Survey chapter: Nigerian Pidgin

Structure data for these languages can be found in structure dataset 17.

1. Introduction

Situated at the mouth of the Niger River on the West African coast between the predominantly Francophone nations of Cameroon, Chad, Niger, and Benin Republic, and with an estimated 150 million inhabitants, Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa. At least half of all Nigerians (along with millions more in the diaspora) speak Nigerian Pidgin in some form. With a speech community of over 75 million, Nigerian Pidgin is not only the African language with the largest number of speakers, but also the most widely spoken pidgin/creole language in the world.

2. Sociohistorical background

Home to a highly mobile, vibrantly enterprising, and intensely commercially-oriented population, the territory known today as Nigeria has for millennia been one of the most pluri-cultural and pluri-linguistic parts of the world. Its people speak nearly 400 ancestral languages, belonging to three of the four major language families in Africa (Niger-Congo in the south, Afro-Asiatic in the north, and Nilo-Saharan in the northeast). From well before European contact to the present, the average West African child has grown up with a command of at least one or two local languages as well as a pidginized, creolized, and/or koineized regional market language. When the Europeans arrived, pidginized, creolized and standard varieties of European languages were added to this rich linguistic repertoire. This high degree of linguistic diversity has been counterbalanced by an equally high degree of areal, typological, and genealogical similarity, primarily due to three factors: (1) a long tradition of pluri-lingualism; (2) the existence first of African-lexifier contact pidgins and creoles and later of European-lexifier pidgins and creoles; and (3) the fact that despite the considerable diversity among the hundreds of ancestral languages spoken along the Nigerian coast, all except Ijo̱ belong to just one sub-branch of Niger-Congo (the Benue-Kwa sub-branch, along with the “New Kwa” languages to the west in Benin Republic, Togo, and Ghana and the Bantu languages throughout Central, Eastern and Southern Africa to the east).

With few exceptions, West Africans successfully resisted European colonization from the arrival of the Portuguese in the 15th century to the declaration of protectorates by the British and the French in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. During most of these 400 years, European control was largely limited to a few coastal trading fortresses, and in the area now known as Nigeria, European traders were virtually barred from any land holdings at all, their ships being forced to trade from their off-shore anchorages according to the will and wishes of local communities.

From the very beginning of European contact, many West African communities welcomed and assimilated independent individual European traders and adventurers who integrated themselves into local societies, took local spouses, and acted as commercial and cultural intermediaries between their West African hosts and the constant and ever increasing stream of merchants, adventurers, pirates, whalers, sailors, soldiers, and many others who arrived on their shores first from Europe and later from the Americas as well. These contacts gave rise to a number of Afro-European contact languages, which were attested in documents penned by observers from the 15th century onward. Also attested in the archives are movements of African and African descended peoples, not only from Africa to the Americas and beyond in the diaspora, but from the diaspora back to West Africa, well before resettlement efforts in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Gabon, etc. began in the late 18th century. West Africans, African-Americans, and Afro-Caribbean peoples constituted an important proportion of the sailors, privateers, and beachcombers who constantly moved to and from Africa.

