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Thinking in English: Pidgin "English"?

Posted by paa.kwesi on Sat, 01/06/2007 - 23:03

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.


Pidgin English

I agree perfectly well with you. Learning and speaking Pidgin is like learning any other language like French which should not affect the other language. Having said that I have to confess that I was among the few guys who could not master the pidgin. Whenever I tried to speak pidgin, I ended up speaking proper English and I was so ashamed that I have to give it up till this day.

Worst still, language is my main interest - that is I can speak Fanti, English, Italian and an average French, yet no pidgin. That is unusual for a guy who grew up in Sekondi. I am still jealous of how my peers can master pidgin, but for me I can always admire them speak it "impeccably".

GhanaThink Managing Executive

Pidgin and its roots

Excellent revelation Paa Kwesi!

Another point is that most young people who speak Pidgin in Ghana do so because it is easy for communication and not because they cannot speak proper Queen's language English.

Pidgin is all over, all over West Africa. Innately, we cannot run away from our native languages, cuz even Pidgin borrows from them. In fact, it borrows words from various sources/languages. You could even create a pidgin word today. :)

Panyin, it is not very difficult to pick up speaking Pidgin. It's definitely easier than Swahili. :-)

The destiny of a nation at any given time depends on the opinions (and actions) of its young men and women.