A Linguistic Analysis Of ‘Ehen’ in Nigerian Pidgin

A Linguistic Analysis Of ‘Ehen’ in Nigerian Pidgin



The words we say make up a language. Language facilitates the task of communication among humans. It is a means of expressing one’s thoughts,ideas and feelings in such a way that one is understood by others. Though words differ both across and within languages,they are a vital part of the whole. Studies have shown the peculiarities of words in respect of their structures and functions, and this is what this study is all about.

The debate of Nigerian Pidgin being capable to be described as a language or just a variation is gradually fading away as the Nigerian Pidgin continues to register in the mind of its speakers and Nigerian Linguists as a language, nevertheless,this is not the basic argument of this study. Still for more clarity, we shall treat Nigerian Pidgin as a distinct language throughout the course of this project. Alternatively, the ‘Nigerian Pidgin’ may be written as ‘NP’.

The Nigerian Pidgin among others is one language with words which are homonyms and the basics of this study is the Nigerian Pidgin word ‘ehen’. ‘Ehen’ being an ambiguous linguistic element cannot be understood properly in accordance to the speaker’s intention if such word is in isolation, unless it is being wrapped in its context of use. Despite the stress differences that exists as a distinguishing factor in the phonological representation of the word, ‘ehen’ can still not be fully understood outside of context because there exists cases in Nigerian Pidgin where the word has the same stress features or properties but mean different things. This work shall show within the framework of the Contextual theory, this is because the semantic use of ‘ehen’ in Nigerian Pidgin is ambigous. The present study therefore examines the various ways by which ‘ehen’ is employed in Nigerian Pidgin.


According to Hudson (1982), “Pidgins are varieties created for very practical and immediate purpose of communication between people who otherwise would have no common language whatsoever”. This views pidgin as a marginal language which arises to fulfill certain communication needs among people who have no common language. Hudson believe that pidgin emerges as a result of the communication needs among people who have different languages.

Holmes (1987) gave the definition of pidgin as: “a reduced language that results from extended contact between groups of people with no language in common; it evolves when they need some means of verbal communication, perhaps for trade, but no group learns the native language of any other group for social reasons that may include lack of trust or of close contact (1987:4)”.

Wardhaugh (1998) agrees with this definition as he states: “A pidgin is a language with no native speakers. It is so ones first language but is a contact language. That is, it is the products of a multilingual situation in which those who wish to communicate must find or improve a simple language system that will enable them do so”. (1998:15).

These definitions given above are associated with the developmental stages of pidgin. Today, pidgin has grown to become full languages in many nations where they are used as a means of communication. It has been simplified to suit the communication needs and purposes of such nations. In some nations also, it has been creolized and used as a mother tongue.

The Nigerian pidgin which is also known as ‘Naijalanguege’, Ofulue (2015;36), or simply as NP, is a linguistic outcome of contact between indigenous peoples and the Europeans along the Nigeria coastal shores, which has subsequently been shaped by the nation’s colonial history and multilingual context. According to Faraclas,“the Nigerian pidgin is spoken by an estimate exceeding 40 million while the number of people who speak it as a first language surpasses 1 million. However, this number has been increasing rapidly because of the popularity of the language amongst young people. According to him, Nigerian pidgin is considered to be one of the links in a chain of English-lexifier pidgins and creoles spoken along the coast of West Africa and in the African diaspora communities throughout the Atlantic basin. He also mentions that amongst these related  ‘varieties’, the Cameroonian pidgin is closer in form to Nigerian pidgin than are e.g: sierra leonian and Jamaican krio. However, all these pidgins and creoles share a significant number of semantic, grammatical, phonological features and structures” (2004:1).

The Nigerian pidgin is distinct from the Nigerian Standard English because it is spoken by members of every socio-economic group, while only those with reasonable years of formal education can claim to speak the Standard English with much proficiency. For a clear understanding of the national affairs and for practical communication in Nigeria, knowledge of the Nigerian pidgin is fast becoming indispensable.

Although, the Nigerian Pidgin (NP) is mostly becoming the logical choice for a national language, it receives little attention or recognition from nation’s language policiers. The attitude towards the Nigerian Pidgin is negative, perpetuating erroneous notions which were inherited from the colonial period that the Nigerian Pidgin is some sort of broken English. However, Elugbe and Omamor (1991). argue that NP, as it is currently used is no longer limited to a particular set of speakers or social contexts as the case used to be earlier in its history, and as described in earlier studies as the language of the under privileged who have little or no education ( e.g. Agheyisi, 1971, Obilade, 1979). Today, users cut across the socio-economic strata and educational background.

Nigeria pidgin is a language of wider communication which is used in cross-ethnic interaction. It is mass oriented because it is used by all sectors of the linguistic community which it operates. All in all, the Nigerian pidgin shares with English, the unique feature of being the only ethnically neutral language in Nigeria. It is spread all over Nigeria and spoken by persons of different ethnic origins.


The Nigerian Pidgin is a universal Nigerian language spoken all over Nigeria and its native speakers live all over the country.


This work aims solely at examining the employment of ‘ehen’ in Nigerian Pidgin, and this as a tool, it’s objectives therefore are;

  1. To examine ‘ehen’ as a lexical item.
  2. To carry out a linguistic account of the word ‘ehen’, putting into consideration aspects of its phonology and morphology with great emphasis on the semantic features of the lexical item.
  3. To show the various contexts in which ‘ehen’ is employed by Nigerian Pidgin speakers and how these various contexts work to alternate the meaning of the word.


  1. The Nigerian Pidgin has so many words in its vocabulary that are structured and made to function like the one under study. Thus, a work like this will serve as a guide towards the study of such NP words.
  2. The study will undoubtedly enhance the documentation of Nigerian Pidgin. It will enrich the already existing literature on the Nigerian Pidgin.


The study examines the word ‘ehen’ in Nigerian Pidgin within the framework of the contextual theory of meaning. It shows how it affects communication in language. At this juncture, it is pertinent to state that throughout the course of this work, the basic focus will be on Nigerian Pidgin, although references may be made to other languages both in Nigeria and beyond. In  addition, it is worth making clear that the scope of this study is on the usage, structure and function of ‘ehen’ in Nigerian Pidgin,and yes, there are other words which are structured and made to function like the one under study, this study does not concentrate on them.


In order to arrive at the laid down goals,this work employs some devices in its data collection process. The work consists of adequate data to back up every claim presented in it from different sources which can be split into two(2) namely;

  1. Primary data sources and,
  2. Secondary data sources.

Primary data include interviews of indigenes of Egor and Ovia North/East local government area who are competent speakers of Nigerian Pidgin as well as some students of the University of Benin. These informants were asked questions whose answers will definitely require them to use ‘ehen’ and they were engaged in conversations in this regard as well. For authenticity of data, the researcher also involved as a participant in different speech situationswhere the word ‘ehen’ is employed.

The secondary data were gotten from both published and unpublished materials relating to the topic in Nigerian Pidgin. Articles and documents (which are properly referenced in the reference section of this work) from the internet were also helpful.

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