Nigerian Words in the English Dictionary

Flag and map of Nigeria
Flag and map of Nigeria

Oh yes… the Oxford English Dictionary has just selected 29 new Nigerian words to be part of its new edition. Allright people, make place for Chop (eat) Okada (Bend-Skin), Mama Put (eatery), Rub Minds(consult and work together), and Next tomorrow (the day after tomorrow), into the Queen’s English Dictionary…. Isn’t it marvelous how each culture adds to another? Even the conqueror at some points gets conquered (just jesting) by finding himself speaking words from the conquered. We, Africans, or those who have been colonized around the world, who have had to learn the language of the oppressor, should consider that language as part of our war trophies, because our ancestors had it pushed down their throats, and today we can speak the oppressor’s language and even understand them better than they do us, or ever wanted to, given their ‘superiority’ complex! Enjoy from the OED website.

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My English-speaking is rooted in a Nigerian experience and not in a British or American or Australian one. I have taken ownership of English.

Bend Skin
‘Bend Skin’ in Cameroon = ‘Okada’ in Nigeria

This is how acclaimed Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie describes her relationship with English, the language which she uses in her writing, and which millions of her fellow Nigerians use in their daily communication. 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. 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.

… One particularly interesting set of such loanwords and coinages has to do with Nigerian street food. The word buka, borrowed from Hausa and Yoruba and first attested in 1972, refers to a roadside restaurant or street stall that sells local fare at low prices. Another term for such eating places first evidenced in 1980 is bukateria, which adds to buka the –teria ending from the word cafeteria. An even more creative synonym is mama put, from 1979, which comes from the way that customers usually order food in a buka: they say ‘Mama, put…’ to the woman running the stall, and indicate the dish they want. 

Grilled fish on a charcoal stove / du poisson braise sur un rechaud a charbon
Grilled fish on a charcoal stove / du poisson braise sur un rechaud a charbon

Okadaon the other hand, is first attested twenty years later, and is the term for a motorcycle that passengers can use as a taxi service. It is a reference to Okada Air, an airline that operated in Nigeria from 1983 to 1997, and its reputation as a fast yet potentially dangerous form of transport, just like the motorcycle taxi.

… The oldest of our new additions that are originally from Nigeria is  next tomorrow, which is the Nigerian way of saying ‘the day after tomorrow’. It was first used in written English as a noun in 1953, and as an adverb in 1964. The youngest of the words in this batch is  Kannywood, first used in 2002, which is the name for the Hausa-language film industry based in the city of Kano. It is a play on Hollywood, following the model of Nollywood, the more general term for the Nigerian film industry that was added to the OED in 2018.

Nigerian Pidgin is another rich source of new words for Nigerian English. Sef, first evidenced in Nigerian author Ben Okri’s novel Flowers and Shadows, published in 1980, is an adverb borrowed from Pidgin, which itself could have been an adverbial use of either the English adjective safe or the pronoun self.

… A few other expressions in this update would require some explanation for non-Nigerians: a barbing salon (earliest quotation dated 1979) is a barber’s shop; a gist (1990) is a rumour, and to gist (1992) is to gossip; when a woman is said to have  put to bed (1973), it means that she has given birth; something described as qualitative (1976) is excellent or of high quality.

Andre Marie Tala: Cameroon’s Blind Musical Virtuoso

André Marie Tala
André Marie Tala

Most people have heard of Stevie Wonder, the American blind R&B virtuoso, who was discovered at the tender age of 11. Most people versed in classical music have probably heard of the Italian classical tenor Andrea Bocelli, who was born with poor eyesight, and turned blind by the age of 12. But how many of you have heard of the Cameroonian blind singer André Marie Tala who influenced an entire generation of Cameroonian and African artists? the singer who was even plagiarized by the mighty James Brown

Andre Marie Tala and Sam Fan Thomas (Source: RfI)
Andre Marie Tala and Sam Fan Thomas (Source: Rfi)

To those who visit my blog, you have probably listened to two of his classic songs, which are odes to some of Africa’s beautiful capitals: Yaoundé, and N’Djamena, the capitals of Cameroon and Chad respectively. Only after I wrote about N’Djamena did I realize that André Marie Tala had performed at the Olympia (with Sam Fan Thomas, another giant of Cameroonian music) on May 17th to celebrate his 45 year anniversary in the music industry.

André Marie Tala
André Marie Tala

Unlike all the singers cited earlier, Tala plays the guitar. Born in the mountains of the Western province of Cameroon in 1950, Tala loses his mother at the tender age of 4, and then his father at 16. He totally loses sight at the age of 15, and will be taken in by his grandmother. He builds his very first guitar with threads made out of nylon, and bamboo, and works on reproducing sounds from his favorite musicians. He starts his first group, the Rock Boys, with which he goes on to have immediate success. The Rock Boys later morphed into the Black Tigers in 1967 with his friend, guitar player, Sam Fan Thomas. At the age of 20, he moves to Paris and collaborates with the great Cameroonian saxophone player Manu Dibango; he lands his first big musical contract. Thus were born the titles Sikati, Po tak Si nan (laissez Dieu tranquille ! – leave God in peace), and Namala Ébolo. Big success! Po tak Si nan is a mixture of soul, jazz, and rhythm n’ blues, blend in with a mix of Cameroonian musical styles such as Makossa and Bikutsi. Tala calls his style “Tchamassi”.

The album "Hot Koki" by André Marie Tala
The album “Hot Koki” by André Marie Tala

In 1973, his album “Hot Koki” knows international success, and his single “Hot Koki” is even plagiarized by the great James Brown under the new title “The Hustle”. In 1978, after 4 years of judiciary struggles, Tala is awarded justice, and James Brown is condemned to pay him back all his rights.

The big themes of Tala’s music are peace, love, and harmony. In the 90s, he brings Bend Skin to the forefront of Cameroonian music, a folkloric fusion of styles from the grasslands of Cameroon. It is often associated with the moto-taxis which are called by the same name Bend-Skin.

Album of André Marie Tala
Album of André Marie Tala

By choosing the Olympia (the quintessential stage for music in France), for his musical jubilee, André Marie Tala wants to launch a new beginning for the Cameroonian music which has always been rich and influenced millions, but for the past decade has stagnated. Happy 45th-anniversary to Andre Marie Tala, and to many more albums of great music. I live you here with one of my favorite Tala’s song, Nomtema. Do not forget to check out “HOT KOKI” and check out the similitude with James Brown’s “THE HUSTLE“; it is the same, just in English!