SEMANTIC STUDY OF SOME LEXICAL ITEMS IN NIGERIAN ENGLISH

SEMANTIC STUDY OF SOME LEXICAL ITEMS IN NIGERIAN ENGLISH

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CHAPTER ONE

1.0    INTRODUCTION

1.1     BACKGROUND OF THE STUDY

The global spread of the English language led to the position that is now true: that there is no copyright in the use of English since the language no longer belongs numerically to speakers of English as a mother tongue. The effective ownership of any language in effect rests with the people who use it. However multilingual they are, the major advances in sociolinguistic research over the past half century indicate clearly that languages are shaped by their use. And for English, the users number up to seven hundred million, living in every continent of which less than half are native speakers. Statistically, native speakers are in a minority, and thus in practice for language change, for language maintenance, and for the ideologies and beliefs associated with the language in so far as non-native speakers use the language for a wide range of public and personal needs

(Brumfit 2001:116).

This extract highlights the historically unique position of English in the world, the fact that non-native users of English now outnumber native speakers and the argument that the power to adapt and change the language rests with the people who use it. It reminds us that English is used by both plurilingual and monolingual people alike. We should no longer think that English is still ‘based on a single metropolitan culture, nor is it any longer felt to carry with it implications of political dominion. Evidence of this worldwide phenomenon of language contact, variation and change can be seen through such designations as World Englishes, Modern Englishes, New Englishes, to mention just a few (Jenkins 2003:117).

          The concept of New Englishes came into existence many decades ago but when Gerry Abott made reference to this concept in 1981, he thought of varieties of language that develop in countries where English is a second language. By implication, India, Ghana, Tanzania, Uganda and Nigeria have developed varieties that are part of the New Englishes. The need for territorial expansion and the demands of international          politics, trade, science and technology have established English as a world language. Nigeria, like many other nations of the world is part of the global network of information and communication technology. What happens in other parts of the world is of great interest to Nigeria just as what happens in Nigeria is of great interest to the world. English remains the most popular language for this kind of intercommunication and interaction. For this reason, English is not just a second language in Nigeria but one that is crucial for the survival of Nigeria as a nation and also for the maintenance of the Nigerian balance in the world economic order, (Onuigbo and Eyisi 2008:72). No wonder much has been invested in the stabilization and standardization of English language education and usage in Nigeria. It is for this reason that Oluikpe (1997:18) and others are committed   to the existence of a Standard of English usage that is characteristically Nigerian.

English is neither the mother- tongue nor the first language of any of the over four hundred ethnic groups in Nigeria. Like the name ‘Nigeria’ the English language is a borrowed gown and one of the inheritances of our colonial experience. The language is indigenous to Britain, but it is today the language most spoken world-wide. In addition to being the lingua franca of Britain, it is the recognized language of the United States of American, a greater part of Canada, and the whole of Australia and New Zealand. It is also widely spoken in South Africa and it is also a language of Government, Law, Commerce, Education and International Communication for most of the former British Empire, including such faraway places as Hong Kong, most of Africa South of the Sahara (including Nigeria) and even the Caribbean.   

Today, one would no longer talk of ‘the English language’ spoken in Britain, and the one spoken in Nigeria, Canada, or India as several Volkswagen beetle cars from the same line-production, but rather of ‘the Englishes’ to reflect the regional peculiarities of the English language. The development of regional or local varieties of any language resulting from its domestication in non-native environments has been found to be a socio-linguistic reality, an observation which has been made, and in the case of English, defended by such ethnographers and language scholars as Brumfit (2001), Mckay (2002), Trudgill and Hannah (2002),  etc.

 According to Ogu (1992), Walsh (1967) was among the first to draw attention to the existence of a variety of English language known as “Nigerian English” (NE) Ogu quoted Walsh as saying that

The varieties of English spoken by educated Nigerians, no matter what their language, have enough features in common to mark off a general type, which may be called Nigerian English.