It is therefore impossible to attribute the emergence of Nigerian Pidgin and its closely related dialects of West African English-lexifier pidgin/creole (Sierra Leone Krio, Gambian Krio, Ghanaian Pidgin English, Cameroon Pidgin English, and Pichi of Equatorial Guinea) to any one causal factor or language community. The striking similarities between West African English-lexifier pidgins and creoles and those of the Afro-Caribbean (such as Jamaican and Surinamese varieties) as well as the significant similarities between West African English-lexifier pidgins and creoles and those of the Pacific (such as Hawai'i Creole and Melanesian Pidgin, i.e. Tok Pisin and Bislama) attest to the operation of a variety of causal factors, including: (1) superstrate influences from their shared lexifier (i.e. from various dialects of English); (2) substrate influences reinforced by the significant parallelisms among the grammatical structures found in the Benue-Kwa languages of West Africa, the Northern Arawakan languages of the Greater Caribbean, and the Oceanic and other languages of the Pacific; (3) influences of universal processes of second language use; (4) “monogenetic” influences from the numerous and widely spoken Afro-European pidgins and creoles that had established themselves along vast stretches of the West African coast from the 16th century onward; (5) cross-influences of the great numbers of West African, African-American, and Afro-Caribbean pirates, sailors, whalers, etc., who formed an integral part of the human bridge that linked the Atlantic World from the 17th century onwards; (6) influences from Afro-Caribbean pidgins and creoles spoken by slaves repatriated to the West Coast of Africa from the end of the 18th century onward; (7) influences of the descendants of these repatriated slaves who became the “shock troops” (soldiers, missionaries, colonial officials) who played a crucial role in enabling the British and the other Europeans (after 400 years of failed attempts) to finally colonize West Africa and the Pacific from the 19th century onward, etc.

3. Sociolinguistic situation

In contrast to Hausa (with at least 40 million native speakers in the north of Nigeria and tens of millions more in Niger and other countries in the region), Yoruba (with at least 30 million native speakers in the southwest of Nigeria and several million more in neighbouring countries), Igbo (with at least 25 million native speakers in the southeast of Nigeria), and Standard (Nigerian) English (with no more than a few million native speakers in Nigeria), Nigerian Pidgin has no official governmental recognition, no sanctioned role in the education system (either as a medium or as a subject of instruction), no overt prestige, few public advocates, no standardized orthography or grammar, little in the way of written literature, and no more status in the consciousness of most Nigerians beyond that of “Broken English”. Despite all of these disadvantages, Nigerian Pidgin has become far and away the most popular, widely spoken, readily learned, practically useful, and fastest growing language in Nigeria today.

For several generations, Nigerian Pidgin has been the first language, or one of the first languages, learned by millions of people in speech communities in and around the south-central Nigerian cities of Warri and Sapele, where European adventurers (including 15th and 16th-century Portuguese mercenaries serving under African commanders in the armies of Benin City) were integrated into local communities from the earliest years of contact. Nigerian Pidgin is also the first language, or one of the first languages, learned by tens of millions of people across southern Nigeria and in urban areas throughout the entire country. For those who do not learn Nigerian Pidgin as one of their first languages, it is learned informally as a second language in one or a number of venues for interethnic contact, such as marketplaces and workplaces, schools and universities, military and police barracks, etc.

Many of those who learn Nigerian Pidgin as one of their first languages, as well as a considerable number of those who learn Nigerian Pidgin as a second language, eventually end up using it as their main language of day-to-day communication. For large numbers of other speakers of Nigerian Pidgin (including many of those who learned it as a second language and some of those who learned it as a first language) use of the language is restricted to specific activities, registers, and/or social networks.

Proficiency in Nigerian Pidgin ranges from the fast, fluent, innovative and “deep” varieties spoken by those who have learned it and have used it as their mother tongue for generations in Warri and Sapele to varieties heavily influenced by other ancestral Nigerian languages spoken by those who have learned Nigerian Pidgin as a second language and who use it only for trading in the marketplace, to varieties heavily influenced by Standard English spoken by those who have learned Nigerian Pidgin as a second language and who use it only with classmates at university, etc. All of this complexity and diversity notwithstanding, Nigerian Pidgin is both articulated and perceived linguistically as a separate code from Standard Nigerian English and any other Nigerian language, with no recognizable phenomenon of “decreolization” attested (Deuber 2005).

4. Phonology

While there is no widely accepted orthography for Nigerian Pidgin, the symbols used in the examples in this chapter are those included in the orthography proposed in Faraclas (1986) and are in all cases identical to the IPA symbols used in Tables 1 and 2, except where indicated between angle brackets in those same tables.

