What are the Varieties of Nigerian English

What are the Varieties of Nigerian English

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It is evident that educated Nigerians speak a form of English that is close to the Standard British English though with some lexical, tonal, structural and semantic differences. It is also evident that these differences manifest differently among educated Nigerians. In this study, it was shown that all the forms referred to as Nigerian English actually emanated from a combination of features from an indigenous language of individual Nigerian and the inadequate knowledge of Standard English usage. Beside tone which marks out the region and tribe of Nigerian English speakers, structural variations abound among speakers of every type of English spoken in Nigeria

The varieties of Nigerian English

 Over the years,  English Language has co-existed with indigenous Nigerian languages and its use for expressing Nigerian experience and situations, it has developed linguistic patterns which have identified it as a distinct variety of world Englishes (Udofot, 2007: 7). We are fully aware that the retention of the English Language is necessitated by the Nigerian multi-lingual reality. So, with an estimated number of over 400 languages spoken in the country, English, which acts as a second language to most Nigerians, is bound to be affected by the cultural peculiarities of the Nigerian social environment.

In the words of Eka (2000:70) “It is an established language and communication truth that whenever a language leaves its original home and settles down in another geographical region, it must acquire the local colour of its new environment”. The above view is true about Nigerian English. Due to diverse ethnic and cultural orientation, there are too many varieties of English that have developed in the country. Thus, this paper has identified the varieties that are relevant for the characterization of the problems and prospects of Nigerian English.

What are the Varieties of Nigerian English

On the spoken Nigerian English aspect, many linguists have carried out studies on its features including “Bamgbose (1982, 1995), Eka (1985, 1993, 2000), Udofot (1997, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2007), among others. Many of these linguists based their classification on formal education with Banjo’s (quoted in Udofot, 2007: 15) classification acclaimed to be very realistic. He classified spoken Nigerian English into four varieties:

(i) Variety one is spoken by people with elementary school education and semi-literate people. It is marked by a high rate of negative transfer from the phonological system of the mother tongue and so it is not acceptable even by Nigerians.

(ii) Variety two is spoken by post primary school leavers. In this variety mother tongue interference is minimal but the speakers do not make vital phonemic distinctions. The brand is largely intelligible and nationally acceptable.

(iii) Variety three is associated with university education. The speakers make vital phonemic distinctions and the variety is accepted and understood nationally and internationally.

(iv) Variety four is described as being identical with standard British English but is ridiculed in Nigeria for being artificial.

In a classification carried out by Udofot (1997, 2002, 2003 and 2004), he grouped the varieties of spoken Nigerian English in three classes with emphasis on identifying the segmental and non-segmental features. Apart from the spoken variety, Nigeria English is used for different purposes as dictated by different social contexts and environments. Furthermore, different dialects essentially form varieties of a language. For instance, in Nigeria, we can comfortably talk of Hausa, Igbo, Yoruba, Ibibio, Efik varieties of Nigerian English, to mention just a few. Examples of the varieties of Nigerian English showing class distinction include the following:

English Language in Nigeria has formal and informal varieties of words and expression. For example:

There are also the non- standard varieties of Nigerian English identified with all manner of imperfection, and they are not so much recognized. These include slang and Pidgin English expressions. As mentioned earlier, Pidgin English developed from the early contacts of the Portuguese and European traders along the coastal regions of West Africa. It is a mixture of local dialects and English words, decapitation and amalgamation of local dialects with English words.

Examples of pidgin expressions include: come chop, no talk say na me talk oh!, wetin dey worry that man sef, make you comot for road make I pass, etc. Also, there is a creative variety of Nigerian English known as slang. This is a very informal variety whose meanings and use is among particular groups of people. According to Eka (2000: 7a) “the creative usages are also a testimony to one dimension of enrichment of the English language”. A few examples will illustrate these points.

What are the Varieties of Nigerian English
What are the Varieties of Nigerian English

There are so many varieties of Nigerian English as scholars researching into the Nigerian varieties of English have identified sub-variety within the major variety which is traceable to extent of mother tongue interference, educational attainment, and social intercourse among other things. Let us therefore examine the features that are common to variety of Nigerian English which makes it recognizable as an acceptable variety of world Englishes.


In conclusion, a prominent feature of any speech form be it language, dialect or variety is the regularity and consistency in the use of forms across the speech of adult native speakers. These features are naturally acquired by the speakers and are innately part of their language repertoire.

For example, speakers of a particular dialect or variety use the same form irrespective of their level of education especially their accent which usually gives them away as speakers of a particular variety. This is not so for the Nigerian English where the form among the educated is not consistently similar, same for the uneducated, the literate and the illiterate as well as different tribes which make use of different accents. In fact, educated people from the same tribe most times speak different forms.


Adegbija, E. (2004) . The Domestication of English in Nigeria. In Awonusi, S. and Babalola, E. A. eds The Domestication of English in Nigeria. Lagos: Lagos University of Lagos Press.

Bamgbose, A. (1995). English in the Nigeria Environment. In A. Bamgbose, A. Banjo and A. Thomas eds New Englishes: a West African Perspective. Ibadan: Musoro.

Campbell, K. (1996). The World Rushes to Speak and Write ‘American’ English. The Christian Science Monitor. In H. Anne Wheaton, English as the Global Language.

Eka, D. (2000). Issues in Nigerian English Usage. Uyo: Scholars Press Nig. Ltd.

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