Academic journal article International Journal of English Linguistics

Bilingualism and Linguistic Influence in Nigeria: Examples from the Works of Achebe and Emecheta

Academic journal article International Journal of English Linguistics

Bilingualism and Linguistic Influence in Nigeria: Examples from the Works of Achebe and Emecheta

Article excerpt


The present study explores the mutual influence that English and the Nigerian languages have on each other and demonstrates how Nigerian literary writers have succeeded in effectively capturing this in their works. The study, after analyzing Achebe's No Longer at Ease and Anthills of the Savannah, and Emecheta's The Joys of Motherhood with reference to borrowing, code-mixing and code-switching, coinages, semantic changes and peculiar Nigerian structures/expressions, reveals that the languages mutually influence each other since they exist side by side in the lives and tongues of Nigerians. The study also reveals that such Nigerian expressions as "lifu", "bubas", "eat bribe", "been-to", "not on seat", "bottom power", "owner's corner", "August break", "son of the soil", "after-bride palmwine", "chief wife", "aso-ebi cloth" and "you may laugh if laughter catches you", among several others, are manifestations of this mutual influence in the speech and writing of Nigerians. Their occurrence in the works of Achebe and Emecheta, therefore, indicates that they, as literary writers, are conversant with happenings in the Nigerian linguistic scene. Thus, the study shows that Nigerians are creative in the use of language since they are able to tap their bilingual experiences to adapt the languages at their disposal to suit the numerous conveniences, experiences, nuances and sensibilities in the Nigerian environment. The study also shows that this mutual influence, which has resulted in several peculiar Nigerian usages, has contributed immensely to the effective reflection and expression of the Nigerian experience and should, therefore, be seen as a good sign of healthy co-existence between English and the Nigerian languages in Nigeria's multilingual setting.

Keywords: bilingualism, linguistic, influence, Nigeria

1. Introduction

Bilingualism is a language phenomenon in which an individual functions with varying degrees of competence in at least two languages. According to Bloomfield (1935, p. 56), bilingualism describes "the native-like control of two languages." In contrast to Bloomfield's definition, Macnamara (1967) proposes that a bilingual is anyone who possesses a minimal competence in one of the four language skills, that is, listening comprehension, speaking, reading and writing in a language other than the mother tongue. These definitions, which range from a native-like competence in two languages to a minimal proficiency in a second language, reflect the various interpretations given to the term "bilingualism". In an attempt to facilitate better understanding of the psychological state of the individual who uses more than one language as well as two or more codes in interpersonal and intergroup relations, Hamers and Blanc (1989, p. 6) make a distinction between what they call "bilinguality" and bilingualism:

Bilinguality is the psychological state of an individual who has access to more than one linguistic code as a means of social communication ... The concept of bilingualism, on the other hand, includes that of bilinguality (or individual bilingualism) but refers equally to the state of a linguistic community in which two languages are in contact with the result that two codes can be used in the same interaction and that a number of individuals are bilingual (societal bilingualism).

They also propose various dimensions of bilinguality on the basis of which different types of bilinguals can be distinguished (Hamers & Blanc, 1989, p. 8). The first distinction, which is based on the dimension of competence, has to do with the "balanced bilingual" (who has equivalent competence in both languages), and the "dominant bilingual" (whose competence in one of the languages, more often the mother tongue, is superior to his/her competence in the other). The second distinction, which is based on the dimension of cognitive organization, involves the "compound bilingual" who uses the two languages as if they are sourced from the same reference point and, thus, is unable to, according to Dadzie (2004, p. …

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