     Just as is the case with most of its Benue-Kwa substrate languages, Nigerian Pidgin has distinctive lexical and grammatical tone consisting of underlying high (H), low (L), and a few downstepped high tones (!H)  as shown in (1), where X marks an underlyingly toneless syllable:

(1)    Minimal pairs distinguished by tone:

    (H) ‘two’                         (H)  cop                 fó̱r    (H)      ‘four’

    (L)  ‘also’                        (L)  incompl         fò̱r    (L)      prep

   (H) ‘you (emph)’            (H)  ‘go’                 sísta  (H.X)  ‘sister’

   (L)  ‘you’                         (L)  irr                  sìsta  (L.X)  ‘nurse’

In (2) we see that, just as in other Nigerian languages, a phrase stress system also operates in Nigerian Pidgin, which converts the pitch over the final syllable in the phrase to which tone is underlyingly assigned from high to falling (high-low) or from low to rising (low-high). There is a class of lexical items, mostly from substrate languages, which are exempt from phrase stress:

(2)    Interaction of tone and phrase stress:

                           /                                 à    

       H                     phrase stress           à     HL (H becomes HL due to stress)

       ‘two’               phrase boundary         ‘two’ (said in isolation)

                           /                                 à    

       L                     phrase stress           à     LH (L becomes LH due to stress)

       ‘also’              phrase boundary         ‘also’ (said in isolation)

       m̀kpùrùndù    /                                 à     m̀kpùrùndù

       L.L.L.L          phrase stress           à     L.L.L.L no change (exempt from stress)

       ideo                phrase boundary     ‘dull impact’ (said in isolation)

Intonation contours, including the typically Benue-Kwa pattern of downdrift, are superimposed on these tonal and stress configurations in Nigerian Pidgin. In this chapter, monosyllabic words unmarked for tone carry a single lexical high tone, and polysyllabic words unmarked for tone carry a single lexical high tone over their penultimate syllable. All other underlying tonal configurations over words are marked with an acute accent over a lexically high toned syllable, a grave accent over a lexically low toned syllable, and no accent over a lexically toneless syllable.

Table 1. Vowels











ɛ <e̱>

ɔ <o̱>



The seven-vowel system of Nigerian Pidgin (shown in Table 1) is identical to that found in many Benue-Kwa languages, which normally have either five or seven cardinal vowels that undergo relatively little variation in terms of quality and quantity, but which are routinely nasalized before nasal consonant codas. Tautosyllabic sequences consisting of any vowel preceded or followed by /j/ or /w/ are allowed, and these are the only sequences which could possibly be interpreted as underlying diphthongs in the language. These sequences are subject to reduction (haws [háws] ~ [hós] ‘house’). Just as in most Benue-Kwa languages, the syllabic nasal /N/, which never co-occurs with any other segment in the same syllable and which is homorganic to the consonantal onset of the following syllable, is the only segment other than a vowel which can occupy a syllable nucleus in Nigerian Pidgin (m̀kpùrùndù /Ǹ.kpù.rùn.dù/ [ŋm̀.kpù.rùn.dù] ideophone ‘dull impact’).

As displayed in Table 2, the consonantal inventory of Nigerian Pidgin closely resembles those found in the Benue-Kwa languages, in terms of both the nature (feature composition) and number of the segments included therein:

Table 2. Consonants














k, kw <kw>









ɲ <ny>

ŋ <ng>





ʃ <sh>







tʃ <ch>


dʒ <j>





j <y>



The Nigerian Pidgin syllable canon is as follows: [(C1) (C2) (C3) V or N (C4) (C5)], with initial and final underlying clusters resembling closely those permitted in English. All consonant clusters are subject to reduction through vowel epenthesis (which occurs mostly in onsets) or consonant deletion (which is extremely common in codas). Many underlying syllable-final consonants only surface before an initial vowel in the following word or before the vowel-initial third person singular pronominal object clitic -àm, as can be seen in (3):

(3)       À  fyar. [à fjá]       À    fyar-àm. [à fjá.ràm]

            I   fear                   I     fear-it

            ‘I am afraid.’        ‘I am afraid of it.’

