Author Mimi Werna has put together her 20 favourite phrases in Nigerian Pidgin.
If you are visiting Nigeria, don't be daunted by the 520 languages in our repertoire. Just remember to add a little bit of pidgin to yours and you will be fine. It is the one language that binds us all.
My family are polyglots
My maternal grandfather, Sergeant Afa, was a soldier whose family of 11 moved from barrack to barrack. This exposed them to different linguistic environments; now they speak between three and six languages.
My aunties married and introduced new languages into the family. My father also moved our family around by working in different states, until he settled in Abuja when I was born. Consequently, my siblings also learned languages and married speakers of other languages.
Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba languages are our national languages because they are spoken by the majority. This can make speakers of other languages uncomfortable.
Our safe place is Nigerian Pidgin: our common language. It doesn't threaten any linguistic or cultural heritage, but rather binds us.
Twenty examples of Nigerian pidgin
How you dey?
This is pidgin for 'How are you?' With friends, you can also say:
- How na?
- How far/body?
You can respond by saying:
- I dey (I am fine)
- I dey Kampe (I am doing well)
You too much
This is pidgin for:
- You are far too kind.
- Thank you.
- Good job!
I wan Chop or I dey H
Unlike the English word, 'chop' which implies that something is being sliced or hacked; in pidgin it means 'food'. So 'I wan Chop' or 'I dey H' means 'I want to eat' or 'I am hungry.'
To show that you are extremely hungry, you can say:
- Hunger dey tear my belle.
- Hunger wan kill me.
When you hear, 'You don chop up?' the speaker means 'You are prospering or have put on some weight.'
Dis food sweet well, well
This phrase means 'This meal is delicious'. You can also say 'Dis food sweet no be small.'
The situation or topic is either suspicious or untrue.
For instance, one could say: ‘You sure of dis tin wey you dey talk so? Dis matter get k-leg.’
It means, ‘Are you sure of what you are saying? This doesn’t seem true.’
E be like film
This phrase is used to express incredulity, especially when reporting a scenario, movie or circumstance.
For instance, a person reporting an accident that happened quickly could say:
'di way wey di car tumble ern, e be like film!’ meaning ‘the way the car tumbled was just like in the movies, or incredible.’
Sometimes we switch it with ‘e be like magic.’
This means ‘Right?’ or 'Isn’t it?'
For example, if you're shopping for lemons you might say: ‘Dis bag na lemon green e be, abi?’
It means: 'The shade of green on this bag is lemon green, right?’
Na so/Na so?
This means 'It is so' or 'I concur/ is that so?
‘No be so’ means ‘It is not so.’
‘I no gree’ means ‘ I disagree.’
For instance, you could ask: ‘No so dem dey fry meat, abi?
It means: ‘This is how meat is fried, right?’ Someone could answer saying ‘na so’, meaning ‘yes’ or even say ‘ern-ern, na so?’ if they are not sure of the answer.
‘Notin spoil’ means ‘all is well.’
If for instance you were in the kitchen, cooking with a friend, then you both step out for a bit and realise that the meal is burning, then one person runs off to check, you might have this conversation:
You: ‘Di food burn?’ or ‘notin spoil abi?’ meaning ‘ did the meal burn?’
Response: ‘E burn small, but notin spoil.’ Meaning ‘Yes, it did but not enough to ruin it’ but if he simply says ‘Notin spoil’ it means ‘All is well, the meal is intact.’
This is a response that means 'exactly or precisely.'
You can use the suffix '–solutely' from the word 'absolutely' to create 'Gbamsolutely', which is used in more sophisticated circles.
This simply means 'Please.'
You could say, 'Abeg come chop food' which is an invitation to a meal. It means ‘Please, come and join me.’
I no get
‘I no get anytin to tell you’ means, 'I have nothing to say to you' or 'I have no words.'
If you're shopping you might say ‘I no get basket of tomatoes for house.’ This means, ‘I don’t have a basket of tomatoes at home.’
This means 'Traffic Jam.’ You will hear people say things like ‘Go slow hold me as I dey com.' It means ‘On my way here, I was help up in a traffic jam.’
This could mean 'go', 'leave', or 'get out!'
- Make we comot (Let us go out)
- Comot from dia ( leave)
- Comot! (Get out!)
This is the pidgin form of the verb 'to be'.
For example, ‘You too dey tear head!’ means ‘you are too quarrelsome or short-tempered.’
‘Tear head’ means angry or quarrelsome.
This means 'What?'
While wetin dey happen?' means 'What is going on?'
'I know', or 'I understand.'
Wahala means 'Trouble', and its meaning can change depending on context.
When someone says 'No wahala, they could mean 'Yes' or 'No problem'.
The flip side is 'Wahala dey o', meaning there is a problem. It is rare for this word to stand alone, except to express surprise at a disconcerting situation.
'Gbege' and 'Yawa' also mean 'trouble'.
God don butter my bread
God has answered my prayers.
A bit more about Nigerian Pidgin
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Pidgin borrows words from indigenous languages and English.
For instance, ‘Walahi’ is a Hausa word that means ‘sincerely or truthfully’.
‘Koro’ is borrowed from Isoko while ‘Lungu’ is Hausa; meaning ‘short cut’, ‘dark alley’ or ‘dirt road’ depending on the context it is used in.
There’s also Obodo Oyibo, borrowed from the Igbo language. It means ‘white-man’s land’.
Kia-kia is borrowed from Yoruba language which means ‘quickly-quickly’. Say it twice to indicate urgency or emphasis. We tend to say the same word twice for that reason.
Amongst Nigerians, using Pidgin shows that you can identify with everyone, irrespective of your status. If you are a visitor, learning Pidgin could show Nigerians that while in Nigeria, you are making an effort to integrate.
Mimi Werna is the author of the book Magical Rainbow River, produced after the Story Making West Africa workshop that was jointly held by the British Council, Nigeria and Saide’s African Storybook.
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