(No. 8)


PACE in West Africa


This is a special report on the use of English-lexified pidgins and creoles in education in four West African countries: Sierra Leone, Ghana, Nigeria and Liberia. It is based on reports from people who answered a call over the CreoList, and from published sources.



Magnus Huber
FB 3, Fub 4
Universitaet GH Essen
D-45117 Essen

Except for Sierra Leone, I think it is safe to say that the official policy is not to allow P/Cs to be used in the classroom. I know more about the anglophone West African countries, but the situation in the former French colonies must be pretty much the same, the French certainly having a prescriptive tradition as far as language is concerned and many former colonies still entertaining much closer relations with France than former British colonies with Britain.

SIERRA LEONE: in a pilot project, Krio as a subject was first introduced in 10 schools in 1985. And it was as late as 1993 that Krio was made a core subject at the junior secondary level. It is not, however, used as a medium of instruction, English being the teaching language (Shrimpton 1995:219-20).

GHANA: there have been complaints about the falling standard of English in Ghana since at least the 1960s. Boadi (1971:56) writes:

There is a general demand from all quarters for improvement in the standard of written and spoken English in the schools and universities. University teachers, finding their freshmen insufficiently equipped to understand and write English at the level required for advanced work, blame the low standard on the secondary schools. [...] Teachers in secondary schools, on the other hand, admit that something radically wrong is happening to the teaching and learning of English, and that this is adversely affecting standards at all levels. But they see the cause of all this in the handling of the subject in the primary schools.

The reason for the decline in the students’ performance in English seems to have been the Accelerated Education Development Plan, embarked upon in the early 1950s. The number of primary school children rose sharply, and to satisfy the demand in teachers so-called ‘pupil-teachers’, ie primary-school leavers, were recruited as teachers. These did then pass their errors on to the new generation of pupils, and so on. Since about the mid-60s, this problem has acquired a new dimension:

It is probable that pidgin in Ghana spread from the uneducated section of the population to the literate strata: whereas in the army and the police force PE [Pidgin English] seems to have fulfilled basic communication needs it acquired a new function when, in the middle of the 1960s, it entered institutions of secondary education and subsequently the universities.

In these institutions pidgin today is the main informal register in use between male students and is often (though not exclu-sively) used even if the communicants share the same mother tongue. It may be because pidgin in Ghana is still associated with the illiterate classes that female pupils and
students are rarely observed to speak it, preferring Standard English or a local language instead. Especially with the older generation, but with the young as well, pidgin has the stigma of showing lack of womanliness and education. Therefore, although many young educated women have a passive command of pidgin, they rarely use it actively. Very often males switch from pidgin to Standard English when a woman joins the conversation.

Teachers at both secondary schools and the universities are concerned about the harmful effect the use of pidgin may have on the students’ Standard English. However, it has not yet been demonstrated that pidgin impairs the students’ command of the standard (cf. Dolphyne 1995:32); my impression is that students are very well aware that the two are different language systems used in a diglossic situation, pidgin being exclusively in spoken form and reserved for informal situations. Although it is banned from the classrooms (the Faculty of Pharmacy, University of Science and Technology Kumasi, officially prohibited the use of pidgin on its precincts in 1985) pupils and students continue to use pidgin among themselves, so that an increasing proportion of educated Ghanaians actively use pidgin. (Huber 1995:228).

The educationalists’ reaction to pidgin being used by students in secondary schools and universities are quite violent at times: “The indiscriminate use of pidgin English is leading the nation towards illiteracy” (Egblewogbe 1992:1).

In sum, pidgin in Ghana is highly stigmatized although it enjoys covert prestige as an in-group language among educated male Ghanaians. Because of its social stigma, it is improbable that Pidgin will be used as a medium of instruction in Ghanaian schools in the near future. The low performance in English of school leavers is probably due more to the perpetuation of L2 learner's errors (teachers pass these on to students, who in turn pass them on to the next generation, in a self-enhancing process) than to the use of pidgin among the students.

NIGERIA: Nigerian Pidgin has not yet officially been recognized as a local language of Nigeria (Elugbe 1995:287). The education-al policy in Nigeria is that children should be taught in their mother tongue up to the third year in primary school. Where this is impossible, the dominant language of the community may be used. Elugbe (1995: 292) thinks: “It therefore follows that Nigerian Pidgin can be used in teaching many Nigerians where many local languages would have been required.”

Agheyisi (1988:230) says that Nigerian Pidgin is used “as an unofficial medium of instruction at the primary level in some urban schools”.


Agheyisi, Rebecca N. 1988. The standardization of Nigerian Pidgin English. English World-Wide 9, 227-41.

Boadi, L.A. 1971. Education and the role of English in Ghana. In The English language in West Africa, ed. by John Spencer (London: Longman), 49-65.

