THE PROCESSES OF LEXICAL EVOLUTION IN NIGERIAN ENGLISH
1.1 Background to the Study
Language is an explicit, versatile and extendable means of communicating messages. (Jackson, 1990, p.1). It is an indispensable tool for human communication and a vehicle for the exchange of thoughts and ideas. In every society, language plays a major role as an effective means of communication. An aspect of this broad means of communication is lexis which is “the vocabulary of a language” (Crystal, 2008, p. 279). Each time a language user sets out to speak or write, he/she is faced with choices to select from among infinite sets of lexical items. The main concern of language is to convey meaning and without meaning, there is no language. It can also be argued that meaning in language is not fixed but dynamic because of the dynamism of language itself. In Nigeria, however, English is the most important means of communication (Otekpen, 2012, p.12). As languages come into contact with new realities and experiences, their stocks of words and meanings change. Moreso, since contexts that constrain language users when speaking or writing differ in situational, socio-cultural, political and geographical degrees, there is bound to be lexical evolution. Lexical innovations, however, play an important role in the process of lexical evolution.
The documentation of the various features of world Englishes has continued to attract the attention of scholars. Like other varieties of non-native Englishes, West African English has received considerable attention. Anchimbe (2006), Bamgbose, Banjo and Thomas (1995); Eka (2000, 2003) and Igboanusi (2002), among others, demonstrate these new Englishes. Whatever the circumstances under which English was introduced into West Africa, the language has provided the people with an invaluable tool for education and development. As each country exhibits a predominantly hegemonic variety identifiable with it (Ajani, 2007), a number of West African Englishes have emerged such as Nigerian English, Ghanaian English, Cameroonian English, Gambian English, Sierra Leonean English, and Liberian English. The continued spread of English makes language contact and nativization of English inevitable. Spread across geographical boundaries in a linear fashion has given rise to linguistic evolution which has categorisation processes such as coinages, loanshift and analogical creations. The evolving lexical items tend to move from one urban area to another, across rural areas and across national borders.
It is a well known sociolinguistic fact that there are changes in the language use of an individual who, after acquiring his mother tongue learns a second, third or nth language. According to Udofot (1999), “the speakers of the New Englishes have created and are still creating new expressions to fulfill their communicative needs. Not all are neologisms or new creations” (p. 97). Some are words created from existing English words whose meanings have been either extended or changed altogether. Others are new creations which are spoken in different geographical locations. Kachru (1997) established that in the contexts of the New Englishes, “the localized norm has a well-established linguistic, literary, and cultural identity” (pp. 220-221). Thus, the new English varieties have evolved into varieties which serve a wide range of purposes, and at the same time, developed their own character. Hence, they differ from the native varieties. This is in line with Onuigbo and Eyisi’s (2008) assertion that “the remarkable consequence of the spread of English is that the original form of the English spoken by native speakers in America and Britain has developed varieties or dialects in line with its worldwide expansion” (p. 51).
The peculiar characteristics of the lexical evolution in Nigerian English are based on the interaction between English and the indigenous Nigerian languages. In the case of English, its peculiar historical development in Nigeria has brought about distinctive patterns in its lexical manifestation and meaning. It is a fact that English has been nativised in Nigeria so that today we are talking of Nigerian English (NE) rather than English in Nigeria. However, there are conflicting views about the nature of Nigerian English. At one time, its existence was doubted. The argument has shifted from whether or not it exists, to the determination of its distinctive features. Interestingly, the type of English used in Britain does not serve all the communicative needs of these new developments in expanding frontiers as it may lack words and phrases to express the cultural backgrounds of the people. For instance, it will certainly lack words which refer to local food, housing, clothing, festivals, family relations, status and a whole range of social relations. As a result, lexical evolution has, therefore, become inevitable. According to Udofot (1999), “English may not have the words to accurately express the thoughts and feelings of the people which are adequately expressed in their local languages” (p. 97). This study, therefore, isolates the lexical level of language as the one that is most susceptible to evolution and creativity in Nigeria. It is in this component that the influence of the local languages, the socio-cultural as well as the physical Nigerian environment is strongly reflected and referred to as “local colour” (Kaan, Amase, & Tsavmbu, 2013, p. 77).
