THE STRUCTURE AND COMMUNICATIVE FUNCTIONS OF NIGERIAN ENGLISH AND ITS IMPLICATIONS ON TEACHING WRITING SKILLS AT THE SSS LEVEL
English as it is spoken in Nigerian (Nigerian English) has been localized or internalized, so to say. This has led a unique brand of English influenced by our various regional dialects and languages. Subsequently, there is a deviation from the standard British English, which our schools are said to use. This deviation could be seen in terms of lexis, phonology and grammar. This means that Standard English may not be attainable even at the acrolectal level due to interferences and related factors. These interference affect speech and ultimately, writing. Writing is a part of a person’s life that is indispensable and a mastery of writing cannot be overemphasized. Therefore, this brings to the fore: the implication Nigerian English has on Nigerian teachers who teach writing skills at the SSS level. According to Chomsky, young children are equipped with what the termed Language Acquisition Device (LAD), which helps them pick up languages faster. This means that children have “sponge like” minds. This is a plus as with the right information they can be easy moluded. This project focuses on SSS students because they are still young and can be trained more effectively in the area of writing.
1.0 BACKGROUND TO THE STUDY
Language is a very important factor in the educational process. It is an indispensable aspect of communication. Ithas very strong basics for creative thought and without it there would be no meaningful progress in civilization and culture, Makinde (1997:7). The above citation explores the powers of language as a tool for communication and creative thought. Language is used to communicate ideas through the process of thinking, translated to either speech or writing.
Therefore the language of wider communication of a country is crucial to the progress and growth of that nation, even academically. Nigeria is a diverse and multi-ethnic country with about four hundred and ten (410) languages Mackey (1992:12). However, with the introduction of the English language in 1842, these numerous languages have influenced, or if we might say, interfered in the way Nigerians use language on the lexical, grammatical and phonological levels of communication. Though English is Nigeria’s lingua franca, a unique brand of English has emerged to suit Nigeria’s socio-linguistic and communication needs (which is to an extent a deviation from standard British English). This has led to a localization or domestication. Since English has been influenced by our indigenous languages, the way we write will also reflect this metamorphosis. These variations we referred to as “peculiar Nigerianisms”.
On the phonological level, Adegbite (2001:27) points out a reduced vowel system reduced intonation systems, voicing of non-voiced consonants endings. For example: thumb, song, lamb, the insertation of vowel in syllabic consonants and so on. In day-day communication, we hear people erroneously stretch or contact words. For example, the post-vocalic/L/ is deleted in coda position: “bulk” is pronounced as [bÉ], “help [hep] in addition, the word “sit” is pronounced as [si:t], “ship” as [ςi:p], and the word “beat” is contracted to [bit]. It is possible, therefore, that these wrong pronunciations can translate to bad writing and poor spellings.
Basically, the grammatical level focuses on how several aspects of the English language are given a Nigeria flavour. For example, a statement as the following is common in Nigerian English users:
“He is guilty, isn’t it?” (Wrong)
“He is guilty, isn’t he?” (Correct)
The lexical level is characterized by coinages (chewing stick, cash madam, go-slow, senior brother, co-wife), hybridization’s (kiakia bus, bukateria) and direct translations (eran igbe “bush/mea!”, ese gigun” long leg).
All these border on communication and communication processes. The major essence of it is to get a message across. All the factors and features of Nigerian English play a role in our linguistic and communicative competences. Linguistic competence is often referred to as the native speaker’s knowledge of his language. Communication competence on the other hand is an individual’s capacity and ability to produce and understand utterances, which might’ not be grammatical but appropriate in the socio-linguistic context of its use. This means that the way Nigerians use language will affect communication. For the purpose of this study, writing as a means of communication will be focused on.
According to Maduekwe (2007:157), writing is a ” personal act, it is an expression of the self. It draws on intuition as well as on reasoning on sensation and emotion, facts and meaning”. As earlier stated, language is a basis for creative thought and communication. The way Nigerians think in their lingua franca will determine the quality of written communication as it is what is in the mind that is transferred to writing. According to a research done by Olatunji Felicia Funsho (1996), some university lecturers code switch from time to time for the effect, and the fun of it. They use words such as “Oyinbo” and “Ogbanje” while teaching.
The point here is this; if a teacher code switches or code mixes because they do not know the English translation of certain terms or for the fun of it, their students will inevitably imitate them and transfer these deviations to their writings.