5. Noun phrase

The morphosyntax of nouns in Nigerian Pidgin follows closely that which is found in many Benue-Kwa languages, including the following patterns illustrated in (4):

     (a) the lexical properties of nouns (mass vs. count, abstract vs. concrete, etc.) and the syntactic, pragmatic, and discourse contexts within which they are utilized are in many instances the sole signals provided for the interpretation of gender, case, definiteness, and number distinctions in nouns;

     (b) gender and case distinctions are never marked on nouns;

     (c) definiteness and number distinctions in nouns are only optionally marked and when these are marked, nominal modifiers rather than affixes are used;

     (d) when definiteness is marked, a definite article () is used;

     (e) when indefiniteness is marked, the word denoting the cardinal numeral ‘one’ (wo̱n) or ‘some’ (so̱m) is used;

     (f) when plural number is marked, a postposed third person plural pronoun (dèm) is used, although reduplication and stative verbs such as ple̱nti ‘be plenty’ are also commonly used to signal plurality;

     (g) when singular number is marked, the word denoting the cardinal numeral ‘one’ (won) is used.

(4)  a.    À    si    mòto.         

              I     see  vehicle       

              ‘I saw cars/the car/the cars/a car/some cars.’ 

       b.    À    si    mòto           dè̱m.

              I     see  vehicle        pl

              ‘I saw cars/the cars/some cars.’

       c.     À    si                    mòto.

              I     see  the              vehicle

              ‘I saw cars/the car/the cars.’

       d.    À    si          mòto  dè̱m.

              I     see  the    vehicle          pl

              ‘I saw the cars.’

       e.     À    si    wo̱n          mòto.

              I     see  a               vehicle

              ‘I saw a car.’

       f.     À    si    so̱m        mòto.      

              I     see  some      vehicle    

              ‘I saw cars/a car/some cars.’          

       g.    À    si    so̱m            mòto    dè̱m.

              I     see  some          vehicle               pl

              ‘I saw cars/some cars.’

The inventory of other nominal modifiers, all of which precede the head noun in Nigerian Pidgin, is similar to that which is commonly found in Benue-Kwa languages, as listed below in their order of occurrence in the Nigerian Pidgin noun phrase, and exemplified in (5):

     (a) demonstratives (proximal dis and distal dat);

     (b) adnominal possessive forms (see Table 3);

     (c) ordinal numerals derived from cardinal numerals, with non-derived alternates for ‘first’, ‘second’, and ‘third’ (nomba wo̱n ~ fe̱st, no̱mba tu ~ se̱kond, no̱mba tri ~ te̱d, no̱mba for, no̱mba fayv, no̱mba siks, no̱mba se̱ve̱n, etc.);

     (d) cardinal numerals (wo̱n, tu, tri, fo̱r, fayv, siks, se̱ve̱n, etc.)

     (e) attributive adjectives are non-existent, instead nominalized property concept verbs may precede the noun in associative noun constructions in Nigerian Pidgin (associative noun constructions (ANCs) involving tonal perturbations over their constituent juxtaposed nouns are extremely common in Nigerian Pidgin and Benue-Kwa languages)  

     (f) nouns which function as modifiers which precede the noun in associative noun constructions in Nigerian Pidgin

(5)       À  si    [dat     fe̱st             tu           [ye̱lo    [man                                       pìkin]]]           fòr    haws.

            I   see  [that my  first            two        [palor [male                                      child]]]           at house

                        [noun phrase                           [anc  [associative noun construction]]] 

             ‘I saw [those my first two light skinned boys] at home.’

