Should Pidgin English Be Allowed In A Childrens Book?

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So firstly my BIG announcement.

I will be writing my fourth book (pops champagne) and it will be a children’s book (hides champagne and pops Ribena instead). Yep! The guy that brought you Stupidity, Laziness and some Intelligence will be turning this crazy story about a girl with magical hair  into an actual and physical children’s book…SCARY. A story he wrote as a joke to make his fine girlfriend laugh out loud might show up in your children’s classroom.

And to make the book come to life I literarily had to stalk beg the extremely talented Sharee Miller of CoilyandCute. After appearing randomly at her home and offering her suya … she finally agreed to do the illustrations for the book. Now I know some people will be like..but Okechukwu don’t you draw. I do, but she is way way better than me! Just check out some of her illustrations…

coily and cute

As with most of my books I will be carrying you along with the progress. Especially on this one, because frankly I have no experience with writing Children’s books plus I have no kids and when I see Children I curse run. So I will definitely need you on this one. Because this book is very important to me … here’s why ….

Growing up in Nigeria most books I read had characters with long hair and skin as white as snow. But after returning back from America after my university education in 2011 … I found out that the fairy tales had left the books and were now on our national television. Black women with long weaves and skin bleached as yellow white as Snow.

So out of frustration, I decided I needed to turn that fairytale about a princess with an afro into a book. So that little girls and boys in Sub-Saharan Africa can grow up knowing that they are beautiful no matter what their skin color is and how kinked up their hair is!

But my first question is this…should I put pidgin aka broken English in the book? If “no” why and if “yes” why? Let me know in the comments below. Be awesome.

princess nappy

twitterWritten By Okechukwu Ofili of
Illustration By Sharee Miller of CoilyandCute
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Words by Okechukwu Ofili of
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53 comments on “Should Pidgin English Be Allowed In A Childrens Book?

  1. Well, I love the idea for the book.You are right, kids need to know that they are perfect just the way they are.

    As for including pidgin in the book, I am a little biased because i speak pidgin a lot. Yes,i think it should be included. There is a time and place for it (Professional versus personal conversations), and the next generation of kids need to be thought to appreciate all aspect of their culture, including language.

    I love pidgin English, and I am glad i know how to speak it. I would want my kids to learn it too as an alternate way to communicate.
    Monale Alemika latest post is What is the Vision?My Profile

  2. Chuks Onyekpere on said:

    Yes! It would be nice to have pidgin English; as long as you don’t plan to use it for the narrative, just conversations mostly. The girl in the illustration, her hair doesn’t look like an afro and some of her appearances are difficult to imagine in an African context

  3. The only reason why I think pidgin shouldn’t be used is because the book will be used outside Nigeria (yes, I’m praying that you’ll hammer!) and it may be difficult to follow. Anyway, i love the concept. It’s always nice to see Nigerians come up with wonderful ideas and make them happen. Keep up the good work.
    Kodili latest post is Before you JudgeMy Profile

  4. Motunrayo on said:

    I don’t think pidgin English should be used. We are trying to teach our children how to speak English fluently and a book for kids in pidgin English is on stand for sale for them. I don’t think Nigerian, esp. sophisticated Nigerian will buy. Think of the aim, to improve Nigerian Education system, which includes their speech too. Pidigin English, especially at tender age is bad. Speaking it at adult age is still better cos we already know how to address well in a professional way.

  5. Nice posts and congratulations.
    Yes….pidgin should be included but alongside the interpretation in good English so the children will know.
    This is because that is what some of us know and grew up with, it will even afford some the opportunity of knowing the right words in correct English. Various Countries/Cultures have theirs and more are coming up and getting identified (eg Ebonics in the US…hope I spelt it right)
    Besides Americans are fast burying the Queen’s English, the French don’t care about it. So as much as we want our kids to speak correct/good English they should also understand their local languages.
    NB- I love what Chimamanda is doing with the Igbo language, her books are being sold and read worldwide.

