Well, once again our internet has been, um, not internet-ing, so our posting intentions have been outweighed by our reality. Apologies to those who were waiting with bated breath for more ice cream recipes, but fear not, it will post this Friday. 🙂 😉 For today, though, a little taste of English in Nigeria – with a quiz at the end that we hope you’ll try!
Though there are over 500 languages spoken in Nigeria, we’re grateful that English is the official one (although the people you may encounter have varying degrees of comprehension of it, sometimes depending on where you are in Nigeria, the level of education, etc.). Still, even despite the language we share, there are nonetheless quite a few differences.
Part of the differences in English hail from the fact that Nigeria was a British colony, so some of the words are more British words than American – “boot” for trunk and “biscuit” for cookie, for example. (Though we’re surrounded by both Nigerians and Brits who use this word, I still forget – we were recently at a friend’s house, and they offered Judah a biscuit. I literally pictured in my head a fluffy Southern biscuit and agreed because, sure, what’s the harm in a biscuit before dinner (plus I wanted to snag a bite)? I was quite surprised when I saw Judah munching on a cookie and almost said, “Wait, Judah, you asked about a biscuit. Did the cookies look better?” Of course it was then I remembered what a “biscuit” is (and not only was it a cookie, by the way, but it was a coffee cookie. Ah, my little caffeinated toddler!)).
Other words and phrases can confuse even our British friends, though, so at least we’re not alone in our miscommunications – though sometimes I feel quite alone, especially when it seems as if Judah understands – and uses – some of the expressions better than I do. A couple days ago our power came on in the middle of the day, and Judah exclaimed, “NEPA don come!” (a Pidgin English phrase). I didn’t know whether to “correct” his English or laugh. (Okay, I actually cracked up with no hesitation, but as a former English teacher I felt I should at least act like it was a question of scruples.)
Another Nigerian phrase that often feels a bit awkward to me is “Well done.” It’s basically just another way of saying hi to someone, of greeting them. I often use it in the market when I know the person is not Hausa and even gets offended at being spoken to in Hausa, but it still feels weird to me; after all, how do I know they’ve done a good job, and what exactly am I complimenting them on, anyway? To me, “well done” is something a teacher tells her students when they’re accomplished something, something you say in response to a performance, not a way to say hi to someone.
There are other distinctions about the Nigerian language that are sometimes hard to get used to as well. In a conversation with someone in which your spouse is being talked about, the name of your spouse is rarely used, even if the person knows your spouse. Chris, when talking about me to Nigerians at work, for example, hardly ever says “Christie….” but instead says “my wife….” Someone explained to me once that names are personal, and to call someone else’s spouse by his or her name is too intimate.
Likewise, Chris is called “Baba Judah” by Nigerians, and I am known as “Mama Judah.” In fact, the emphasis on the firstborn – or the firstborn male – is such that some Nigerians don’t even remember poor Jovelle’s name. Chris – uh, Baba Judah – is often greeted with, “How is Judah? How is… what’s the baby’s name?” on a weekly basis by the same people.
So, inspired by some friends of ours (We miss you, Will and Theresa!), we’re going to play a little game. Oh come on, don’t be a spoilsport: At least humor us and try so we don’t feel like we’re writing in vain! 😉
Here’s the deal: See if you can figure out the meaning for each word/ phrase below, then leave a comment telling what you think each one means. (No peeking at other people’s comments until you’ve posted your own!) The answers will be posted next week.
- Flash (Example: “She flashed me.”)
- Dash (Example: “She dashed me a carrot.”)
- Follow (Example: “Can I follow you to the office?”)
- Snap (Example: “Can I snap your baby?”)
- Put to bed (Example: “Sarah’s friend put to bed yesterday.”)
Well, what are you waiting for? Take a gander! We have a few more of these up our sleeves, too, but we’ll save those for another day. In the meantime, though, we’ll be back next week with the answers!