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Country Spotlight: Nigeria [Terpii's Travels in Translation]

Culture, Terpii Travels Terpii on Feb 28, 2018 10:00:00 AM

Hello Everyone!

Today I have a special Terpii adventure to share with you! It all started when I decided to head over to Africa. I haven’t really spent much time there but have always wanted to check it out.

But where to go?

In case you didn’t know, Africa is HUGE and actually even bigger than how it is portrayed on most maps!

So! I started thinking about countries with whom I’d helped translate for business.

Immediately Nigeria came to mind. But once I got there, my mission changed because you see, the national language of Nigeria is English even though technically, everyone speaks Pidgin.

There are over 500+ tribal languages in Nigeria so English was never bound to stay the same old English. With so many tribes, languages and dialects, it was reborn many times until it became the Pidgin Nigeria knows today.

But what I hadn’t thought about before was that Pidgin developed not just in Nigeria but also in most West African countries including Equatorial Guinea, Sierra Leone, Ghana and Cameroon.


Nigeria 1

Photo Credit: Teseum

Nigerian Pidgin is a language spoken by between 3-5 million people, and 75 million use it as a second language. That’s a lot of people!

In the 17th and 18th centuries, Britain dominated the trading route along Western Africa and became the largest power in the slave trade.

Many of the Africans who interacted with the British learned English and then took it back inland, using and teaching it to Africans who had never even come in contact with the British.


Nigeria 2

Photo Credit: Orbis

Now even though Nigeria speaks English, I’ve worked with companies dealing in rubber, wood, chemicals, textiles etc. and I have found that the accent and the words in Pidgin are hard to understand for other English speakers.

I decided to hop around, practice my Pidgin, and see who I could help along the way.


Nigeria 3

Photo Credit: Nark Fischer

In Lagos, I was walking down the street when I heard a young man speaking with a British accent. He was looking for the Post Office as he was expecting a package but couldn’t completely understand the lady giving him directions’ pidgin.

“Dem send you? I no sabi. Abeg, no waste my time.” The young man was very confused by her.

“Excuse me!” I hopped up. “If you are wondering what she said it was ‘Have you been sent to bother me? I don’t understand. Please, don’t waste my time.’”

He answered, “Well, she must have been very confused by my question because I’m just looking for the Post Office.”

I laughed, “I think maybe she doesn’t see so well and confused you for a local area boy, or a young man who loiters around the neighborhood causing trouble.”

“Well, she must not hear very well either then because my accent is quite distinct!” he laughed.


Nigeria 4

 Photo: Neec Nonso

I helped him find the Post Office, where a young woman working there invited him to “Come chop” or to come eat with her and her family.

She seemed excited about meeting someone her age with red hair. “Do you mind if I ask how you ended up down here in Lagos?” I asked, having just learned that his name was Jack.

“Sure, I’m here to help teach animation. The Nigerian government is super keen on investing their resources into creating a strong work force. They chose to develop animation and creative industries into a new growth sector. That’s actually why I’m at the post office too. I’m expecting a lot of animation software for my classes.”

After thanking Jack for being good company, I decided to head over to Ghana and check out their local dialects of Pidgin.


Nigeria 5

Photo: Frans Neve

Once in Ghana, I remembered that they have a lot of agricultural economy, especially involving cacao. I wanted to check it out since I’m a huge fan of the final product, chocolate.

While I was visiting a market where they were selling cacao I noticed a man saying, “You barb?” to another man looking confused.

“He’s asking if you understand,” I said as I hopped up into the situation. Once I got closer I realized this man was dressed in fancier clothes than I had seen in a while. He told me he worked for a large chocolate corporation and was attempting to buy some of this man’s cacao in bulk.

“Recently there has been somewhat of a movement amongst the people in which they want to start selling chocolate themselves, not just their beans” he told me.

The man from the large chocolate company had come down to talk to the farmers themselves. The man, grateful for my translation skills, invited me to a larger cacao meeting later that evening.

With my Pidgin skills I was able to help the local cacao farmers express themselves, and the chocolate company agreed to help them sell a percentage of their own local chocolates, along with the purchase of their raw product, cacao.

At the end of the day, everyone seemed pleased with the agreement and I was happy to have helped.


Nigeria 6

Photo: Carsten ten Brink

Today was my first experience in a while translating dialects for people who technically speak the same language. Just goes to show how important culture and history are! I can’t wait for all the adventures ahead so stay tuned for my Terpii translation adventures!