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BBC Pidgin takes to the airwaves in Nigeria

Lagos, Nigeria | AFP | Imagine a language without an alphabet, held together without grammar or spelling, which changes every day but is nonetheless spoken and understood by more than 75 million Nigerians.

So how would a global mega-broadcaster like the BBC go about reaching this vast, young and un-tapped audience?

On Monday the British media giant will launch an online portal that will be entirely in Pidgin and feature text news, features and podcasts.

“It’s a challenging, exciting experiment,” said Bilkisu Labaran, the corporation’s editor-in-chief in Lagos, the commercial capital of the west African powerhouse.

Labaran and her 15-strong team, which includes web designers, journalists and social media experts, are seeking to transform Nigeria’s use of Pidgin, under the banner “make dem hear”.

“We want to be pioneers in what written Pidgin can be,” she told AFP.

“There is no harmonisation — but that’s the opportunity to have the conversation. We expect debate with our readers on what Pidgin should be. It’s like entering an unknown world.”

The project marks a shift for Labaran for whom speaking Pidgin at home while still a child would have earned her a stern parental rebuke.

Previously, Pidgin was considered a language for the impoverished lower classes.

Pidgin takes inspiration from Portuguese, the first European language to reach Nigeria’s shores, English, the enduring colonial-era language, as well as Jamaican patois imported by former slaves returning to the continent.

The language has shifted and evolved uninterrupted since its inception.

– ‘The man don delete’ –

Today it is spoken across Nigeria, where it traverses ethnicities and co-exists alongside some 500 other local languages, as well as in Cameroon, Sierra Leone and Ghana.

In all of these countries, Pidgin is becoming the lingua franca of cool.

An oral language, Pidgin has traditionally thrived on the country’s crowded radio waves, popularised by the music of the king of Afrobeat, Fela Kuti, and Davido, an American-Nigerian artist currently enjoying huge success.

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