As can be seen in Table 3, pronouns in Nigerian Pidgin display many of the characteristics that typify pronouns in Benue-Kwa languages, such as:

     (a) three person and two number distinctions are obligatorily and consistently made in pronouns

     (b) six distinct pronominal forms are utilized to signal these distinctions, with the Benue-Kwa second person plural form ùnà used to make the number distinction in the second person, which is neutralized in English

     (c) no gender distinctions whatsoever are made in pronouns

     (d) nominative vs. accusative vs. genitive distinctions are made in some pronominal person/number categories

     (e) more consistent and prominent than either gender or case distinctions is the distinction made between independent and dependent (subject referencing) pronouns, which is signalled in all but the second person plural by a high tone over the independent form and a low tone over its dependent counterpart

     (f) there is one general reflexive pronoun which denotes ‘body’ (bò̱di in NP) that can be replaced by a composite form consisting of an adnominal possessive plus a word denoting ‘body’ or ‘self’ (se̱f in NP), while reciprocal relations are expressed either by the reflexive se̱f forms or by the specialized reciprocal proniminals ich o̱da ‘each other’ and wo̱n ànó̱da ‘one another’

Table 3. Personal pronouns, adnominal possessives, and reflexive pronouns



adnominal possessives

reflexive pronouns









bò̱di ~ mà se̱f





bò̱di ~yò̱ se̱f



ìm ~ ì




bò̱di ~ìm se̱f





bò̱di ~àwa se̱f







bò̱di ~ùnà se̱f







bò̱di ~dèm se̱f

There is no negative concord in Nigerian Pidgin. As in English, when preceded by a negative and in other polarity contexts, indefinite pronouns incorporating e̱ni ‘any’ are used in Nigerian Pidgin:

(6)  À     si    só̱mbo̱di,    bòt  ìm     no     si     é̱nibo̱di.    

       I      see  somebody  but s/he   neg   see  anybody

    ‘I saw someone, but s/he didn’t see anyone.’

In constituent negation, the negative marker no occurs before the negated noun, with the optional interposition of eni:

(7)     No     (e̱ni)      wo̱d     (we̱)                gri       hyar  àtó̱l.   

         neg   (any)     word   (rel)   you   irr    agree   hear  at.all

    ‘There is absolutely no way to make you listen.’

Following patterns that typify Benue-Kwa languages, the possessive can be expressed in several different ways in Nigerian Pidgin:

     (a) through the use of an adnominal possessive (see (5) and Table 3);

     (b) through the use of an associative noun construction, where the possessor precedes the possessum; and

     (c) with third person singular and plural possessors, a low-toned pronoun can optionally be inserted between the associated nouns.

     Possessive pronouns consist of the nominal or adnominal referring to the possessor followed by the possessive pronominal form on:

(8)       [Audu   (ìm)   haws].   Audu   on.      ìm   on.

         hl   Audu    (his)  house  hl   Audu  own  hl   his  own

        ‘It is Audu’s house. It is Audu’s. It is his.’

In both Benue-Kwa and Nigerian Pidgin, the category “adjective” is virtually non-existent. To express property concepts, stative verbs such as big ‘be big’, blak ‘be black’, fayn ‘be attractive’, are used instead. These stative verbs behave just as do any other verbs. For example, they occupy the syntactic slot allotted to verbs, they can be used with the full array of auxiliaries, negators, and adverbs that accompany other verbs, and they can be included in serialized verb constructions with the verb rich ‘arrive’ to express equative relations, and with the verb pas ‘surpass’ to express comparative and superlative relations, as shown in (9), (10), and Table 5:

(9)           klo̱t      fayn       naw, bò̱t  ìm   no          fayn   tumoro.

            my    cloth   be,nice   now  but it     neg   irr    be.nice   tomorrow

        ‘My cloth is nice now, but it won’t be nice tomorrow.’

My cloth is as nice as your cloth.
My cloth is the nicest.