The coming of the British and English speaking missionaries in large numbers to the Southern part of Nigeria from 1842 brought the need for a language to be adopted for communication between the indigenous population and the guest. Baldeh (1990) observed that during this period, the implementation of English in the body politic of Nigeria started with its adoption as the channel of instruction in 1882 and vehicle for the training of the direly needed man power to man the fledging government services (Baldeh, 1990, pp. 1-2). Both the colonial masters and their missionary counterparts realised that for effective administration and overall success, they could not do without the natives. The use of the language and the status it bestowed on those that acquired it made the language a prestigious one for many Nigerians then.
Another strong factor for the ascendancy of the English language was the attitude towards the native language. Regrettably, the vernacular languages were rejected and relegated to the background. To further ensure this, pupils were disciplined for using them. The result was according to Baldeh (1990), “a progressively waning enthusiasm for the local language” (p. 2). The attitude of the natives themselves to their own local language did not help matters. The English language thus became a medium of instruction in schools. By 1914, when Lord Luggard amalgamated the Northern and Southern protectorates into what is today called Nigeria, English language has been enthroned in the country and had permeated the different areas of the lives of the citizens. Subsequent years saw the emergence of the language as the country’s official language. This fact is due, first, to the multi ethno linguistic composition of Nigeria where the language is seen as neutral. English, is therefore, seen as a heritage left behind in Nigeria by the British at the end of the colonial administration. It gradually became a natural response to the yearning linguistic and socio-cultural needs of the Nigerian users.
1.1.1 The Roles of English in Nigeria
The dominant role of English in the era of globalization remains unquestionable. Globalization is “the tendency for economic, social, political and cultural processes to take place on a global scale rather than within the confines of particular countries or regions” (Fairclough, 2000, p. 165). This implies “the universalization of concepts, movements, technology, markets, etc. in the context of a compressed world” (Awonusi, 2010, p. 87). Since language is an expression of culture, it becomes unavoidable for L2 users of English to bring in innovations that give expression to their cultural heritage (Adeyanju, 2001, p. 10).
The English language plays very prominent roles in Nigeria. Ethnic division in Nigeria is often along linguistic lines and is assumed that the existence of many languages means the existence of many basically antagonistic nationalities trying to form a nation. In essence, there is mutual antagonism amongst the ethno linguistic regions of the country making the issue of the national language question a difficult one. On the other hand, each of the majority language asserts its supremacy over the others. The implication of adopting any Nigerian language as a national language is quite political. The English language, therefore, becomes an alternative in meeting our national communicative needs, more because of its neutrality in the country.
The teaching of English in Nigeria is not done unjustifiably. The nascent desire for the acquisition of this metropolitan language by every Nigerian is ignited by the fact that the language had occupied an enviable and prominent position in the nation’s imperialistic colonial heritage and implications notwithstanding. The inestimable role of English in the multilingual Nigeria is, therefore, summed up by Bamgbose (1971) thus:
Of the heritage left behind by the British at the end of the colonial administration, probably none is more important than the English language. This is now the language of government, business and commerce, education, the mass media, literature and internal as well as external communication. (p. 35)
In practice however, English is the only effective medium of communication among Nigerians from different linguistic backgrounds. This is evident in the day-to-day contact of English with about four hundred indigenous languages (Babajide, 2001, p. 1), which created the need for new ideas and modes of thought to be expressed in new ways that are not available in the native variety of English. English in the Nigerian domain has assumed the function of expressing adequately the way of life of the multifarious cultures found in Nigeria. Its contact with an equally outrageous number of languages subdues it to internal and structural changes (Otekpen, 2012, p. 16).
The performance of a Nigerian in the target language is conditioned by structural, linguistic, as well as socio-cultural interferences which may be quaint. Such quaintness, Banjo (1982) in Adeniran’s (1987) stated can be classified and accounted for as deviant. However, a distinction between deviance and deviation shows that the former reflects the users’ ignorance of the rule of collocation and colligation or failure in the applications of the rules while the later represents features one will legitimately associate with the growth of the English language in new surroundings (Adeniran, 1987).
