Arts, Culture & Media

A new digital platform in West Africa targets speakers of the Pidgin language

Pidgin Team.jpg

The BBC Pidgin team in West Africa.

Credit:

BBC World Service

People in West African countries speak hundreds of languages — more than 520 are spoken in Nigeria alone. A lingua franca is a necessity for day-to-day life.

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That's where Pidgin comes in. Millions of people speak this informal language, a constantly evolving mix of English and local languages, as a way to overcome language barriers in the region. 

And the BBC sees an opening for new audiences. They've launched a Pidgin language digital platform for West Africa based in Nigeria. It's a chance to better cover the region, as well as pioneer a standardized written form of Pidgin, which is primarily a form of oral communication. 

West African Pidgin English developed during the slave trade in 17th and 18th centuries as a mix of English and local languages.

Bilkisu Labaran, the BBC's editorial lead in Nigeria, says the language used to have negative connotations. "When I was a kid in school, we used to get beaten — actually physically beaten — for speaking Pidgin, because at the time the attitude was that Pidgin is bad English." 

When it launched about a decade ago, Nigeria's first Pidgin radio station, Wazobia FM, faced a lot of criticism from those who considered Pidgin "street slang" that would make other languages less pure. But things are changing. Young people have embraced Pidgin. Music, movies and other media increasingly use Pidgin. 

Labaran is excited to see the enthusiasm for Pidgin. "One of the fantastic things about [Pidgin] is its fluidity, its constantly changing nature, its flexibility in terms of the grammar that you use," she said. "Whether you're Hausa from the north [of Nigeria], you're Yoruba from the west, or Ibo from the east, it unites all of us. When I meet Nigerians abroad, the first thing we want to do is speak Pidgin."

You can listen to the full interview with The World's Marco Werman above.