6. Verb phrase

The verb phrase in Nigerian Pidgin is centred around a system of tense-aspect-mood marking that is strikingly similar to the systems used for marking tense, aspect, and mood in the Benue-Kwa languages, including but not limited to the following features which are schematized in Table 4:

     (a) While a set of tense, aspect, and mood markers are available, tense, aspect, and mood are often unmarked and are either inferred from context or by factative (default) aspect/tense assignment according the value of the verb for the feature [+active];

     (b) mood, modality, and aspect are far more prominent and more consistently marked than is tense/sequence;

     (c) tense, aspect, and mood markers always occur between the subject and the verb, except for the subjunctive marker mek, which occurs before the subject, and the completive marker finish, which occurs after the verb where it functions as a serialized verb;

     (d) the basic mood distinction is declarative (marked by zero) vs. subjunctive (marked by mek, a reflex of the English verb make);

     (e) the basic modality distinction is realis (marked by kòm, a reflex of the English verb come) vs. irrealis (marked by , a reflex of go);

     (f) the basic aspectual distinction is completive (marked by don or finish the latter being a reflex of finish) vs. incompletive (marked by , which derived from the locative copula; reduplication of the main verb may also be used to signal incompletive aspect);

     (g) there is only one tense/sequence marker, the anterior/past marker bìn, which is rarely used;

     (h) unmarked verbs are assigned factative (default) aspect and tense when there are no other contextual cues available for the interpretation of tense, aspect, and mood, with [+active] verbs being interpreted as [+completive] and [+past] and [-active] verbs being interpreted as [-completive] and [-past];

     (i) as indicated in Table 4, when markers are used, they also convey secondary tense, aspect, and mood interpretations;

     (j) two or more tense, aspect, and mood markers may co-occur with the same main verb (Yù gò do̱n dè cho̱p finish. ‘You will have been finished eating’).

Table 4. Tense-Aspect-Mood Markers     S = subject, V = verb









S + V

[+realis] modality


À go tawn.

‘I went to town.’

factitive aspect & tense




[-completive] aspect


Go tawn!

‘Go to town!’

[-past] tense


mek + S + V

[-completive] aspect


À kuk mek à cho̱p.

‘I cooked so that I might eat.’

[-past] tense





S + ko̱m + V

[+completive] aspect

epistemic certainty

À ko̱m go tawn.

‘I (really) went to town.’

[+past] tense

emphasis, narration


S ++ V

[-past] tense

epistemic uncertainty

À gò go tawn.

‘I will/would go to town.’

conditional, future



S + V

V[+active] = [+completive]


À tink (se) im go.

‘I am thinking/think (that) s/he has gone/went.’

V[-active] =





S + do̱n + V

 [+past] tense


À do̱n go (finish).

Im (do̱n) go finish.

‘I have gone/went.’

S + V + finish



S ++ V

 [-past] tense


À dè go.

‘I go/am going.’

reduplicated V


progressive, habitual



S + V

V[+active] = [+past]

A tink (se) ìm go.

‘I am thinking/think (that) s/he has gone/went.’

V[-active] = [-past]


S + bìn + V

[+completive] aspect

anterior sequence

À bìn go.

‘I went/had gone.’

past tense, pluperfect

modal verbs


S + fit + V

‘be able (to)’

ability, permission

A fit go.      

‘I can go.’


S + fò̱ + V

‘should’ ‘would’ ‘ought (to)’

past conditional

A fò̱ go.        

‘I should go.’


S + gri + V

‘consent (to)’


A gri go.       

‘I agree to go.’


S + layk + V

‘like (to)’ ‘be about to’


incipient aspect

A layk go.     

‘I like to go.’

‘I’m about to go.’


S + mo̱s + V



A mo̱s go.     

‘I must go.’


S + sàbi + V

know how (to)’


cognitive ability

A sàbi go.     

‘I know how to go.’


S + wan + V

‘want (to)’


incipient aspect

A wan go.     

‘I want to go.’

‘I’m about to go.’

