Introduction to Nigerian English

Introduction to Nigerian English

Nigeria, a country in West Africa, is the most populous Black country in the world, with an estimated population of nearly 220 million people. A former British colony until 1960, Nigeria is one of the six countries that make up English-speaking West Africa (the others being Ghana, The Gambia, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and a part of Cameroon). With an estimated 53% of Nigerians speaking a form of English, Nigeria is one of the largest English-speaking countries in the world .

In Nigeria, English is a co-official language alongside three other indigenous languages: Hausa, Igbo, and Yoruba. However, this is only in principle because, in practice, English is used as the sole official language in almost all official contexts, including governance, education, mass media, law courts etc. Even though the vast majority of English speakers in Nigeria use it as a second language, there is now a growing number of young Nigerians who speak Nigerian English as a first language.

The history of English in Nigeria is traceable to three important historical events: first is the trade relationship between British traders and Nigerians in the 17th and 18th centuries during which a ‘contact English’ developed; the second was the Christian missionary expedition of the 19th century; and the colonisation of Nigeria in the 20th century, which consolidated the implantation of English in the country.

Nigerian English must be distinguished from Nigerian Pidgin, which is an English-based pidgin language that developed as a result of trade relations between Nigerians and Europeans (chiefly the British and Portuguese). While Nigerian English dominates official contexts as the preferred language, it competes with Nigerian Pidgin as the lingua franca for interpersonal or interethnic communication, particularly among the less educated.

Over the years, Nigerian English has evolved, continuously expanding in domains of usage, range of functions, and structural features. 


As is the case with most new varieties of English, Nigerian English vocabulary emanated from the need to characterize phenomena and nuances in the users’ realities that are not adequately captured by the existing vocabulary of English. As a result, many Nigerian English words come from the country’s flora and fauna, local cuisine, dressing culture, traditional festivals and customs, means of transportation, political culture, etc. While some Nigerian English words are semantic extensions of existing English words (e.g., severally in Nigerian English means ‘on several occasions; repeatedly’ and send-forth is a noun meaning ‘a celebration or event to mark a person’s departure; a send-off’), many of them are borrowings from the indigenous languages (e.g. tokunbo which denotes ‘an imported second-hand product, esp. a car’).


Similarly, Nigerian English grammar is considerably influenced by the grammars of Nigerian indigenous languages, especially those of Hausa, Igbo, and Yoruba, which are regarded as the major languages. For instance, these indigenous languages rarely distinguish between count and non-count nouns grammatically. Nigerian English, therefore, non-count nouns are used as count nouns. Example: The teacher gave us some advices.

Other features of the grammar of Nigerian English include:

Use of double subjects

  • The man he is happy.

Use of zero article where L1 varieties would have a definite article

  • Ø Majority of Ø students were late to class.

Double determiners

  • This our country is great.

Use of object pronouns in subject positions

  • Me and my friend were asked to leave the room.

Intransitive use of verbs that are used as transitive in L1 varieties of English

  • We discussed about the crisis in the meeting


View the OED’s pronunciation model and key to pronunciation for West African English.

The opinions and other information contained in the OED blog posts and comments do not necessarily reflect the opinions or positions of Oxford University Press.