The term “Nigerian English” has come to be recognised and accepted as referring to a legitimate sub-type of English, which is peculiar to Nigeria. In a country like Nigeria where English is a second language, it is expected that the kind of English found will be from the varieties peculiar to the different local languages. Grieve (1965) opined that the point about English in Nigeria is not just that it is different from British or American English, but that there are several varieties of English ranging from something very near Standard English to the patois of the market place (Idowu, 1999, p. 1). This unifying role of English in Nigeria is one that cannot be overlooked. Jowitt (1991) agreed that English plays a prominent role in commerce and business transactions, especially in urban cities like Abuja, Lagos, Ibadan, and Kaduna. Trading is said to flourish easily in English because of the status of English as an international language. The prominence of a language lies in its use in news broadcasting and advertisement on radio and television stations. The prominence of English in Nigeria is also indicated by book and newspaper publications. There are numerous literatures that are published in English on different national issues and these create awareness in the minds of people. The availability of literature written in English does not only make the language prominent but also encourages its spread and recognition throughout the country and even beyond. The English language has also made a giant stride in the spread of religion in Nigeria. The publication of the Holy Bible, hymn books and tracts has enhanced the spread of English in Nigeria. In formal and mixed gatherings, English is the language used for sermons and preaching.
Bamgbose (1971) observed that:
The many send-off parties, naming ceremonies, wedding receptions, house warming parties which are regular features of life in the towns and at which English is invariably the medium of communication are a testimony to the role of English in the social life of educated Nigerians. (p. 103)
English in Nigeria is, therefore, a language whose status is recognised in spite of the feelings of national identity which always bring the national language question into focus.
It is pertinent to hasten to point out that words are the essential components of a language through which speakers and writers express themselves. When we speak, we put our thoughts into words. Knowing a language entails having knowledge of the words or morphemes and sound sequence in that language. It entails a semantic knowledge of what they mean. This knowledge affords one the opportunity to use the words appropriately in sentences and understand them when one hears them. The totality, however, of words in a language constitutes its lexicon. The evolution of lexical items in Nigerian English comes through coinages, loanshifts/semantic extension, analogical creations, clichés, acronym, transfer, blends, backformation/clipping, and direct borrowings. The introduction of a new word into a language strikingly draws the attention of the speakers. It must, however, be noted that just as new lexical items evolve in a language, the language also loses words due to lack of use.
At the lexical level, we observe transfers from the local languages (especially the three major, regional languages – Yoruba, Igbo and Hausa) and from the following areas: music, clothing, indigenous foods, traditional religious beliefs, local institutions, flora and fauna as well as different creative strategies, such as the lexification of acronyms, neologisms and semantic extension. Generally, most of the items from music, clothing and foods are left intact in their substrate forms, for want of better terminology (Ajani, 2005).
Word coinage, a process of lexical evolution, refers to the process of creating words to fit particular purposes while acronyms are words derived from the initials of several words. Blends on the other hand is the process whereby two or more words are brought together to form a single lexical item, hyphenated or not. Borrowing refers to the process by which some linguistic items of one language or dialect are incorporated into another language. These are referred to as loan or foreign words. These features among others are very prominent in lexical evolution in Nigerian English (Odumuh, 1987, pp. 69-126; Adegbija, 2004, p. 23). Abdullahi-Idiagbon and Olaniyi (2011, p. 78) explained that coinages or neologisms are identified as new terms created for new experiences, especially where the speaker of the language either experiences dearth of correct standard lexical item to express him/herself or uses a word or an expression to satisfy the communicative purpose of his immediate environment. Such coinages are sometimes metaphorically explainable and could be a result of interference or transfer of traits from a speaker’s first language to the target language. However, Bamgbose (1998) did not stop at classifying innovation as an acceptable variant but also points out the need to differentiate an innovation from an error, saying that the former is seen as an acceptable variant, while the latter is simply a mistake or uneducated usage. He also opines that innovations are well motivated, while errors are not. In the same vein, Bokamba (1982) classified lexico-semantic innovation in terms of semantic deviation.
Adegbija (1989, p.171) identified five typologies in Nigerian English which are lexical evolution processes: transfer, analogy, acronyms, semantic shift or extension and coinages or neologisms. To him, transfer takes place when a meaning not found in English is translated directly into English from the indigenous languages. He further identified four types of transfer to include transfer of meaning (bushman, outing ceremony, not on seat); transfer of culture (Bride price, introduction, new yam festival); transfer of context (sorry, toast) and, transfer of Pidgin features (kola, dash, mammy water). In the same way, analogy is the formation of new words on the basis of partial likeness or similarity in form or meaning with already existing words in either English or the indigenous languages. Analogy incorporates affixation, a major word formation process in English and as such, it becomes a model of formation of new words in Nigerian English. Some words in Nigerian English are formed through prefixation, infixation or suffixation and these new words can be purely English or hybridisation of English and the indigenous languages. Examples are ‘decampee’, ‘enablement’, ‘akara-balls’ among others.