Bokamba recognizes the existence of a Nigerian English and refers to it as a variety of what he calls “West African Vernacular English” (WAVE). Similarly, Jibril in (Ajani 2007) sees Nigerian English as part of the continuum of “West African English”. Ajani (2005) spoke of the emergence of a” Standard Nigerian English”. Odumuh (1987) recorganized Nigerian English as one of the New Englishes and had this to say: “our position is that there exists at the moment a single super ordinate variety of Standard English in Nigeria which can be regarded as “Nigerian English”.

Other linguists such as Nwachukwu (2007), Onuigbo and Eyisi (2008), Oluikpe and Anasiudu (2005) and Balogun (2000) have written about, or made passing references to this variety of English language. Finally, Ayo Bamgbose, one of the foremost African linguists of our time, with a great reputation on matters dealing with language and society in Africa, not only reorganizes the existence of a Nigerian English but also has written extensively on this variety. His article, “Standard Nigerian English: issues of identification” (1982) not only identifies Nigerian English, but also analyzes some of its identifiable features. However, not everyone believes in the existence of a Nigerian English. Theo Vincent (1974), for instance, sees it as “bad English” and Salami (1968) contends that what has been identified as Nigerian English is in reality “errors of usage”. Vincent and Salami are, to a large extent, voicing the concern of a host of English language teachers in Nigerian institutions of learning who find it quite derogatory and rather insulting to refer to such a variety of English language. They would rather see any departure from the British variety as deviant or incorrect. 

According to Wolfson in (Ajani 2007), although English Language has gained worldwide prominence, it is not used exactly the same way everywhere. In the same vein, Ashcroft el al in (Ajani 2007) points out that, although British imperialism resulted in the global spread of the English language, the English of Jamaicans isn’t the same as that of Canadians or Kenyans, and that a continuum exists between the various practices constituting English language usage throughout the world.

A cursory look at history reveals that this phenomenon is not new. Similar occurrences have taken place in the past, and their results are still with us today. Latin, for example, gave birth to the present day Romance languages (French, Spanish, Italian, etc.) during the Renaissance period. Arabic gave rise to the various regional dialects in North Africa and the Middle East – Egyptian Arabic, Algerian Arabic, and Tunisian. What is happening today with the English language is not an anomaly, as some may think, but rather a normal and natural linguistic process that takes place in an atmosphere of mobility and language and culture contact.

It is a well-known sociolinguistic fact that when two or more languages and cultures come into contact, different types of sociolinguistic chemistry take place. Sometimes a diglossic situation may result. Language shift, attrition or even language death may be seen. In some other instances, it can lead to the formation of a Pidgin, a Creole, or even the birth of a new language altogether Sebba (1997). Instances of these various possibilities can be found in different contact situations around the globe.

   From the foregoing, it is understood that Nigerian English is one of the instances of New Englishes mushrooming all over the globe, and much has been written about its identifiable features, but attention has not been paid on its semantic deviation from Standard British English. The present study, therefore, examines the semantic deviations in the meanings of some lexical items as used in Nigerian environment.

According to Agbedo cited in (Ogunleke 2008) “Semantics in its technical term refers to the study of meaning”. In semantics, we explicate the ways in which words, and sentences of various grammatical constructions, are used and understood by native and fluent speakers of a given language. Onwukwe (2009:62) defined semantics as the study of meaning and meaning resides in words and structures. The word ‘semantics’ itself denotes a range of ideas, from the popular to the highly technical. It is often used in ordinary language to denote a problem of understanding that comes down to word selection. Jackson (2002:68) defined semantics as the study of language meaning. In linguistics, it is the subfield that is inherent at the levels of words, phrases, sentences, and large unit of discourse.

It is obvious that semantics is a linguistic study that enhances communication and the ability to communicate within and outside ones linguistic environment depends on the knowledge of the meanings of lexical items in the language.

The findings of this study will, therefore, serve as a communication guide to teachers, learners and speakers of the English language.

