BBC World Service Launches New Pidgin Service

BBC World Service Launches New Pidgin Service Editorial lead Bilkisu Labaran

August 21st, BBC Pidgin launched today as part of the biggest expansion of the World Service since the 1940s.BBC Pidgin the first African digital service will provide impartial news, current affairs and analysis of Nigeria, West and Central Africa – as well as international news from the BBC’s global network of correspondents. The new service will also provide the BBC’s global audience with a better understanding of the region.

Pidgin Team

The new digital service – aimed at younger and female audiences – will also feature BBC Minute, broadcasting six times a day, with a round up of the world in 60 seconds available online and social. New programming will also feature a specially commissioned drama which will illustrate the beauty of the language and the fun people have in following the language

World Service Director Francesca Unsworth said:

“For more than eighty years the BBC World Service has brought trusted news to millions across the globe. I’m delighted that millions of people in Nigeria and beyond, will be able to access the BBC in such a popular language as Pidgin.”

Editorial lead Bilkisu Labaran

Editorial lead Bilkisu Labaran, said:

“We are so proud to be launching the BBC’s first digital service in Africa. Pidgin is the language spoken among so many people across West and Central Africa and for the first time we will be connecting with the next generation of speakers. Pidgin is the common thread in the region, the language of unity spoken by people from all walks of life, and we are excited at the prospect of providing this service”

BBC Pidgin will aim to serve a younger audience and women with social media playing a key role. In addition to news and current affairs, there will be extensive coverage of culture, entertainment, entrepreneurship, science & technology, health and sport – including the English Premier League.

Pidgin is spoken by 75m people in Nigeria alone, with additional speakers in Cameroon, Ghana, and Equatorial Guinea. It is primarily an oral language, without a standard agreed written form. With the introduction of this new service the BBC hopes to contribute to the development of this language.

What is Pidgin?

The Oxford English Dictionary definition of Pidgin is: A language containing lexical and other features from two or more languages, characteristically with simplified grammar and a smaller vocabulary than the languages from which it is derived, used for communication between people not having a common language; a lingua franca.

Simply put, Pidgin English is a mixture of English and local languages which enables people who do not share a common language to communicate.

Most African countries are made up of numerous different ethnic groups who do not necessarily have a lingua franca, so Pidgin has developed.

It is widely spoken in Nigeria, Ghana, Equatorial Guinea and Cameroon.

There are differences, because English is mixed with different languages in each country but they are usually mutually intelligible.

A form of Pidgin has developed into a mother tongue for the Krio community in Sierra Leone, which non-Krios can find difficult to understand.

What is so special about Pidgin?

“It’s quite fluid, it keeps changing all the time and it’s expressive as well,” says Bilkisu Labran, head of the new BBC language services for Nigeria.

“Sometimes, if you don’t have a word for something, you can just create an onomatopoeic sound and just express yourself. And it will be appreciated and understood.

Also, Pidgin hardly follows standard grammatical rules so “you can lose things like verbs”, by saying: ‘I dey go’ to mean ‘I’m going’.

Other examples are:

I wan chop ( I want to eat)

Wetin dey ‘appen? (What is happening?)

I no no (I do not know)

Where you dey? (Where are you)

How many people speak it?

It is difficult to know the precise number of speakers across the region as it is not formally studied in schools and is spoken in varying degrees of proficiency.

But many millions of people undoubtedly speak it on a daily basis, especially young people.

Nigeria is estimated to have between three and five million people who primarily use Pidgin in their day-to-day interactions. But it is said to be a second language to a much higher number of up to 75 million people in Nigeria alone – about half the population.

Although it is commonly spoken, Pidgin is not an official language anywhere in West Africa.

However, some local radio stations do broadcast in Pidgin.

How did it originate?

West African Pidgin English, also called Guinea Coast Creole English, was a language of commerce spoken along the coast during the Atlantic slave trade in the late 17th and 18th Centuries.

This allowed British slave merchants and local African traders to conduct business.

It later spread to other parts of the West African colonies, becoming a useful trade language among local ethnic groups who spoke different languages.

Top 12 Pidgin Phrases:

  • Na you sabi That’s your business,               I’ll leave you to it
  • Wahala Dey                                          We have a problem
  • I no fit shout                                        I don’t want to be stressed, I can’t be bothered
  • Na so e be                                             It is what it is
  • Wetin dey happen                                 What’s happening, what’s going on
  • No wahala                                            No problem
  • How far na                                           How are you? How is it?
  • How body                                            How are you doing, how is your health
  • Yawa don gas                                      There’s trouble
  • Nawa oh                                             I can’t believe it, exclamation!
  • You too much                                     When you look good or do something great
  • Notin do you                                       You are on point


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