Dolphyne, Florence. 1995. A note on the English language in Ghana. In New Englishes: a West African Perspective, ed. by Ayo5 Bamgbos5e, Ayo5 Banjo & Andrew Thomas (Ibadan: Mosuro/British Council), 27-33.

Egblewogbe, E.Y. 1992. The use of broken English in higher institutions of learning and its implications for the future of education in Ghana. Unpublished paper presented at an inter-faculty lecture, University of Ghana, Legon.

Elugbe, Ben. 1995. Nigerian Pidgin: problems and prospects. In New Englishes: a West African Perspective, ed. by Ayo5 Bamgbos5e, Ayo5 Banjo & Andrew Thomas (Ibadan: Mosuro/British Council), 284-99.

Huber, Magnus.1995. Ghanaian Pidgin English: an overview. English World-Wide 16, 215-49.

Shrimpton, Neville. 1995. Standardizing the Krio language. In From contact to Creole and beyond, ed. by Philip Baker (London: University of Westminster Press), 217-28.



John Singler
Department of Linguistics
New York University
719 Broadway, #501
New York, NY 10003 USA

“In the Liberian case, all English-lexifier varieties are referred to as English. Officially, Standard English is the language of all formal education at all levels, from kindergarten on. Since Standard English is the official language and since all English-lexifier varieties are called ‘English’, there’s no place in the curriculum for pidginized or creolized English. The reality is that pidginized features are common in the English of the Liberian classroom, but that reality is not acknowledged.



Chris Corcoran
Dept of Linguistics
University of Chicago
1010 S. 59th Street
Chicago, IL 60637

I did a lot of work studying theatre in Freetown, and I am of the opinion that theatre artists are the largest segment of the population that is literate in Krio. Here is a little blurb on the state of Sierra Leonean theatre that I wrote circa 1990. It is more relevant to Krio literacy than Krio education, but I include it just as an FYI. (It is also interesting to note that many if not most Sierra Leonean playwrights are (or were) also secondary school teachers.)

Between 1930 and 1970 Sierra Leone produced only six playwrights, eight drama groups, and fifteen plays including Decker’s translations of Julius Caesar and As You Like It. The forty year period was a long dry season, but Juliana John Rowe, a member of Julius Caesar’s original cast, marks the beginning of the theatre boom. With her new drama group, The Liberals, she staged original plays about Sierra Leonean life written in Krio. Her second play I Dey I Noh Du (‘What's here won’t due’) had a record run of eighteen performances, and Spencer says Rowe’s first two plays ‘were probably the first really popular plays in Sierra Leone’ (1988:33).

By the end of the eighties there were at least 14 different groups operating outside of the Western Area. Each Province’s capital had at least one group and 8 of the 12 districts were represented. In the Western Area, Waterloo now boasts of Leona Theatre. Wellington has 4 drama groups, Kissy has 8, and Freetown proper has 30. All told Sierra Leone has 64 functioning drama groups.

There are now 8 times as many groups as there were in 1967, and probably more than 18 times as many playwrights. While I was in Sierra Leone, I was able to gather the names of 108 playwrights, 327 plays, and collect 214 manuscripts from 79 different playwrights. (The manuscripts in my possession are scripts rather than transcriptions of performances.) Out of the 214, 140 plays are in Krio and an additional 15 have scenes in Krio and English.


Krio in Sierra Leone:

“Official and unofficial attitudes and policy towards Krio as the main language of Sierra Leone” by C. Magbaily Fyle appears in the book African Languages, Development and the State, edited by Richard Fardon and Graham Furniss (Routledge, London, 1994), pp.44-54. The author points out that even though Krio is the mother tongue of only 2% of the population, it is an important lingua franca in the country. A brief history of Krio society and the origins of Krio is given. It is pointed out that Krio has no official status, even though it is the language used 90% of the time in public speeches by heads of state. It is also used unofficially in the schools (p.47):

In many schools in the main towns and the provinces and also in Freetown, Krio is used to introduce pupils to English, the official language in Sierra Leone. Phrases are rendered in Krio with the English equivalent simultaneously presented for repetition by children beginning to learn English. Thus it is often seen as ‘essential’ to know Krio to get into the modern education sector for schooling.

Nevertheless, there are typical negative attitudes towards the language – even by Krio speaking people themselves (p.48):

But the opposition to speaking Krio is based partly on the conviction that Krio is a bastardized form of English, a ‘patois’ or, as some older Krio call it, ‘broken English’, which will present a worrying distortion of the English being taught at school.

The author describes two varieties of Krio: Freetown Krio, used by native speakers, and “up-line” Krio, used in more rural areas. These have influenced each other in different ways.

In broadcasting, the policy since the 1960s has been to utilize Krio, along with the largest indigenous languages (Mende, Temne and Limba), for the evening news.

