By Francis Ewherido
There is a saying I believe in that if you must to eat a toad, go for the fat toad with eggs. It is well known that Warri (By this, I mean Warri, Effurun, Ekpan and surrounding areas) is the headquarters of Pidgin English in Nigeria. You can’t beat Warri when it comes to Pidgin English. So if you really want the best Pidgin English, go to Warri.
Meanwhile, when we were growing up in Ozoro, Isoko North Local Government Area Headquarters, Delta State, my mother banned speaking of Pidgin English and English in the house. My father had banned Pidgin English from the beginning. That was understandable because he was a graduate of English Language and head teacher of English Department. But to compound matters, my mother banned the speaking of English in the house. This rule also applied to my father. She told us that should we should restrict our spoken English to our various schools. But my father taught us English at home for academic purposes only. The only language allowed at home was Urhobo; not just Urhobo, but Egwhu dialect. That was how we grew up outside Egwhu, but mastered our dialect.
I decided to follow the same model when I started my family. Everything was going smoothly. My two children then spoke my wife’s Ughievwen dialect instead of my Egwhu dialect. Then my wife was home and that was what she spoke to them, but I couldn’t be bothered. Any Urhobo dialect was good enough for me. We had close Ughievwen family friends since the 60s and I sort of fell in love with the dialect. My wife being home with them really helped. Once they started school, foreign influence (English) came in and the gains we made in Urhobo language started diminishing. May be we were too slow to react, but we imposed the rule of Urhobo only at home. My children became deaf and dumb. When they managed to string a few Urhobo words together, sometimes I got frustrated. At other times, I just laughed at the utter damage they were doing to the language. At the end, I only managed to salvage my eldest daughter, but and she only speaks Urhobo when she wants to toast me for money or ask for other favours. My other children, especially the boys, are just impossible. The war to make them speak Urhobo fluently is still on.
In those days, people used to send their children to their grandparents as a solution to their inability to understand or speak their mother tongue. But my children’s grandmothers live in Uvwie, which added to Warri, is the headquarters of Pidgin English. Both grandmothers speak Urhobo, but it is not enough. All around them, the predominant language is Pidgin English.
Taking my children to my village is out of it. There is no one to send them to. We used to go on holidays in Egwhu when my brother, Sen Akpor Pius Ewherido, was alive. Going home on holidays will no longer be fun. All it brings are pains. In fact, I only travel home for burials and during general elections. Besides that, I can’t even send my children to Egwhu to learn Urhobo. Pidgin English has overrun, not only Egwhu but Urhobo land. I was shocked when I went round Urhobo land with a governorship candidate in 2015. I have not gone round other ethnic groups in Delta State, but I suspect they are not fairing much better in perpetuating their languages.
The most annoying part is the kind of Pidgin English they speak in Egwhu. Egwhu, Evwreni, Uwheru and some other parts of Urhobo land have an age long quarrel with letter “L.” Long is pronounced “nong.” Land is “nand,” love is “nove,” Lucky is “noki.” While growing up there was a part of Egwhu the locals called “Eniye.” But I always suspected something was wrong because it did not sound Urhobo. The mystery continued as I got more education. Then it struck me one day that “Eniye” is corrupted LA (local authority). I laughed and laughed. Anytime my relatives visited, “eniye” rented the air in their discussions. In one of those times when my relatives visited us, I heard my father saying “eniye” while discussing with them. I was scandalised. An English Language graduate who was also head of English Language department? So why was he harassing his students for speaking bad English and wrong pronunciations? I remember his encounter with a particular student: “What’s your name?” “Tomos,” he answered. “Your name is Thomas, not Tomos.”My father retorted. He ensured that he pronounced the name correctly before he let him go.
I felt my father was playing double standard. Why could he not correct his relatives but rather join them in the murder of English, I wondered? Then it struck me. They were his elders, not his students. Two, you do you teach an old dog new tricks. How do you teach people who have called the area “eniye” for over 60 years that it is LA (Local Authority). Three, if he had said LA, they would have been confused because they have never heard that before.
Anyway, back to my eldest daughter, sending her home to master speaking of Urhobo is out of the way, because the language is dying. It is a problem that affects all languages in Nigeria in varying degrees. The only exception is the Hausa language.
As I said earlier, if you want to eat a toad, you go for the fat one with eggs. My eldest daughter has been speaking Pidgin English for a while now in spite of my frequent warnings. She loves it because I guess it makes her to connect with her root. So I was thinking of relocating her to Uvwie where both grandmothers and her uncles live so that she can eat the fattest toad, I mean, learn the best Pidgin English. But something is making me have a rethink. One of their uncles bought them gifts recently. She didn’t know that, their uncle also bought for her baby sister, the youngest in the house. When she found out, she admired it and said: “small yansh sef dey shake.” I rebuked her for disrespecting her baby sister. But it also occurred to me that she can stay in Lagos and master her new fetish (Pidgin English). Warri still remains the headquarters of Pidgin English, but you can learn “good” Pidgin English in Lagos. We are now in a “global village,” that phrase that made no sense to me in 1984 when I heard it the first time.
Leave a Reply