1.2     STATEMENT OF PROBLEM

In the attempt to study Nigerian English, one realizes the extent of its deviation from Standard British English. It is the realization of the wide gap that separates Standard English from Nigerian English especially in the area of semantics that leads to the study involving some lexical items in Nigerian English. As mentioned above, this work is primarily concerned with the semantic study of some lexical items in Nigerian English such as those used in the media, (print media, service media and electronic media).  It also examines some clothing and kingship items.

 It has been noted that some English language items have different meanings attached to them by Nigerian speakers of English as influenced by several Nigerian contexts and culture. These semantic deviations contribute largely to the poor development of standard grammatical competence and communicative performance among the Nigeria speakers of English as the meanings attached to these lexical items are more of those obtained in the Nigerian environment than those of core English features. This makes it difficult for a non- native of the Nigerian society to understand the utterances. In fact when a native speaker of English listens to these items, he gets an impression of series of familiar words associated with unfamiliar meanings.

It is this apparent deviation from the normal meaning that justifies the choice of the topic with special reference to the semantic features of Nigerian English and their usage.

1.3     OBJECTIVE OF THE STUDY

The main objective of this study is to examine the peculiarity in the meanings of some English lexical items as used in the Nigerian environment.

 It will also examine the different meanings attached to some lexical items by speakers of English in different fields such as: print media, service media, public relation industry, electronic media and literature as well as the different meanings with reference to clothing and kingship items acquired in Nigerian English. In this work, all the lexical items involved cannot obviously be covered, but it is hoped that some light would be thrown on some items.

1.4     RELEVANCE OF THE STUDY

 According to Firth in (Ogunleke 2008) “language is a meaningful activity” To him, language study is the study of meaning and the goal of any language therefore, is the communication of thought or meaning. This is because meaning is regarded as a complex of contextual relationships between phonology, syntax and semantics.

If in the use of language one fails to communicate his intended thought, communication is not yet achieved. The meaning attached to these English lexical items is such that unless one is familiar with the Nigerian culture and indigenous languages, it would be difficult for one to understand the concepts. Definitely, this is what Spencer (1970:42) had in mind when he posited that:

There can exist a lexical vocabulary and idiom in the understanding of which a knowledge of the Standard English may be of no help and yet which is locally common place.

Therefore, the meanings of the items in Nigerian English will be compared with their meanings in British English. By so doing, it is hoped that teachers, learners and speakers of English in different fields, will be able to distinguish between

Nigerian and Standard British English forms which will enhance a wider communication within and outside the Nigerian context.

1.5     SCOPE OF THE STUDY

As already pointed out, this study concentrates on the use of some of the English lexical items in Nigerian environment as in the media industry. The media industry is divided into electronic media, print media and the service media. The electronic media is further divided into the radio and television/cinema industries. This is followed by a study of some lexical items peculiar to the Nigerian context like kinship and clothing items. The research is limited to the English as used by Literary Artists, Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) Port-Harcourt, Radio Rivers 99.1 FM, Ray Power 106.5 FM, Tide Publication (newspapers) and Students of the University of Port-Harcourt.

ABSTRACT

 Nigerian English came into existence about four decades ago. It has been noted that some of the English language items have been attached different meanings by the Nigerian speakers of English. This semantic deviation contributed greatly to the poor development of standard grammatical competence and communicative performance among speakers of English. This work therefore, examines some of the English lexical items whose meanings have been greatly adopted to suit the Nigerian context. It focuses on the terms used in the professional fields of media such as print media, service media and electronic media as well as education. The terms used in these fields are compared with their Standard British English forms or meanings and the differences are established. Some of the Nigerian English items in the area of clothing, food and kinship are also compared with those of Standard English forms and the differences are established. The work is approached through questionnaire and library research. We found out that the deviation in the meanings of some English lexical items is caused by the speaker’s level of education, environment, background and culture. The research is carried out at Port Harcourt and we discovered that the deviations in the meanings of some English lexical items are as a result of influence by several Nigerian context and culture. Our findings are suggestive of the communication gap among speakers of English language. We recommend that more efforts should be made by linguist and writers to promote the acceptability of the Nigerian English.




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