So this weekend I undertook a little thought experiment given my fascination with language. The question to be resolved? Is Pidgin English a type of English? (I was trying to decide which language group it belonged to in the kasahorow Dictionaries).
Short answer: no. Pidgin "English" in the south of Ghana is actually a type of Akan/Ga language.
Medium length answer: The following test sentences got me started.
English: I am coming.
Akan: Me re ba. (Mereba)
My Pidgin: I dey come.
English: Yesterday I came. (? sounds funny).
Akan: Ndeda na me bae.
My Pidgin: Yestee I come.
English: I came yesterday.
Akan: Me bae ndeda.
My Pidgin: I come yestee.
English: I was last.
Akan: Me wee.
My Pidgin: I cheww. (same emphasis strategy on the ending for forming past tense).
You can try it out with other sentences and you'll notice Pidgin English as we speak it has the grammar rules (sounds right in the same way) of local languages but just liberally borrows words from English. This conclusion is itself not new (Nigerian Pidgin is just as likely to have a grammar based on pre-colonial Nigerian languages) but it was illuminating to deduce this as the reason behind two observations I made while in SSS:
- it was relatively easy for anyone who could speak Akan/Ga to pick up how to speak "proper" Pidgin pretty quickly (less than one term in Form 1 if they tried).
- knowing Pidgin very well had nothing to do with your English abilities contrary to what our English teachers wanted us to believe. You either knew your English grammar or you didn't. There were folks who could speak Pidgin like chief priests of a Pidgin god and yet had impeccable English skills. In other words, advising us to stop speaking Pidgin (because it was bad for our English) was the same advice as we got in primary and JS schools--don't speak "vernacular" because it's bad for your English. Advice which is just about the same as saying practice eating because it's bad for your drinking skills--i.e. neither here nor there.
My point? Thank God for Pidgin! It allowed all of us students to understand each other and communicate more fluently (and less self-consciously) than using English by letting us use
- our first language grammars (Twi, Fanti, Ga, Ewe, etc) and
- the common English words we were being taught in the classroom.