Make Pidgin English Lingua Franca

Don Osborn dzo at BISHARAT.NET
Fri Feb 20 23:24:10 UTC 2004

I've been putting off responding to this item because I wanted to reflect on
it before responding.  First the Webbook of African Languages at has a profile of Pidgin along
with Krio (navigate the frames to look under the latter or go directly to ).  Ethnologue of course has
something on it - see

On Nigerian languages, Ethnologue says "The number of languages listed for
Nigeria is 515. Of those, 505 are living languages, 2 are second languages
without mother tongue speakers, and 8 are extinct." ( )  I have heard (no
citation) other estimates of Nigerian languages of ~350.  At least part of
the discrepancy may be accounted for by how one defines language.

Pidgins of course are "contact languages" or "a simplified speech used for
communication between people with different languages" (the latter being a
Merriam-Webster def.).

In some measure I guess there may be a creolization of pidgin in parts of
Nigeria (leading to a more or less stable form) but the initial thought is
that a pidgin or even a creole has a limited vocabulary and range of

All that said, while it certainly makes sense to acknowledge the use of
pidgins, I wonder how helpful it would be to raise the status of a pidgin in
the way implied by the article.  In effect where it exists it is there, but
otherwise it adds another layer of language in an already complex situation.
For people who may have one maternal language, use another regional one if
different from the maternal language (e.g., Hausa, Yoruba, Igbo), and learn
English, now they'd have to learn pidgin also.

Would promotion of pidgin mainly serve to 1) hasten the disappearance of
minority languages and 2) institutionalize "dumbed down" expression in the

With regard to Resa's comments, one would be tempted to take the point a
step further - what about the many indigenous languages, and why raise the
status of pidgin more than those?

It is funny that I saw this article at about the same time I learned of a
statement by an African youth conference in Windhoek last year which called
for establishment of a "new panAfrican language."  What this and the
promotion of pidgin would seem to have in common - however well intended -
is to complicate not simplify Africa's multilingual situations.

Don Osborn

----- Original Message -----
From: "Bizzaro, Resa Crane" <CRANEM at MAIL.ECU.EDU>
Sent: Friday, February 20, 2004 4:54 PM
Subject: Re: Make Pidgin English Lingua Franca

> Hi, all.  As a person who speaks standard English and at least two
> dialects from eastern NC, I'm in favor of incorporating dialects into
> standardized tests.  What would that do to the No Child Left Behind
> Initiative, which is seriously affecting the schools in my county? :-)
> Great idea!
> Resa
> -----Original Message-----
> From: Hishinlai' [mailto:fnkrs at UAF.EDU]
> Sent: Friday, February 20, 2004 1:00 AM
> Subject: Make Pidgin English Lingua Franca
> As we've all experienced from some other time, not too long ago, I think
> know a "news article" hardly ever covers the facts. For me, given the
> gravity of this statement "that there are easily 500 mother tongues in the
> country, which can be classified under dead, dying, moribund or living
> languages.", it would be interesting to see how he can back-up a "Pidgin
> English Lingua Franca."
> Maybe in the U.S., we could adopt non-standard English that is appropriate
> regionally. Wow! I wonder what the NCLB initiative would think of that if
> they had to institute those types of tests in the schools? Hishinlai'
> >===== Original Message From Indigenous Languages and Technology
> >Make Pidgin English Lingua Franca
> >
> >>From Iyefu Adoba in Abuja
> >
> >
> >A Director of research programmes from the National Centre for
> >Scientific Research in France, Professor Bernard Caron, has made a case
> >for Pidgin English as a lingua Franca in the country.
> >
> >Speaking in Abuja at a lecture titled "Why Study Minority Languages in
> >Nigeria," Professor Caron, who has been in and out of Nigeria for the
> >past 17 years, regretted that despite Pidgin being an important Lingua
> >Franca, it is hardly mentioned in the language policy of the country.
> >
> >"Why is the language policy silent on Nigerian Pidgin which is used in
> >families and is a first language for many children?" queried the
> >Professor.
> >
> >He noted that English is the de facto official language in the
> >bureaucratic and educational system, while the 3 major languages of
> >Yoruba, Ibo and Hausa remain the major national potential languages.
> >
> >Noting that Pidgin is commonly used in songs, the Professor however
> >observed that very little literature, if any at all, exists in Pidgin
> >and asked if there is any future literary for Pidgin which can be
> >easily read in Nigeria and even outside the country.
> >
> >Caron said Nigeria is a well known country of many languages, adding
> >that there are easily 500 mother tongues in the country, which can be
> >classified under dead, dying, moribund or living languages.
> >
> >The Professor said the study of minority languages helps provide better
> >knowledge of the culture of the people and helps fight illiteracy.
> <><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><>
> Hishinlai'
> "Kathy R. Sikorski", Gwich'in Instructor
> University of Alaska Fairbanks
> Alaska Native Language Center
> P. O. Box 757680
> Fairbanks, AK  99775-7680
> P (907) 474-7875
> F (907) 474-7876
> E fnkrs at
> ANLC-L at
> Laraa t'ahch'yaa kwaa k'it tr'agwah'in. Nigwiinjik kwaa k'it juu
> veet'indhan ts'a' nak'arahtii kwaa k'it ch'andzaa. or
> "Work like you don't need the money. Love like you've never been hurt, and
> Dance like you do when nobody's watching."

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