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Danfo buses in Lagos. Image from Guardian Nigeria.

Oxford English Dictionary has recognized West African English, bringing its number of World Englishes to 15, including AustralianCanadianCaribbean, Hong KongIrish, Manx, New Zealand, Philippine, Scottish, Singapore and Malaysian, South African, and Welsh Englishes. It announced this in a release note entitled “West African English Pronunciations“:

We have been expanding our representation of written and spoken pronunciations from an increasing number of global varieties of English since 2016. Besides British and U.S. English pronunciations (which are given for all non-obsolete entries), words and phrases from specific World Englishes are given additional written and spoken pronunciations in the relevant variety.

Our practice when working on World English is to review current scholarship and liaise with consultants and native speakers to develop a pronunciation model suitable for OED’s purposes. The model is used in transcribing researched pronunciations for both the new additions and existing OED entries which fall into the same category, so that coverage is achieved across the entire dictionary. These transcriptions then steer live voice recording sessions with native speakers to create our spoken pronunciations.

Among the experts consulted are the Nigerian academic Kingsley Ugwuanyi, English Language lecturer at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka and doctoral student at Northumbria University, and the German author Ulrike Gut, who has been researching Nigerian English.

The development comes after the Dictionary added 29 Nigerian words in its latest update. “By taking ownership of English and using it as their own medium of expression, Nigerians have made, and are continuing to make, a unique and distinctive contribution to English as a global language,” writes OED’s World English Editor Danica Salazar in the release note entitled “Nigerian English,” which opens with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s differentiation of her Nigerian-rooted English from a British, American, or Australian one. “We highlight their contributions in this month’s update of the Oxford English Dictionary, as a number of Nigerian English words make it into the dictionary for the first time. The majority of these new additions are either borrowings from Nigerian languages, or unique Nigerian coinages that have only begun to be used in English in the second half of the twentieth century, mostly in the 1970s and 1980s.”

Here are “the new Nigerian words and senses”:

It’s difficult to imagine a “West African English,” though, considering that the hundreds of millions in the region’s Anglophone countries—Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Liberia—speak different Englishes.

It will be interesting to watch how Nigerian writers adapt to the infusion of local words given the sharp, often embarrassing arguments made against their perceived accessibility in fiction published in the West.

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About Otosirieze Obi-Young

View all posts by Otosirieze Obi-Young
Otosirieze Obi-Young is a writer, journalist, & Deputy Editor of Brittle Paper. The recipient of the inaugural The Future Awards Prize for Literature in 2019, he is a judge for The Gerald Kraak Prize and was a judge for The Morland Writing Scholarship in 2019. He is Nonfiction Editor at 14, Nigeria’s first queer art collective, which has published volumes including We Are Flowers (2017) and The Inward Gaze (2018). He is Curator at The Art Naija Series, a sequence of e-anthologies of writing and visual art focusing on different aspects of Nigerianness, including Enter Naija: The Book of Places (2016), which explores cities, and Work Naija: The Book of Vocations (2017), which explores professions. His work in queer equality advocacy in literature has been profiled in Literary Hub. His fiction has appeared in The Threepenny Review and Transition. He has completed a collection of short stories, You Sing of a Longing, is working on a novel, and is represented by David Godwin Associates literary agency. He has an M.A. in African Studies and a combined honours B.A. in History & International Studies/English & Literary Studies, both from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. He taught English in a private Nigerian university. Find him at otosirieze.com, where he accepts writing and editing offers, or on Instagram or Twitter: @otosirieze. When bored, he Googles Rihanna.

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