The patterns that characterize the use of copulas in Nigerian Pidgin are very similar to those found in most Benue-Kwa languages, where separate forms are utilized for the identity copula ( in Nigerian Pidgin), the locative/existential copula (de) and the copular highlighter ():

(11)          Audu  we̱     de             haws,  no                     mì.

            hl     Audu  rel    loc.cop   house  neg   ident.cop  me

‘It is Audu’s who is at home, it is not I (who am at home).’

Just as is the case in Benue-Kwa languages, most verbs cannot be strictly classified in terms of their transitivity, with many “prototypically transitive” verbs regularly occurring without objects and many “prototypically intransitive” verbs, such as copular verbs, stative verbs, and verbs of motion capable of taking objects. 

In Nigerian Pidgin, there are numerous ways of modifying the valency of verbs which are also found throughout Benue-Kwa, including reduplication, the use of “cognate objects” (nominalized objects derived from the verb itself), fixed object expressions, and the use of serialized verb constructions, where sequences of verbs are utilized to refer to the same event. Some verbs tend to precede others in serialized verb constructions while others tend to follow other verbs in these same constructions, which can sometimes consist of long strings of verbs, as illustrated in Table 5.

Table 5. Serialized Verb Constructions

verbs that tend to precede other verbs in serialized verb constructions

tek ‘take’

À tek nayf ko̱t yù.           ‘I cut you with a knife.’ (instrumental)

kari ‘carry’

À kari nayf ko̱t yù.         ‘I cut you with a knife.’ (instrumental)

folo  ‘follow’

À folo yù go tawn.          ‘I went with you to town.’ (comitative)

fe̱st ‘be first’

À fe̱st tek nayf ko̱t yù.      ‘I was first to cut you.’ (precedence)

manij ‘manage’

À manij tek nayf ko̱t yu. ‘I managed to cut you with a knife.’ (success)

verbs that tend to follow other verbs in serialized verb constructions

go ‘go’

À manij tek nayf go tawn.             ‘I managed to take a knife to town.’ (motion away)

ko̱m ‘come’

À fe̱st kari nayf ko̱m haws.            ‘I was first to bring a knife home.’ (motion to)

kò̱mót ‘exit’

À manij tek nayf kò̱mót kari-àm ko̱m.  ‘I managed to extract the knife and bring it.’ (motion out of)

tròwé ‘waste’

Dì wò̱ta fùló̱p tròwé.                     ‘The water overflowed.’ (excessive)

giv ‘give’

À bay nayf giv yù.                         ‘I bought you a knife.’ (dative/benefactive)

rich ‘arrive’

Mà haws big rich yò̱ on.                ‘My house is as big as yours.’ (equative)

pas ‘surpass’

Mà haws big pas yò̱ on, big pas o̱l.          ‘My house is as big as yours, it’s the biggest.’ (comparative/superlative)

se  ‘say’

À te̱l yù se à layk go.                    ‘I told you that I am about to go.’  (subordinator)

7. Sentences

As shown in the various examples in this chapter, the basic word order in Nigerian Pidgin is SVO (subject-verb-object, as in both English and Benue-Kwa) with adverbials occurring in several different preverbal and postverbal slots and a special sentence-final slot reserved for ideophones. 

     As in most Benue-Kwa languages, there is a general adposition (fò̱r - À de fò̱r haws can mean ‘I am in/at/on/inside/ beside/near the house.’) which can be further specified by body parts (bak ‘back’, fes ‘face’) or locational nouns (ínsáyd ‘inside’) and a few secondary adpositions (wìt ‘with’, frò̱m ‘from’, and sòte ‘until’). In Nigerian Pidgin and in most Benue-Kwa languages, serialized verb constructions are much more commonly used to specify case relations than are adpositions, as shown in Table 5.