Moreover, acronym is the formation of new words from the combination of the initial letters or larger portion of existing words. Examples are CBT (Computer based Test), EFCC (Economic and Financial Crimes Commission), NASU (Non-Academic Staff Union), and PHCN (Power Holding company of Nigeria). Semantic shift or extension occurs when the meanings of existing lexical stock in English have been shifted, narrowed or generalised in Nigerian English. The meaning of a word is shifted if it is used to cover a new concept or meaning apart from its original meaning. Examples are “escort” (to see a guest off), and machine (a motor cycle), among others. The meaning of a word is narrowed if it is limited to a particular sense as in “vendor” (newspaper seller), and “mechanic” (auto mechanic). The meaning of a word is generalised if it is used to convey a meaning different from its original one. An example is ‘uncle’ (for someone not related to the user). However, coinages or neologisms are totally newly formed words used to express the experiences, feelings, thoughts, patterns, modes of life, culture and customs of the Nigerian users of English which the existing words in English cannot express. The three main bases recognised for lexical innovation under coinages or neologisms are:
a) The use of existing words in English, e.g. go-slow, half-current.
b) The use of existing lexical stock in mother tongue, e.g buba, tuwo.
c) A hybrid of the lexical stock of indigenous languages and English e.g. akara-ball, adire-cloth, kiakia bus.
Adegbija (2004, p. 24) referred to the sub-standard forms of English as results of transfer from culture, sense or meaning from the native language into English, or reinterpretation or extension of an existing meaning in English to cover new areas of experience in Nigerian English. This study is therefore, designed to analyse some lexical items that have evolved in Nigerian English and attempt to trace their roots/sources.
It is also pertinent to state that the ten categories of lexico-semantic variation in Nigerian English identified by Bamiro (1991/1994) which this work adopted as described below are: Loanshift/Semantic Extension; Semantic Shift; Coinages; Clichés; Translation Equivalents; Direct Borrowing; Acronyms/Alphabetism; Analogy; Backformation/Clipping, and Blends. They can also be seen as processes of lexical evolution in Nigerian English. For instance, according to Bamiro above, loanshift occurs when the meaning of a word or a phrase from the target language (English) is extended to cover a new meaning or concept. Examples are settle (bribe), hotel (a place primarily meant for prostitutes), and purse (money). In Semantic Shift, a new meaning is given to a lexical item to acquire a new understanding. For instance words like sister, brother, uncle, and aunt are used as terms of respect for older people. They are used to represent kinship relationship such as cousin, nephew, and niece. ‘Father’ and ‘mother’ can be used for any elderly person who may not necessary be one’s biological parents. Coinages are new words created to express experiences which existing words in English cannot carry. Examples are ‘tokunbo car’, and ‘kiakia bus’. In Clichés, a number of words or phrases are constantly being indigenized by way of semantic modification. These include clichés of formal and informal styles like ‘last but not (the) least’ (formal), and ‘bouncing baby boy’ (informal). Translation equivalents are manifestations of mother tongues interference by which lexical items are substituted literally from Nigerian languages to English. For instance, ‘transport money’ (fare). In Direct borrowing, languages in contact which naturally influence each other are commonly restricted to the vocabulary or lexical items. For example, words from Nigerian languages, such as the Yoruba language come into Nigerian English as in ‘kiakia bus’ and ‘tokumbo cars’ (where ‘kiakia’ means ‘fast’, and ‘tokumbo’ means ‘used’ or from overseas). An acronym is a word or name formed as an abbreviation from the initial components in a phrase or a word, usually individual letters and sometimes syllables. Examples are NLC (Nigerian Labour Congress), SUG (Students Union Government), and NPA (Nigerian Port Authority).