With regard to education, in 1978 the Indigenous Languages Education Program (ILEP) was launched, with the aim of teaching indigenous languages in early primary schools. A pilot project was started in 1979. It received enthusiastic support from local communities, especially when it was realized that children at the pilot schools did better in the end-of-year exams.

In 1979 the National Planning Committee was set up by the Ministry of Education to promote the program and workshops were held. The author notes (p.52):

Even though the terms of reference of the Planning Committee did not include Krio, a decision was taken at these workshops to standardize orthography, and other matters, in Krio. This was a recognition of the prominent role Krio could play in literacy. But since that time, no one in officialdom has taken seriously the issue of introducing Krio in schools.

A more recent publication, “Standardizing the Krio language” by Neville Shrimpton in From Contact to Creole and Beyond edited by Philip Baker (University of Westminster Press, London, 1995), pp.217-28, reports on changes in attitude towards Krio in Sierra Leone so that “it has come to be accepted as a language in its own right” (p.217). The author describes efforts to promote Krio through drama and the important publication of a Krio-English dictionary in 1980.

A pilot project using 3 indigenous languages in 26 schools began in 1979, and 1985, Krio was added in 10 schools. The author notes (p.219): “The experiences gained from this experimental scheme were later used for curriculum development and were also to be very important for discussions about standardization and the sort of Krio that was to be taught in schools.”

After the coup in 1992 and the introduction of the new school system in 1993, Krio was formally introduced as a core subject at the junior secondary level, along with three other indigenous languages. However, it was not used as a medium of instruction. The author notes (p.221): “There is little chance at present that Krio will be used extensively in writing for official purposes.”

Shrimpton describes the variability in Krio ranging from what speakers consider a “deep” or genuine form to a heavily anglicized from. Most people are promoting a deeper form of the language as the standard. However, there is a dilemma with regard to using Krio in schools. Education is still only for the privileged few, who already know a great deal of English and will therefore find it easier to assimilate English words into Krio. If the standard is likely to be defined by its use in the classroom, then it will move away from the non-anglicized form spoken by the majority.

Some other practical problems are a lack of guidelines for teachers, a shortage of teachers whose mother tongue is Krio and classes with pupils with many different first languages. However, it is significant that many speakers of other languages are choosing to study Krio (although the opposite also occurs). It may be that Krio will emerge as the national language and then have a special place in the curriculum.

Also of interest is Reading and Writing Krio: Proceedings of a Workshop Held at the Institute of Public Administration and Management, University of Sierra Leone, Freetown, 29-31 January, 1990, edited by Eldred D. Jones, Karl I. Sandred & Neville Shrimpton (Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis, Studia Anglistica Upsaliensia 77, Uppsala, 1992). The paper “Problems relating to the publication of Krio Materials” by Eric Johnson (pp.55-60) mentions that six Krio workshops were conducted for primary school teachers and Freetown Teachers’ Training College lecturers. One of these was for textbook writing and another for the writing of supplementary materials. The author writes (p.59): “The only works printed from these activities are the Mi Fos Ridin Buk series, Books I and II, now in use in pilot Krio teaching schools. This is grossly inadequate.”

“The Uppsala-Umeå-Freetown Krio Research and Publications Project” by Karl I. Sandred & Neville Shrimpton (pp.61-72) describes six works produced in the Krio Publications Series and other efforts which have been aimed at “the spread of knowledge about Krio culture and the linguistic and literacy expression of this culture” and ultimately, perhaps, “to the spread of Krio literacy” (p.71).

Nigerian Pidgin:

In Language and the Nation: The Language Question in Sub-Saharan Africa (Edinburgh, University of Edinburgh Press, 1991), Ayo5 Bamgbos5e writes (p.29):

Pidgin is an attractive candidate for national language status. It does not suffer from the elitism associated with English… It has major drawbacks, however. First, its language development status is almost non-existent (there are no serious books, for instance, written in pidgin and even the writing of the language is still subject to a great deal of inconsistency as well as confusion with English orthography). Second, there is no large population to back it. (In Nigeria, for example, pidgin is the unofficial language of the armed forces and the police; it is also spoken in the coastal areas as well as in some urban centres, but it is virtually unknown in large areas of the country.) Third, due to its restricted use it is likely to be unacceptable. Fourth, since English is still required for nationism, and pidgin cannot function in that role, it is often argued that English might as well be retained rather than exchanged for an English-based pidgin.

“Minority language development in Nigeria: A situation report on Rivers and Bendel states” by Ben Ohi Elugbe is another chapter in African Languages, Development and the State (mentioned above), pp.62-75. The author notes (p.65):

As for Nigerian Pidgin, it has no official status whatsoever and is seen as debased version of English so that its possible role in national development is for now not appreciated.

He also observes (p.65) that in Rivers State, “Nigerian Pidgin is used in radio news under the title ‘News in Special English.”


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