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The Indigenization of English Language in Nigeria

By Abdul-Lateef Solihu


As a cosmopolitan lingua franca, English language has developed into a range of varieties used in different speech communities across the world. Nigerian English is one of the varieties evolved in non-native socio-cultural settings with a level of linguistic divergence from the native standards used in Britain, USA, Canada, Australia and Caribbean. Nevertheless, without necessarily sounding like native users, Nigerians adhere to certain linguistic principles in an effort to maintain an intelligible intercommunication with the world (Ekpe, 2010).

By dint of its adoption into an alien society with different culture, values, ideas, and mindsets, there is a pressing need to relevantize, indigenize, or nativitize the English language spoken in Nigeria to enable it fulfil the communicative needs of the Nigerian populace within the purview of their socio-cultural contexts. The requisite of this phenomenon is acknowledged by a host of Nigerian literati in their creative writings. For instance, the Nobel Laureate, Soyinka (1988) points out that:

“… When we borrow an alien language to sculpt or paint in, we must begin by co-opting the entire properties in our matrix of thought and expression. We must stress such a language, stretch it, impact and compact it, fragment and reassemble it with no apology, as required to bear the burden of experiencing and of experiences, be such experiences formulated or not in the conceptual idioms of the language (p.126).”

This phenomenon is what Ekpe (2006) coined as glocalization, that is a process of hybridizing a global language to play an unaccustomed role of painting a picture of local customs and traditions. After centuries of British trans-Atlantic slave trade succeeded by evangelization and colonization, English was adopted in Nigeria as a communication vehicle for national purposes ranging from education, commerce, to politics and diplomacy. However, it is worth noting that Nigerians have their own social life, cultures, and religions which can be viewed as different from those of British. Therefore, acculturating the English used in Nigeria in such a way as to express the worldview regarding local cultures, beliefs and practices which sound foreign to native users is a matter on which researchers have reached a consensus (e.g. Adegbija, 2004; Adetugbo, 1977).

This process of glocalization, relevantization, domestication, nativization, and to be precise, nigerianization resulted in the inception of the so-called Nigerian English whose difference from other Englishes used world-wide can be observed in its phonology, syntax, morphology, and semantics (Ekpe, 2010).


Nigerian English and the World Englishes

Despite sounding somewhat foreign, the Nigerian English is a dialect and/or a creole given a recognition as among the ‘New Englishes’ developed in various socio-cultural settings in an effort to bridge the societal linguistic gaps and achieve a smooth global communication. Kachru (1985) and McArthur (1987) introduced the so-called ‘concentric circle’ and ‘wheel model’ respectively which classify the ‘World Englishes’ into different categories.

McArthur (1987) grouped the entire English world into eight regions which are further categorized into ‘standard’ and ‘standardizing’. According to him, (1) British and Irish English, (2) American English, (3) Australian, New Zealand, and South-Pacific English (4) Canadian English, and (5) Caribbean English constitute the standard Englishes. Whereas, the Englishes used in the (6) West, East, and Southern Africa (7) South Asia, and (8) East Asia are all regarded as standardizing Englishes.

Nevertheless, the above categorization only recognizes the native and non-native language users without giving any further consideration to the functions that English is made to perform in the non-native speaking regions. For instance, English assumes the status of a second and official language in Nigeria whereby it is used as the dominant national language. However, this is not the case in China whereby English is only used as a last resort to circumvent a communication barrier between indigenes and foreigners.

On the other hand, Kachru’s concentric circles produce a comprehensive categorization of World Englishes into three circles, namely the Inner Circle, the Outer Circle, and the Expanding Circle. The inner circle, which constitutes the five regions earlier identified by McArthur (1987) as using standard Englishes, represents the zones in which English is the mother tongue. The outer circle embodies the regions with British colonization experience such as Nigeria, Ghana, Siera Leone, Malaysia, India, Pakistan, Singapore and so forth. In this circle, English is extensively spoken, and thus considered as a second language. However, in the expanding circle lies the regions with no any past British colonization experiences whereby English is unofficially used.


Features of the Nigerian English

The admixture of English and Nigerian mother tongues led to the evolution of a variety known as the Nigerian English. As a communication vehicle adapted to suit alien socio-cultural norms, the Nigerian English possesses some characteristics which span different linguistic aspects.

Phonologically, Ekpe (2010) points out that the Nigerian English is characterized by monophthongization of diphthongs such as bake /beik/ and home /həʊm/ which are nigerianized as [bek] and [hom]. Another instance of phonological nigerianization is the pronunciation of voiced fricative /ð/ in place of voiceless fricative /θ/ as in the word, ‘healthy’. Margaret (2014) reports that the voiceless dental fricative /θ/ as in ‘three’, ‘thirst’, and ‘thing’ is replaced by [t] among the South-Westerners, while the Northerners would pronounce it as [s]. Moreover, the bilabial /p/ is pronounced by some Northerners as [f]. As I observed, the Nigerian English does not recognize the sound /h/ as silent in honor, hour, and /b/ as in comb, climb.

As for morphology and syntax, Margaret (2014) observes that some Nigerians hardly differentiate between countable and uncountable nouns in pluralization with ‘s’. For instance, they add ‘s’ to words like furniture, information, staff, equipment, and luggage. Furthermore, the use of reflexive pronouns like ourselves, themselves instead of ‘each other’ or ‘one another’ is well known, in addition to a strange use of prepositions as in ‘reverse back’ instead of revise, ‘resume back’ instead of resume, ‘congratulate for’ instead of congratulate on and so forth.

Lexically and semantically, there are certain words and/or expressions that have been coined for certain usage. Such words are ‘go slow’, meaning traffic jam, ‘trafficate’, meaning signal or indicate, ‘next tomorrow’, meaning the day after tomorrow, ‘Tokunbo’, meaning secondhand car(s), ‘gist’, meaning rumor or to gossip, ‘k-leg’, meaning a problem, ‘send-forth’, meaning a party to bid someone a farewell, and a host of others.

In sum, the inception of new Englishes across the world is a phenomenon that accompanies the installation of English as a dominant global language. This brought about the need to amend it to bear the burden of expressing foreign worldviews.  However, so long as the functions which English is made to perform in different foreign speech communities are different from those it performs in the native speakers’ settings, such discrepancy in language structures is admissible since it has not gone to such extreme as to impede its intelligibility.



- Soyinka, W. (1988). Art, Dialogue and Outrage. Ibadan: New Horn Press.

- McArthur, T. (1998). The English languages: Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

- Margaret, B.T. (2014). Nativization of English Language in a Multilingual Setting: The Example of Nigeria. Academic Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies, 3(6), 485-492.

- Ekpe, M.B. (2010). The English Language in Nigeria, National Open University of Nigeria.

- Ekpe, M.B. (2006) Glocalization of English Lexis in Nigeria. In Calabar Journal of
Liberal Studies (CAJOLIS), pp.29-40, vol.ix, No.1

- Adegbija, E. (2004). The Domestication of English Language in Nigeria. In A Feschrift in honour of Abiodun Adetugbo. Awonusi, S. & Babalola, E.A. (eds), Lagos: University of Lagos Press.

- Adetugbo, A. (1977). Nigerian English: Fact or Fiction. Lagos Notes and Records. Vi, 126-141.

- Kachru, B. (1985). Standards, codification and sociolinguistic realism: English language in the outer circle. In R. Quirk and H. Widdowson (Eds.). English in the World: Teaching and Learning the Language and Literatures’. Cambridge University Press, 1985. 11-30.