Analogical Creations are words created based on their similarity or likeness in form of meaning with either existing lexical items in English or Nigerian languages. Examples are ‘on-break’, ‘house boy’. Backformation/Clipping is the morphological process of shortening of words in a way that the clips retain their original meaning. Backformation involves clipping. Examples are memo (Memorandum), Gen Sec (General Secretary), Exam (Examination). According to Adams (1973), blends are near compound words. They involve bringing parts of two or more words together to arrive at new information. In Nigerian English an expression such as: ‘Bukateria’ is derived from ‘buka’ (a place where food is sold) and ‘cafeteria’ (a restaurant).
It could, therefore, be said that the classification of Bamiro (1991/1994) extends the five typologies of Adegbija (1989).
Some lexical items that are archaic and extinct in British English, for example ‘twice’ is still is use in Nigerian English as superstrate retention (once part of the input variety) is endonormatively stabilized but no longer based on contemporary British English usage. From the point of view of evolution of New English varieties, superstrate retention is at the structural level and as such a genuine innovation in language structure. This evolution of new English varieties has also created lexical items which belong to common core and shared by other varieties and it is used in Nigerian English grammatically and semantically. Morphologically, Nigerian English also deviates from the native variety in the use of affixation as exhibited in words with ‘-ee’ as in decampee, invitee, awardee.
West African English has become an important part of World Englishes- a window of access to Africa and Africa’s window to the rest of the world (Kachru, 1995, p. vii). It is now recognised that there do exist non-native varieties of English which have to be recognised and accepted as such. For the most part, one comes across several words or expressions that may be identified as unique to Nigerian English or any other West African Englishes and so on. More scholars of English have come to accept that non-native varieties exist in their own right and that they are suitable models for speakers in those nations for whom they are intended (Bamgbose, 1997, p. 10). Language cannot remain static, and it is an aspect of growth and adaptation to cultural and linguistic environment that varieties must develop. It is also worth mentioning that there is not just one unique set of native norms. In the same way, Bamgbose (1997) asserted that “what we call Standard English is an abstraction from such varieties as British English, American English...” (p. 13).
As far as non-native Englishes are concerned, they should be accepted for what they are and not as imperfect approximations of native norms. This implies that nativisation processes are recognised and innovations in language and style are considered as indexical markers. Even though there have been previous studies on innovations in Nigerian English, there has never been a detailed study to the best of my knowledge on lexical evolution in Nigerian English based on both quantitative and qualitative techniques. Most importantly, this step into a statistical evaluation and presentation of the growth and spread of the lexical items in Nigerian English is to be seen as a welcome development into scholarly research. This study is also intended to expose the lexicon of Nigerian English for more scholarly research which will in turn facilitate its codification.
1.2 Statement of Problem
There have been numerous scholarly works on Nigerian English. There have also been quite some works on lexical innovations in Nigerian English like that of Bamiro (1991; 1994), Adegbija (1989) among others. However, a detailed scholarly work on lexical evolution in Nigerian English using both qualitative and quantitative approaches is so far largely missing. In this study, while the qualitative approach is used to examine and discuss the evolving lexical items in Nigerian English from the point of view of the Sapir-Whorf’s theory of linguistic relativity; tracing their roots and usages with illustrations in relation to the Standard British English equivalents, the statistical presentation using simple percentage and a pie chart, which is a quantitative approach enabled the researcher to establish the degree of occurrence and spread of the processes of lexical evolution. This is the gap this study intends to fill.