  6. Yes include pidgin (and the other many languages Naija has). Pidgin is part of the Nigerian culture. It is very much ours and it borrows from all languages spoken in Nigeria. So yes. Include it. Provide an appendix for meanings should you want

  7. Congratulations, Ofili. Writing books is no small feat. I salute you.

    I speak pidgin a lot to the point that it’s beginning to affect my spoken English. I love pidgin but I am never able to enjoy it fully as text. As someone said, children are at their foundational stage of learning and so serving them what is essentially a beautiful corruption of language might be injurious if not properly served.

    Perhaps a character who only speaks pidgin? Perhaps that character teaching the ‘sophisticated’ kids pidgin while she learns standard English from them? Perhaps…

    Abeg make I no do over sabi sabi come kukuma take write your book for you 🙂

    Good luck bro.

  8. Include pidgin English. …its part of Nigerian lingua and you the author is Nigerian. Part of who we are is our language and even if its not everyone dat speaks pidgin, it doesn’t change the fact that its who we are. You could include it in conversations to express a character. I hv read books by American authors where they use slangs n ‘not the proper English’ in the novels. So use it pleaseeeeeeee…..else I won’t buy the book for my children n nephews when it comes out (kidding)

  9. Sandra Odimegwu on said:

    Ok nobody should shoot me. In my opinion I don’t think pigin should be included mostly because it’s a book for children. In my vision I believe your book would be highly successful and in turn may be used as a literature book in schools and bedtime stories for kids. I cannot visualize any normal educational level where improving my vocabulary encompasses oxymorons, analogies and pigin. Culture if it should come into play should focus on painting the image of community, bond, native language etc that unequivocally describe all things originally Nigerian. That said, if you were writing for the adults then adults have the mental capacity to decipher proper English from pigin and would know when and where to use it. No need to confuse the kids. I am proud of how well I speak and would boast doubly so knowing younger kids can too.

  10. I am quite divided about your using pidgin because I find it difficult to read. Maybe, in short expressions… with interpretations?yes, or even an appendix as was suggested already.

  11. it depends on your audience. Since you say Sub-Saharan African, you might want to tone it down on the Nigerian version of pidgin language. If it helps to convey your thoughts better in some instances; then by all means, write the pidgin and include a footnote.

  12. “Tell the truth”; this was the advice I got from an author I admire, Stephen King. If a character would talk in pidgin, then pidgin it should be. However, because it is a children’s book it should be minimal; I doubt a few lines of well placed and structured pidgin will take away any child’s ability to learn proper English.
    Aj latest post is Dear Gentleman, from the Lady who was reading.My Profile

  13. I think that every African should read this book by Ngugi Wa Thiong’o: Decolonising the Mind: The Politics of Language in African Literature. It would provide a new perspective of the importance of language to culture.

    That being said, I understood Ofili’s post as a book primarily written in English, but has bits and pieces of pidgin language inserted in dialogue between characters (I may be wrong). If that your intent Ofili, then what you will be doing is providing an accurate representation of the everyday dynamic of communication in a multi-lingual society. I think that context matters, and as long as children understand where and when to use formal English and pidgin English, I have no problem with them speaking it.
    Monale Alemika latest post is What is the Vision?My Profile

  14. Opetoritse on said:

    For me i wil say, dont add pidgin.we are tryin to make our children speak d correct english langauge,so writin wit pidgin no mater hw little would be like goin a step backward in our campaign.besides dey already have their full dose of pidgin in everyday life.i knw pple wil not agree wit me,but i feel deres notin to be proud of in pidgin.if u want to appeal to ppls minds,u culd write in any nigerian language.#justanopinion.

    • Sebastian on said:

      children reading books written in pidgin is not a step backwards.. We should be proud of our language. I look forward to a day when pidgin english will be our default language… we are a country with close to 300 languages, furthermore more than half of the population in Nigeria dont have formal education but a lot of them (not all) can communicate with you using pidgin english..

  15. Is a good idea and including Pidgin English is not a bad idea but try not to make it over-rule the importance of the English language. Let the children who would read or any other not think Pidgin is a good way for every expression. Let it js be for the casual and informal conversations.

    I also buy the idea of an appendix by Tunmi. Keep up the good work.

  16. I particularly love the illustration of the two kids reading a Book.. Lovely! The pidgin idea sounds fantastic and outta the box & i think it should be included in the Book. Would be the first of it’s kind. Tho i fear Naija schools might feel a little uncomfortable with that, but it’s worth giving a shot.

