There are many languages in Ghana which have existed for hundreds of years. However, there is a relatively new language that has for many years gained attention particularly with the youth and adolescents of school going age. We are talking about the pidgin language.

Although Pidgin is not as old as the other languages, it is very popular and it’s spoken widely. Let’s dive into the history of the pidgin language and how it’s currently used in Ghana.

A language vital to Ghanaian culture

Language is a vital part of human connection. So important is it that without language, effective communication becomes a very enormous challenge for any two or more people. Whether

A spectrum of languages in Ghana wouldn’t be complete without discussing the importance of pidgin. Unlike Akan language, pidgin does not belong to any particular ethnic group in Ghana. In fact Pidgin or broken English is a type of English also spoken in Nigeria, Togo, and Sierra Leone.

How is pidgin language used?

You will find the Ghanaian pidgin language very widely spoken among high school males

Unlike the traditional slang words used in Ghana, it is a combination of the English language and some words from common local languages. It is mostly spoken by the youth and chic older people and they tend to use it in friendly offline and online discussions.

There have been some cases where certain educators have unsuccessfully attempted to ban the use of pidgin. Although other languages of Ghana are available to them, students, particularly males, use pidgin as a means of expressing solidarity, camaraderie and youthful exuberance.

Today, this form of Pidgin can be heard in a variety of informal contexts, although it still carries a certain stigma usually by the older folk. Specifically, pidgin still carries stigma in academia which may explain why “few structural or sociolinguistic descriptions of the variety have been published”.

With 5 million speakers, contemporary pidgin is spoken by 20% of the population. It can be found and heard in many different media, such as popular songs, political platforms and even in radio stations, and widely used also in markets, airports, schools and the workplace.

Origins of the pidgin language

Since the Pidgin language is closely related to the English language, it is very evident that its origins stem from the periods that European explorers and merchants docked their ships on the Coast of West Africa.

Actually, Portuguese explorers were the first to arrive on the shores of Ghana. It is no surprise that there was a Portuguese pidgin which was spoken as far back as the 16th and 17th centuries.

The explorers had a great need for translators – and since most of the people they met were uneducated, they took some of the locals to Portugal for an education. Someway somehow, when these people came back speaking fluent Portuguese the locals tried to imitate certain words they picked up from these people and the pidgin developed.

However, competition with the European powers as well as the declining might of the Portuguese economy led to the decline of activities in Ghana before finally handing over to the Dutch. The Dutch did not settle down among the West Africans they traded with and hence did not significantly create a pidgin language.

The Ghanaian pidgin English

The British took over from the Dutch and the Ghanaian pidgin English entered its formative years. In 1844, the Gold Coast (Ghana) officially became a British Colony. There were several alliances forged and wars fought due to matters of trade and territorial interests.

These and many other things like religious pilgrimage, establishment of schools, churches and work relationships brought the Ghanaians closer to the British. The masters needed to communicate with their workers and the pidgin developed as these workers tried to keep pace with the fast-paced English masters.

Like every language, the Ghanaian pidgin has been influenced by a lot which includes the already available languages and cultures existing in Ghana. The people from Northern Ghana were among the first to regularly speak pidgin because many of them were late in accessing formal education; and because of their hard work and cheap labor, they were most preferred for menial jobs by the colonialists.

External influences in the pidgin language

Migration, both internally and internationally has also influenced the pidgin language. When there was the Nigerian oil boom in the 70s, many Ghanaians went there in search of opportunities and many came back when they were expelled by the then Nigerian government. They came back to Ghana and brought with them influences from the Nigerian pidgin.

The Nigerian film industry known as Nollywood which gained a lot of popularity in Ghana had a lot of influences on the development of the Ghanaian pidgin language.

A lot of Nigerian pidgin was spoken in the movies and sitcoms that was aired and sold so much that some of the vocabulary leaked into the Ghanaian pidgin language. So it became that many Ghanaians can understand the Nigerian pidgin fully, but a Nigerian would not fully understand the Ghanaian pidgin.

The future of pidgin language

While English is spoken and written, Ghanaian pidgin is mostly spoken and rarely ever written unless in a few online discussions. Pidgin is ever changing, with new words and vocabulary being invented by creative youth.
Pidgin started to enter into secondary schools by the mid-60s and was soon carried to the Universities. It has become a predominantly male spoken language and because of its stigma in Ghana, it has remained a males’ language for a long time.

However, many more females are speaking it and can comfortably express themselves in it. One can expect that many urban males under 50 years can be expected to speak pidgin in informal settings. Truly it is Ghana’s most underrated language.

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