The inability of the English language to perfectly capture aspects of Nigerian culture is necessitated by the fact that the existing semantic and syntactic resources of the English language are incapable of serving the communicative needs of the people. Lexical evolution in Nigerian English, which attempts to facilitate the communicative needs of the people, is characterized by neologism (that is, invention of new words or phrases) and semantic extension (that is, encoding existing English words and phrases with meanings that are absent in the original, but which encapsulate the unique socio-linguistic experiences). Nigerian English means different things to different people. The argument of most analysts seems to be that Nigerian English does not yet have full acceptance among Nigerians. Some researchers are still inconclusive about the characterization of Nigerian English, but it is obvious that there is Nigerian English with its own peculiarities which are conditioned by the Nigerian socio-cultural environment (Ogunsiji, 2004, p. 87). Some educated Nigerians feel that the recognition of Nigerian English will spell doom for English speakers in Nigeria especially because of the negative attitude associated with the uneducated in the society. It is often assumed that Standard English is the same throughout the English speaking world. However, what happens when the English used by a particular national needs to be interpreted to someone who is not of the same background? Nigerians use some words in a particular way which differs from how native English language speakers use them. Therefore, people are quick to say that certain words or statements are distinctive of Nigerian English (NE). Despite the massive interest already shown by scholars towards Nigerian English through both the references made to it, and the empirical descriptions it has attracted, many of its linguistic features remain to be studied and brought to the fore. Consequently, researchers are at present still unable to wholly provide comprehensive codification resources of the vocabularies and grammar to guide usage. To be able to achieve this, further studies on the typical linguistic features of Nigerian English are worthwhile and must continue to seek scholarly attention. Issues of social acceptability and international intelligibility of the Nigerian English often take a central position in scholarly debates. Thus, the attitude of the researcher is in line with Bamgbose (1997) who argued at length in favour of non-native Englishes and recommends that effort be intensified in their codification so that, like standard native English, they may become “encoded in grammars, dictionaries, and taught in educational institutions, used in print and generally found in the speeches of those regarded as educated speakers” (Greenbaum, 1990, p. 81). The problem this study wishes to solve is to bring to the fore the knowledge that Nigerian English is not totally ungrammatical, unintelligible, and unacceptable as users perfectly understand themselves and communication is effective.
1.3 Objectives of the Study
The aim of this study is to examine the processes of lexical evolution in Nigerian English and provide statistical evaluation of the growth and spread of the lexical items. More specifically, the study sought to:
(i) identify the lexical items that have undergone lexical evolution in Nigerian English;
(ii) characterize the features of lexical evolution that occurred in the lexical items,
(iii) ascertain the meanings given to some of the lexical items that are rooted in their original meanings,
(iv) ascertain the meaning of the commonly used lexical items in Nigerian English and their British English equivalents and,
(v) discuss the extent of use and acceptability of these evolved lexical items.
1.4Relevance of the Study
This study will provide an additional document on the socio-linguistic materials that prove that there are indeed distinctive lexical items that have evolved in Nigerian English. As such, educationists and users of English in Nigeria will be further sensitized on the existence of standard and non-standard instances of Nigerian English. It is hoped that such sensitization will not only lead to a more meaningful use of the English language in Nigeria, but will also contribute to the proof of the existence of Nigerian English. This will bring to the knowledge of language users that Nigerian English is not totally ungrammatical, unacceptable or unintelligible. Though, these words when used in expressions are totally understood by Nigerians, a native speaker may need some clarifications in some of the expressions for a better understanding. The study would also be of great relevance to those in the field of education, especially in their bid for further research on other aspects of the Nigerian English usages. This is crucial since proficiency in English is a compulsory requirement in educational system. In this study, the interest of the researcher is to explore the patterns of lexical evolution in Nigerian English for more critical study which will in turn make this identified variety inevitable assets for codification. Interestingly, Ahulu (1994) observed that it is at the morphological, syntactic, phonological and lexical levels that the various non-native varieties can be identified. This study will also contribute to the emerging literature on West African Englishes. After all, American English which originally had little prestige, has become, not only an international Standard but actually the fastest spreading model especially in cyber journalism.
1.5 Scope and Delimitation of the Study
Given the vast nature of this research, identifying all the lexical items that have evolved in Nigerian English may be a very difficult task. This research is, therefore, limited to two hundred and forty eight (248) lexical items that have evolved in Nigerian English at the level of socio-linguistics by focusing on words that have been loaned, broadened or narrowed in meaning to accommodate new realities. Others are linguistic borrowing, coinages, analogy, transfer, blends, backformation and meaning shifts as found in both written and oral interactions. The primary sources of this data were based on focused group discussions and recordings with students of the University of Calabar, Uyo, and Port Harcourt, selected randomly from various locations. Others were observations and note takings in such domains as the market places, streets, homes and churches. The secondary sources were based on literatures in Nigerian English where items of lexical evolution occurred. This study adopted the categorisation processes of Bamiro (1991/94) and Adegbija (1989) in discussing and analysing the evolved lexical items in Nigerian English in relation to the Standard British English Equivalents. The identified lexical items were also evaluated from the point of view of Sapir-Whorf Linguistic Relativity. All the lexical items that were understudied in this research were selected through a purposive random sampling technique. This enabled the researcher to make acceptable generalisations..