many occasions. It is spoken by both literate and illiterate people. Most importantly, pidgin English is becoming the lingua franca in English speaking West Africa countries.


English has been the official language of Ghana since Britain colonized the Gold Coast (now Ghana) by the bond of 1844. This was the bond which made the Gold Coast a British colony. English was imposed as the language of administration by the British; their immediate practical aim being to bring together the separate political units which they had won either by conquest or treaty (Boadi 1971:49). After Ghana had its independence from the British rule in 1957, English is still a cohesive force internally. The
adoption of one of the 45 local languages as the lingua franca has not been easy and is not envisaged. This has made the English language the most obvious choice for both internal and external uses (ibid. 50). We may distinguish between educated and uneducated varieties of English in Ghana even though there is a graded continuum between them.


Ghanaian Pidgin English dates from the time the British set foot on the coast of the Gold Coast. It was limited to a relatively small and identifiable section of the population, mostly illiterate workers of various categories, almost exclusively from the northern sector of the colonial territory. These workers were mainly those who served in

[page] 42
various capacities directly under mostly English but also some Ghanaian and other African "masters" who needed some means of communication with them.

Pidgin gradually arose through simplifications of the structure of standard English and adaptation to native languages among these categories of workers. They tried to reproduce what they heard and retained of the fast speech of the English masters, or the Ghanaian and Asian masters.

The categories of people who learned this kind of simplified English were:

Police corporals . They were employed as guards at the courts, offices, parliament, "people's" houses, and other government places. "People" in this sense means the expatriates and high-ranking government officials who gualified to employ a guard.

Watchmen . These were employed in government departments and private houses. They were security officers who watched the houses and office buildings of the government as well as those of some private

Laborers. They were employed in government departments -usually daily rated — like Public Works Department, Water Works, Electricity, and Housing.

Domestic staff . The domestic staff, who in those days were invariably male, were cooks, steward boys, and garden boys. They were usually called "small boys" by their employers. They in turn called their employers "masters",

[page] 43
hence the popular expression in Ghana: "Yes sa, masa." ("Yes sir, master.") It was usual for a visitor to ask: "Masa dey?" (Is your master present?) , and the reply: "I dey" (He's present) or "I no dey." (He isn't present).

The reason for the employment of these categories of workers from the northern part of Ghana was to promote the undivided loyalties to their employer, since they did not have their families with them in the south; even in the north, they could be far away from their own villages.

In the northern part of Ghana, the people were late in receiving formal education. That is why the employees from the North were some of the first speakers of Ghanaian Pidgin English.

Second World War

In our survey, sixteen informants, or 5% Of the respondents, mentioned the second World War as one of the
events that have contributed to the emergence of pidgin English in Ghana. This is especially true of the older respondents because of their association with the war.

Soldiers of the Gold Coast Regiment fought alongside their British counterparts during the Second World War (1939-1945) . They served as porters for the British soldiers. These porters were illiterates; hence in their efforts to communicate with their British counterparts Pidgin English evolved. These soldiers returned to Ghana with the Pidgin English. Some of them joined the Armed

[page] 44

Forces and others retired to live among the civilian population. A retired soldier informed us that formerly every soldier was made to learn pidgin English since it is the language used to drill soldiers on parade and training grounds. A police officer at a training depot also told us that police recruits are made to learn pidgin for the same reason. The trainers are illiterates and the English they know is the pidgin type. This training started with those who went to the Second World War.


Pidgin English has been used in the Ghanaian news media since the 1950s. There was a column in the "Evening News" - an evening newspaper — which was strictly reserved for the use of pidgin English. It was used to present vernacular jokes.

[page] 45

There was a radio program done in pidgin English in the 1950s called "Isa Abongo" by the late Leo Riby-Williams. In the 1960s there was a television comedy series also done in pidgin English. These were comedy programs meant to entertain the rank and file - mostly illiterate workers who would be expected to understand or speak pidgin English and so appreciate such programs in pidgin.

Contrary to the assumption that the majority of illiterate workers from all over the country spoke and
understood pidgin English and so would welcome such programs, it turned out that pidgin English was limited to only a small section of the population and that the rest would better enjoy programs in one of the local Ghanaian languages. The radio and television programs were therefore withdrawn after a short run; and eventually, through audience research survey, programs like Variety Show Case in Akan, Ga, Ewe, and other Ghanaian languages were substituted. These were and are much enjoyed by all sections of the population.

Sey (1973:3) says that with many educated people in the large towns it was not necessary for the illiterate people to deal directly with the English speakers for bilingual educated Ghanaians were always at hand to act as interpreters and "letter-writers" for the uneducated ones. This was one of the reasons why Ghanaian Pidgin English could not spread.

[page] 46

Current Emergence of Ghanaian Pidgin English: Factors

Within the past ten or twenty years, that is, from the early 1970s, it has been noticed by the informants in this survey that more Ghanaians are speaking pidgin English than in the 1950s and 1960s.


