Nigerian English Recognised By Oxford English Dictionary

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) has divided opinion by officially recognising 29 Nigerian English words. Whilst overall the reaction has been favourable, with many Nigerians reporting a sense of pride, there has been some controversy as to the implications of the move.

Timi Soleye, a Nigerian historian, argues that the words incorporated do not fit into English grammar rules and that the decision, “amounts to the debasement of English grammar.”  Soleye believes that people should feel free to speak their dialect, but asserts that their dialect isn’t English. Other critics of the move maintain  that, the publicity surrounding the decision implies that Nigerian English needed a far-away expert in the U.K. to legitimise it. An unnamed Nigerian writer, speaking to the BBC, states that he does not care what the British think of his language, as it does not concern them.

Kingsley Ugwuanyi, a consultant for the OED on their Nigerian English Project, addresses the nuance of the situation by commenting that, “the English-speaking world should be thankful to Nigeria for this historical gift.” Indeed, the key thing to remember is that, Nigeria has gifted its words to the English language, and not that the OED has gifted legitimacy to Nigerian English. The OED decision simply marks the focal point of years of work by many academic scholars who have looked at Nigerian English and how it operates. However, there is a danger that such a decision can be read as the OED somehow bestowing a post-colonial blessing on the language.

Overall, recognising the many forms of English, which have flourished in colonial and post-colonial times, is one way of tackling the prejudice which the speakers of these dialects have faced, and continue to face.

Within the circles of post-colonial academia, there is more widespread acceptance and practice of less stereotypically Western manners of speaking.  For example, Gloria E. Anzaldúa switches between English and Spanish. In many texts, writers alter spellings allowing dialect to shine through in their work. This can be seen in the work of writer and publisher, Eghosa Imasuen, who, when speaking to the BBC, stated that he simply wrote in the language he had grown up speaking, and only later was aware that this was Nigerian English.  If the OED’s recognition of some Nigerian English words is a chance to help in the dismantling of language barriers, then overall, it is a good thing.

Grace Bridgewater