     Ideophones (onomatopoetic and often reduplicated sentence-final verb intensifiers) are quite common in Nigerian Pidgin and are of the three basic sorts found throughout Benue-Kwa: (a) fully lexified ideophones (such as kpàtàkpátá ‘completely’) which can co-occur with a number of verbs (Ìm spo̱yl kpàtàkpátá. ‘It is completely spoiled.’); (b) partially lexified ideophones (such as zàwáy ‘(slap) sharply’) which co-occur with specific verbs only (Ìm slap mì zàwáy. ‘(S)he slapped me sharply.’); and (c) spontaneously created ideophones (Yò he̱d rawnd yè̱wán yè̱wán yè̱wán yè̱. ‘Your head is hideously round.’).

     Sentence negation involves the use of the negative marker no between the subject slot and the pre-verbal tense, aspect, mood marker slot. No is used with all such markers, except for do̱n, in which case the compound negative completive marker ne̱va replaces both no and do̱n, as exemplified in (6), (9), (11), and (12):

(12)     A     do̱n        te̱l      yù,       bò̱t          ne̱va              gri       hyar  wo̱d.

            I      compl   tell     you     but   you   neg.compl   agree   hear  word

            ‘I already told you, but you wouldn’t listen.’

     There is no true passive voice in Nigerian Pidgin and in most Benue-Kwa languages.  Instead, two typically Benue-Kwa constructions are utilized to move subjects out of sentence-initial position, including: (a) the use of an impersonal second or third person pronoun subject (Dè̱m tek layt. ‘The electricity has been cut off.’); and (b) the subject becomes the object of verbs meaning ‘do’, ‘catch’, ‘kill’, etc. (Sik du/kach/kil mì.  ‘I am ill.’)

     Yes-no questions are signalled by rising intonation and the yes-no question particles from other Nigerian languages, such as àbi, which can occur question initially or question finally.

     Question-word questions are signalled by a set of question words which, as in many Benue-Kwa languages, are compounds (we̱/wé̱plés ‘where?’, wé̱tíng ‘what?’, wé̱tíng mek ‘why?’, hu/húspé̱sin ‘who?’, hústáym ‘when?’, húsplés/húsáyd ‘where?’, wich/wíchwó̱n ‘which?’, wíchtáym ‘when?’, wíchplés/wíchsáyd ‘where?’, wíchpé̱sin ‘who?’, wíchwé ‘how?’, etc.) In most cases, question words can either occur in situ or they can be fronted:

(13)     Wé̱tíng        wan     cho̱p?       tok       se                  wan       cho̱p    wé̱tíng?

            what      you   want   eat       you   talk     subord     you   want      eat       what

            ‘What do you want to eat? What did you say that you wanted to eat?’

     Compound sentences can include the coordinators ànd ‘and’, bò̱t ‘but’, ò̱ ‘or’, ayda ‘either/or’ as in (9) and (12) but, following patterns typical of Benue-Kwa languages, coordination may not be marked at all or it may be conveyed through serialized verb constructions (Table 5). Relative clauses in complex sentences may be introduced by the relativizer we̱, as in (7), (11), and (14). As in many Benue-Kwa languages subordinate noun clauses in Nigerian Pidgin may be introduced by a subordinator derived from a verb meaning ‘to say’ (se) used in serialized verb constructions, as shown in (13) and Table 5. 

     Emphasis constructions in Nigerian Pidgin involve the use of two major strategies found throughout Benue-Kwa: (i) a number of emphatic particles, mostly taken from other Nigerian languages (, shá, kwánú, but also se̱f from English), may occur directly after the emphasized element, and/or (ii) the emphasized element can be fronted in a cleft construction. These cleft constructions can be used to emphasize almost any element in the sentence, including the verb, as illustrated in (11), and (14):

(14)           wàka shá.       wàka (we̱)               wàka.

         you irr    walk emph   hl   walk (rel)   you   irr   walk

    ‘You’re going to walk (not drive). It’s walking that you’re going to (have to) do.’