  17. As a child, my mom frowned at anyone for speaking pidgin to me. She didn’t want me to learn it. Today, I’m a mobile pidgin dictionary(intonations and all). Yet, I speak and write Queen’s English enough for it to have been my strong point in every exam throughout my education(Yes, most lecturers attempt to throw students off balance with big grammar… and you know that proper understanding of a question is the first step in the right direction). I hate the notion that pidgin English is for razz people; like I always say, many things are best said in pidgin. However, as already stated above, your target audience is very important. I’m still sitting (quite comfortably) on the fence as regards whether I’d like my kids to speak pidgin at a tender age. Because parents and adults are going to be the buyers of the book(for the kids), I’d suggest you use simple Queen’s English in this your first book for kids. Welldone Ofili, I look forward to reading the book(pidgin or not)!
    Owgee latest post is THE OTHER HALF OF THAT YELLOW SUN.My Profile

  18. iyunola on said:

    No add pidgin, dem go learn that one seamlessly and be proficient in it. But proper English, Nigeria needs all the help it can get to ensure people speak, write and read English language properly.

    Pikin dem no need book to learn Pidgin Enlish………

  19. Ofili, I think you should include pidgin enlish in context. Perhaps limited to one character. Like several speakers have said it is part of who we are. I work in a multinational company, with operations in over 100 countries and 66,000 empoyees many for who english is not their first language and I don’t think english speaking has been a limiter – instead diveristy of non-native english speakers is strongly promoted. I had a couple of expats that learnt pidgin while in Nigeria.

    That said, the brain is able to compartmentalize differentt languages. Pidgin is a distinct language from queens english and has it’s place for Nigeria kids.

    Ken Saro Wiwa wrote a book ” Souza Boy” in pidgin in response to a similar challenge by his Professor ……

    My greatest challenge today, is that my kids are raised in Nigeria but yet detached from the country…..

    Pidgin is part of our natural heritage and allows us to communicate across generations.

    Please go ahead and include pidgin but in context.

    I cannot wait to read your book.

  20. Yes pidgin can be included if/when neccessary buh should come with the translation.

    So when I saw the title of this post I was thinking hell NO pidgin, bad english then it occurred to me: Oyinbo people had tried to kill our culture, making us feel we were inferior and think our way of life was inferior and guess what we are chopping it. (Hope my conspiracry theory is on point sha) Who said pidgin is bad, who made them the ‘King’ of the world, pidgin is our own English its a Nigerian language.

    Anyways… Okay, bye

  21. Adding pidgin is a good idea. It wouldn’t remove from the children’s ability to speak fluent English contrary to popular beliefs. The brain has the ability to learn multiple languages and to correlate them to each other and this ability is more profound in children. That farce was created by those who wanted to show class in the early 80s that they were sophisticated and their children can only speak English…it’s elitist and full of crap.

    The vision of the book is to reach to Africans and to redefine the concept of beauty, so as not to reflect the white man’s idea of what beauty is…embedding a redefinition of what constitutes sophistication vis a vis language and elocution seems appropriate too.

    Good luck on the project.

  22. adaora on said:

    I would say it depends on the age bracket of the children for which the book is intended. If they are between 6 & 14 then I’d say an emphatic NO. I love pidign do t get me wrong and always tried to pick up some of it here and there but my folks especially my dad was totally against.
    We speak English. The Queen’s English. Remember what reading did for your vocabulary as a child. I know what it did for mine.
    If your book is however geared towards the older child, then pidgin can be introduced through a character or two.

  23. Like Mr Emeka said above, it would be really novel and hopefully critically acclaimed. But i believe that its the approach that matters, having in mind that this happens to be useful during the language development stage of children being a childrens book, so tact is key. still, children are never too young to learn about their culture and surroundings. I believe you would figure something out sir. GREAT IDEA!

  24. Ijeoma on said:

    O Ofili,

    First off, great job on all your endeavors and future endeavors! I’m very proud of all that you have accomplished and love the idea of the book!

    In reference to your question, if your target audience is kids, I would vote no to pidgin English, or at maximum, a very LOW dose of pidgin within the context of conversation.

