Investigating Dialectal Variation in the English of Nigerian University Graduates: Methodology and Pilot Study

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This paper describes the methodological procedures that will be used in the collection of data for a dialectal study of the English of Nigerian university graduates. It also reports on a pilot study carried out on this topic. The major elicitation instrument will be a Labovian sociolinguistic interview which will be supplemented by reading materials (Labov 1966). The study will also draw heavily on the current SuRE methodology by Upton and Llamas (1999). The theoretical framework that will be used in the analysis of data will be a diglossia model as this approach enables one to view Nigerian English (NE) and Nigerian Pidgin English (NPE) as two languages operating in an extended diglossic situation.

1. Introduction

There is enough evidence in the literature that Nigerian English (NE) is heterogeneous and that the variation that exists within it can be linked to two major factors, namely the region of origin and the level of education (cf. Awonusi 1986; Jibril 1986, 1991; Udofot 2004). A number of other variationist studies have been carried out in Nigeria (Jowitt 2000; Salami 1991, 2004; Udofot 1997, 2002, 2003) but none of these studies has investigated the use of both Standard English and Nigerian Pidgin English in structured interviews across the country. It is this lacuna that the main research of which this is a pilot seeks to fill. By listening to the spoken English of a Nigerian, it is normally possible to predict the part of the country such a person came from (Bamgbose 1971) and this is because the accents of most speakers of NE differ depending on the region they belong to. There is also a correlation between the level of education and proficiency in English (Jowitt 1991). However, this correlation is not a clear-cut one as there may sometimes be a mismatch between the level of education and proficiency in English. The point to note here is that language variation is a complex phenomenon, especially in a multilingual, multicultural setting with diverse socio-religious and family backgrounds such as are found in Nigeria. Researchers intending to carry out a variationist study in a setting such as this must be adequately grounded in methodological issues connected with the collection of natural data. This paper therefore presents and discusses the methodology to be used in an ongoing study of variation in the linguistic behaviour of Nigerian university graduates and also reports on a pilot study already conducted.

2. The main study and the theoretical landscape

The major research, of which the present work is an aspect, aims to examine the dialectal variation in the English of some Nigerian university graduates (NUGs), focusing mainly on selected phonological variables and grammar. The study will examine the influence of regional origin and extent of education on the English usage of the subjects with a view to assessing the phonological and grammatical variation that can be connected to regional background and the level of formal education in their spoken English.

This study focuses specifically on NUGs for various reasons. In the first place, Nigerians look up to them as role models whose English should be considered as a target for other speakers. However, regarding NUGs as role models needs some clarification. In reality, not all NUGs have the same level of proficiency in English neither do all of them speak "good" English. While the majority of graduates in English can be seen as role models, many NUGs who studied other disciplines like Engineering, Agriculture, and Technology and so on may not be so considered. Nevertheless, having been exposed to English as a medium of instruction right from the primary school (cf. National Policy on Education, 2004), it is believed that, given their level of exposure to English, their proficiency, especially in spoken English, is usually very high. More importantly, the majority of NUGs are habitual speakers of English in that, although English is not their ancestral language, they use English very frequently as the language of interaction while carrying out their official duties (cf. …