As a matter of fact, she states that some English Department lecturers in her research, tried not to code switch in class so their students would not copy them. However, others admitted to doing this occasionally for the sake of illustrations to differentiate between English and Yoruba. For example”
/The boy is coming/ (article before noun)
/omo na mbo/ (noun before article)
They also did (code switching and code mixing) when there were no exact
English equivalents for certain words, or terms like:
/mammywater/ (water spirits)
/Abiku, Ogbanje/ (Familiar spirits)
/Olokun/ (the female god of the sea)
If this is brought down to the Junior Secondary classroom level, we know that teachers at this level or not exempted from making such deviations in their teaching. As a matter of fact, terms such as “mammy water” and ogbanje” are terms picked up at the tender years of basic education, which includes the SSS classes. Literature and English textbooks with folktales and African stories use such terms for children’s books.Subsequently, when students want to write about mermaids, they would use the term “mammy water” instead. The crux of the matter, therefore, is that when teachers speak this “Nigerianized version of the English language, their students pick these things from them and it reflects negatively in the quality of their writing.
In conclusion, writing is an art, which reflects a certain level of mastery. ‘It is evident that factors such as “Nigerianisms”, code switching and code mixing are prevalent in our Junior Secondary classes; such mastery may never be attained. Students at the Junior Secondary Level are still quite impressionable and can still be helped to improve on their writing skills. In the light of this, this study is aimed at determining the implications of the communicative functions of Nigerian English and how it affects the teaching of writing skills with specific emphasis on the Junior Secondary School level students who are second language (L2) user of English and also, its implication for teachers of English who use Nigerian English in classroom setting.
1.2 STATEMENT OF THE PROBLEM
“It has been argued that learning to write fluently and expressively is the most difficult of the macro-skills for all language users regardless of whether the language questions is a first, second or foreign language: Maduekwe (2007: 162). Judging from the relative difficulty of writing, it is evident that factors such as interference from mother tongue and our “peculiar Nigerianisms” could mar or pose a threat to the quality of writing that comes from our youth, especially the SSS students how are still at a tender stage and can be helped to improved on their writing skills.
Also, we must realize that interference factors and “Niqerianisms” do not only affect students but teachers as well and more so, teachers because they are the ones who teach writing to their students, which is a crucial matter.
Therefore, the study seeks to establish the structure and functions of the Nigerian deviation of the Standard English and how this can affect the acquisition of writing skills at the SSS level.
1.3 PURPOSE OF STUDY
The purpose of this study is to
- Appraise the writing skills of students at the SSS level.
- Find out the effect of “Nigerian English” on the writing skills of S.S.S students.
- Suggest ways of promoting writing skills at the SSS level.
1.4 RESEARCH QUESTIONS
This research seeks to provide answers to the following questions.
- What is the quality/nature of writing at the SSS level?
- What is the effect of Nigerian English on the writing skill of SSS students?
- How can we promote the art of writing in Nigerian student’s especially at the SSS level?
1.5 SIGNIFICANCE OF THE STUDY
This study will help teachers of the English language to determine areas they should improve on a regards teaching and modifications that can be made to already existent teaching skills. It will improve the quality of writing in students at the SSS level and help parents and the society at large to acknowledge the importance of writing as one of the components of the four language skills necessary for academic excellence and societal growth.
In addition, curriculum developers will benefit from this research, as they will get information on variables such as the teacher, students and society.
1.6 SCOPE OF THE STUDY
The scope of this study will be limited to the SSS students, covering some secondary schools in Lagos. The context of the work deals with Nigerians in English and its impact on the writing skill of these students.
1.7 DEFINITION OF TERMS
The definition of some difficult terms or words in relation to this research are given below:
Nigerian English: English as it is spoken and used by Nigerians in a way that is unique to them. It is also influenced by Nigerian.
“Peculiar Nigerianisms”: the use and modification of English words due to the localization of the language in Nigeria. These usages are specific and peculiar to Nigerian.
- Lexical: The words of a language
- Negative Transfer: Thinking or meaning in one’s mother tongue and translating directly into the target language, for example, English.
- Phonetically: representing Vocal/Oral Sounds
- Dialect: Regional form of speech or variety of a given language.
- Phonetically: Representing Vocal/Oral sounds
Dialect: Regional form of speech or a variety of a given language