    As a mother (who was born and raised in America), I liken pidgin to Ebonics. Some black Americans would say that Ebonics is a part of the culture in the same way that Nigerians say that pidgin is a part of the culture. The reality is that they are both bastardized versions of queens English. This is not to say that it can’t be used, just to say what it actually is.

    Now that being said, slang (which I liken to both Ebonics and pidgin), in my opinion, should not be used in children’s books because I think kids should be taught the core fundamentals. If this were an adult book, feel free to use what you feel.

    And while I agree that teaching kids languages at a young age is the best time to teach them, the typed conversations that I see from teenage and young adults of many different countries these days is very appalling. Everyone is using forms of slang and shortening words that it’s very difficult to read anymore. I’d love to not see that direction in print books.

  25. I think including pidgin is a fantastic idea. Considering the potential for the book to be read across the Nigerian borders, footnotes can always be used. After all, expressions in different native dialects have been used in WAEC literature texts… provided it’s used moderately and in natural / common contexts eg “abeg.

    All the best

  26. Please don’t use pidgin english. The english most adults speak and write is terrible. We need to give our kids the right foundation. They will definitely learn pidgin as they grow up. It is spoken everywhere. There is no need for them to read it at that young age too. They need to learn proper english at that stage of their lives.

  27. Like someone, Aj, I think said above, tell the truth. If a character in the book is supposed to speak pidgin, let them. And if not, well, then, english works as well. For all of you saying its a children’s book and as such pidgin shouldn’t be included, you are the ones that still allow your children to watch cartoons where some of the characters speak abominable english, but its somehow okay to you because ie isn’t pidgin. I believe pidgin wouldn’t remove from any message the book is trying to pass across, and it is a book about Nigeria. We don’t all speak english all the damn time, no matter what we like to think.
    So if your story requires you to throw in pidgin english, by all means, do so.
    Oh and pidgin english was more or less my first language. Does not affect my english in any way. Accent or otherwise.
    P.S: I can’t wait to see how beautiful that afro girl story comes out with illustrations and all. I’m super excited.

  28. AFRO: THE GIRL WITH THE MAGICAL HAIR … Coming soon to a bookshop near you. Yay!

    Well done Ofili. More ink to your pen, abi is it more strokes to your keyboard (see how I slotted in the pidgin word there? Hehehehe!)

    Back to the matter, I think pidgin could be included in the book only if it characterizes a character. It will be out of place to have a waffi houseboy speaking queens English (no offence to my waffarians oh. Twale!) . You can use an appendix to explain the pidgin words and phrases. I’m almost sure that its only 1 in 4 characters that will speak pidgin anyway, unless of course the story is set in that part of the Africa where pidgin is the lingua franca.

    I believe children can learn as many languages as they are exposed to without damaging their use of English syntax and grammar. So a few pidgin phrases will not damage their “grammar’ at all, unless of course the grammar was bad to start with.

    If Indomie can have children singing “Mama do good oh, she give us indomie, indomie sweet well well” why can’t we have pidgin in an Ofilispeaks book? Abeg, write the ting wey you wan write as the inspiration cash you. No lele! We stand gidigba for your back.

  29. Depends on your target audience. Being a writer myself, I understand how language can limit the success of a book (appendix or not). Many high-end primary schools will not be receptive to books with pidgin in it, and those might be the people you want to buy your books, because they are affected by this western syndrome you are trying to tackle, plus they have the money. Also, you book might have difficulty going beyond Nigerian borders, with pidgin.

    In the end, what you are trying to achieve will determine the approach you will take.

  30. Yes please, Pidgin should be in more and more books.
    I am of a certain part of my generation who has learnt to speak, read and write english appropriately and can’t really speak anything else even with a knife to her throat… it was plain razz, the wise ways of the western world…
    …so sadly i have hurt myself a bit not knowing how to speak the Nigerian way or speak the Nigerian Languages…
    guided well, Children have the ability to learn languages and speak with the right pronunciations et al

    surprisingly today, at my place of work, we are playing a game where we are required to speak in the Nigerian tongues, I haven’t really been able to speak much

  31. Please put pidgin and interprete for them. Who taught them how to say “OMG” “TTYL” et al?
    They will love it. Pidgin is part of our Naijaness and i don’t see why kids shouldn’t read that in a book.

