BBC starts Pidgin digital service for West Africa audiences

Media caption,
BBC Pidgin: Meet the team

A new language service for digital platforms in English-based Pidgin for West and Central Africa has been launched by the BBC World Service.

Pidgin is one of the most widely-spoken languages across the region, even though it is not officially recognised.

The launch is part of the World Service's biggest expansion since the 1940s, following a government funding boost announced in 2016.

Pidgin will soon be joined by 10 more new services in Africa and Asia.

The WS also plans to offer more mobile and video content and a greater social media presence.

It will also enhance its television services across Africa, including more than 30 new TV programmes for partner broadcasters in sub-Saharan Africa.

Arabic and Russian programming will also be boosted in the 2020 project.

What is Pidgin?

  • A mix of English and local languages enabling people who do not share a common language to communicate
  • West African Pidgin English was a language of commerce spoken along the coast during the Atlantic slave trade in the late 17th and 18th Centuries.
  • Widely used in Nigeria, Ghana, Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea
  • Primarily an oral language, without a standard agreed written form.

'Cuts across barriers'

It is hard to know the exact number of Pidgin speakers, as it is not formally studied in schools and is spoken with varying degrees of proficiency.

But in Nigeria it is estimated that some three to five million people use it as their first language in day-to-day interactions.

It is said to be a second language to a much higher number of up to 75 million people in Nigeria alone - about half the population.

And it is also widely spoken in other countries in the region.

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"It's an informal lingua franca. It is a language that really unites people and cuts across all sorts of barriers - ethnic, regional and socio-economic," says Bilkisu Labaran, editorial lead of the new BBC service.

Although an exclusively Pidgin radio station Wazobia FM was founded some 10 years ago, the BBC will be the first to offer online services in digital platforms.

Precisely because of its informality, it does not currently have a standardised written form.

"The BBC is going to be a pioneer in this area," says Ms Labaran, a fluent Pidgin speaker. She sees a challenge ahead - but also an opportunity in the anticipated debate on harmonising the written and spoken word.

What is on offer?

BBC Pidgin will provide a mix of local, regional and international news current affairs and analysis - bringing the world to the region and vice-versa.

The corporation says the new digital service will also aim to serve a younger audience and women with social media playing a key role.

So in addition there will be "extensive coverage of culture, entertainment, entrepreneurship, science and technology, health and sport - including the English Premier League".

The production hub is based in Lagos, the commercial capital, but reporters in Ghana and Cameroon as well as Nigeria itself will also be on the ground gathering news.

In addition to Pidgin, Nigerians will also soon be able to access services for Yoruba and Igbo , complementing the current Hausa service and English output.

As well as at the new service is also on Facebook and Instagram.

Pidgin - what did you just say?

  • I wan chop - I want to eat
  • I no know - I do not know
  • I no fit shout - I can't be bothered
  • Wetin dey 'appen? - What is happening?
  • How body? - How are you?
  • Where you dey? - Where are you?