[page] 48
Contact with Other West African States

The main reason given for the fast spreading of the Ghanaian Pidgin English within the past twenty years is the recent increase of contacts between Ghanaians and other West African states where pidgin English is spoken on a wider scale. These countries are Liberia, Sierra Leone, and especially Nigeria. This increase is evidenced by the responses of informants to the question: "Which events have contributed toward the introduction and spread of pidgin English?" Out of 304 questionnaires, 236 informants responded to that question, 77.6% of the total survey. Out of the 236 respondents 127, that is, 53.8% mentioned
immigration of Ghanaians to other West African countries.

The Nigerian Influence

Of the 127 respondents who mentioned immigration as a factor to the current spread of Ghanaian Pidgin English, 105, that is 82.6%, said that Nigeria has been responsible.

Pidgin English is spoken everywhere in Nigeria. The writer spent three months in Lagos in 1981, and found that Nigerians speak standard English only on rare occasions in private conversations. Otherwise, they speak either one of the Nigerian languages or pidgin English.

The oil boom brought economic improvement to Nigeria in the early 1970s, and people from many countries, including Ghana, immigrated there. Both skilled and unskilled Ghanaian workers went to Nigeria to look for green pastures.

[page] 49

They spent their holidays in Ghana, and often took whatever they acquired to Ghana. One important thing they brought back to Ghana was pidgin English.

In the early 1980s, many Ghanaians and other foreign nationals were expelled from Nigeria. These returnees
raised the use of pidgin English in Ghana to its ascendancy.


[page] 51
Other Factors

One important factor which has contributed to the spread of GPE is illiteracy. In 1980, only 30% of the adult population in Ghana were literate and 69% of school age persons were literate. Yet only 20 out of the 236, that is 8.5%, respondents attributed the spread of GPE to illiteracy and lack of formal education. Nonetheless, this is an important factor, since a small country like Ghana (Area:
238,537 sq. km.) with nearly 14 million people has 44 languages (refer to Appendix B for the Ghana Language Map) and none of them is the national language. This fact compels people to use English as the means of communication in inter-language conversation. The illiterate ones, therefore, have to recourse to pidgin English.

Military regimes in Ghana have also contributed to the spread of pidgin English. Ghana has had four long-term military regimes in the country's history. The 12 respondents (5% of the group) who mentioned this factor said that the military regimes have brought the soldiers into the streets and involved them in the day-to-day life of the civilian population. The civilians have therefore been imitating the pidgin English which most of the soldiers speak.


[page] 52

Other factors for the spread of GPE are trade, boarding schools, urbanization, prisoners, and the increasing number of magazines which feature pidgin English, and the increasing interest in reading such magazines.


[page] 142

This chapter is a further demonstration of the assertion that pidgin is spoken in Ghana. We have discussed

[page] 143
the speakers of Ghanaian Pidgin English and the places where the language is spoken. The major speakers are males, students, military and police personnels, youngsters, co-workers, and friends. Educational institutions, urban areas, work places, lorry stations, military and police barracks, and entertainment places are the most obvious places where one will hear GPE. The usage of GPE is mostly in the spoken mode. There is little usage of GPE in the written mode. There is no book that has been written entirely in GPE. Authors like Kofi Anyidoho and Ayi Kwei Armah have included a page or two of GPE in their works. The major written usage of GPE that has received greater attention of the reading public is found in the comics of
Mugu Yaro, Baba Dogo, and Gyato. Speakers of GPE use it for communication, entertainment, politics, socialization, and fun. The attitude of Ghanaians toward GPE is not encouraging. Many people do not want the language to be spoken or written. Their major reason for opposing the usage of GPE is that it has some adverse effects on both the written and spoken usages of standard English. Most Ghanaians say that GPE should not be encouraged.

The methodology used for this research might have contributed toward the negative attitude towards GPE. The respondents claim not to like to speak pidgin because the survey was part of an education project where they expected researchers not to like pidgin. Perhaps they have applied

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an argumentum ad populum policy, that is, telling the researchers what they want to hear."

This concludes Part I of this pancocojams post that presents excerpts of a 1992 dissertation about Ghanaian Pidgin English.

Thanks for visiting pancocojams.

Visitor comments are welcome.

1 comment:

  1. West African Pidgin words and phrases are rather widely found on the introduction of the internet and in particular on YouTube discussion threads. Based on the internet alone, it can no longer be correctly said that West African Pidgin languages aren't widely found in written forms.

    In addition to YouTube discussion threads of contemporary Nigerian and Ghanaian music (non-religious and religious), the forum is an internet site that has discussions about Pidgin English and also has scattered examples of Nigerian Pidgin English in various discussion threads.

    Two examples from that forum whose members appear to be mostly [if not entirely] Nigerian are this discussion that began in 2011 " Pidgin English Vs Queen's English. Which Is More Popular In Nigeria? - Culture - Nairaland and this 2012 discussion Nigerian Pidgin English And Their Meanings - Culture (1) - Nairaland.