  32. Er bros…this your question eh, i bin dey reason am since o and the thing get as e be.
    No offense, but most people do not have “experience” (for lack of a better word) in reading and writing pidgin so a lot of your yays and nays are based on the spoken pidgin English. However, let me point out that written pidgin is a completely different kettle of fish.
    First of all, fluency in pidgin requires fluidity with sound. The beauty of pidgin is in owning the expression or words. They do not sound English at all because its a completely different language. E.g. Children translates to shedren and girls to gies (giels for the more posh ones lol) and spelling ” shedren” in a book for kids just might be going too far.
    Secondly, no matter how pro culture your blog readers are, most Nigerian parents will have a hard time understanding why their children’s books should contain pidgin. If its a few words in italics, it wouldn’t cause an uproar but you sef sabi ursef na. U fit do dat kain tin jeje? If you can go mildly for a start, good. The success of the first should let you know how far.
    Have you considered audio tapes? If those come with the book, you can unleash your full pidgin potential without many worries.
    That’s it for now. Plenty work now no go gree me continue now, and laziness fit no gree me do part 2. Anyhow sha, let us know what you decide.
    P.s. We weren’t allowed to speak pidgin as kids in my house. Look how that turned out.

  33. My baby picks up words fast…I really dont like that idea, but You could put it in a few quotes (because of our naijaness), but please dont make the most of it be pidgin, I love ofili but if its too much, I would just buy it for myself and wont give it to her…

  34. By all means include Nigerian Pidgin if the character speaks it in your head.
    Bilingualism has a lot of cognitive benefits; no child gets confused learning more than one language. It’s just a lie sold to us by monolinguals who envy our ability to think seamlessly in more than one tongue.
    You read books that include other languages, sometimes with footnotes and sometimes without. It doesn’t take away from the narrative of the book; rather it adds authenticity to it.
    Finally, it’s your book…the ideas are coming from your head. Regardless of what we all say to you, you need to write you…what comes from you, how it comes from you or it won’t be ‘Ofili’…it will be a mish-mash of ideas of all Ofilispeaks commenters/commentators.
    I know you appreciate our input that’s why you put it out there for us all to have a say but in the final analysis, Ofili will write the book therefore write what comes to you, Ofili.
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    • “no child gets confused learning more than one language” I’ll like to correct that impression. Some do. As a matter of fact, I did. I’m an Igbo, Lagos-brought up girl who was under pressure to learn both. Got confused, would speak Yoruba words with Igbo inflections or code-switch. Never learnt to flow with any. Can’t understand even a bit of Yoruba now (left at age 10) and while I write Igbo beautifully, my speaking leaves a lot to be desired. In fact, I don’t speak Igbo unless I absolutely have to. Funny enough, I picked up French with relative ease at the time and could comfortably converse in it. Forgot it after I let it get rusty sha. As for pidgin; that which I wasn’t to learn…lets just say that someone that meets me speaking English & Pidgin would have a hell of a time believing both originate from the same brain cells.

      • Oma,
        I cannot argue with your experience but I can tell you that I grew up bilingual as well as a lot of my peers. I’ve also worked along bilinguals and studied bilingualism; I’m by no means an expert but I know that children do grow up speaking two, three languages side by side.
        While they may mix and match at the early stages, they pretty much distinguish languages as they get older.

        Having said that, I respect the fact that your own experience was different.
        Okan’ube latest post is Fat, Little Sh**!!!My Profile

  35. Pingback: English Is Overrated | Ofilispeaks

  36. Adding my comment incase you are counting votes, YES I think you can add PIDGIN to you book and like many comments above, limit it to maybe one character and always find a way to exlain the meanin of the statement in queens english. It probably also should be limited but please add it.

    Another reason you should add it is because you have thought about it and you know it would be interesting. Well done!

  37. Yes, do add pidgin for the many reasons stated in the comments above. I personally think it’s a great idea.
    Can i suggest something though? The illustration above – the girl with the afro – there’s a bit of an issue there, her hair’s too large. You should trim it to about half its size or abit more. At the moment, she seems to be squatting in a dark room and not under her hair.

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