The BBC in Pidgin? People like it well-well

NEW YORK • The headline on the article, published on the BBC's website, reads like this: "Woman Wan Troway Poo-poo, Come Trap For Window."

This West African Pidgin English version of an earlier story about a Tinder date gone horribly wrong was one of the most popular by the British broadcaster's renowned World Service, which recently added a dozen foreign language websites to its roster as part of efforts to capture a younger, more diverse and digitally savvy audience.

The offbeat anecdote tickled readers, not only for the story itself (a woman in Britain found herself in a deeply embarrassing bind when the toilet in her date's apartment would not flush and she tried to throw the "evidence" or "di poo-poo" out the window), but even more so for its rendition in West African Pidgin English. The informal language dates from the slave trade and mixes English with West African languages.

It was, according to the British tabloid The Sun, a "hilariously fresh take" on the date-from-hell story.

Others have commended the BBC's new service.

Associate professor Christine I. Ofulue of linguistics at the National Open University of Nigeria, who specialises in Pidgin, says it reflects Africa's relationship with outsiders over the centuries.

Today, she says, it represents African pride, seen in the flourishing number of radio stations and television programmes that use Pidgin. An opera sung in West African Pidgin was staged two years ago in London, a world first.

"It's the language of the masses," she said, adding that the BBC's decision to offer the service helped remove the stigma attached to Pidgin.

"We're reaching new audiences in a language that is popular," said Ms Bilkisu Labaran, who oversees the service in West African Pidgin and who grew up speaking it, in spite of her parents' disapproval. In schools, teachers warned students about the dangers of what they considered a "deviant" language.

While Pidgin is looked down upon by some, the word itself is not derogatory. More than 75 million people are thought to speak the language, either as their primary or secondary tongue.

"It's so expressive, it brings people together and reaffirms a shared African identity," Ms Labaran said.

In addition to West African Pidgin English, the service now delivers news in Afaan Oromo, Amharic and Tigrinya (languages spoken in Ethiopia, Eritrea and other parts of Africa); and in Gujarati, Marathi, Punjabi and Telugu (spoken in India), among others. It plans to add the West African languages Igbo and Yoruba next year.

The expansion, the BBC's biggest since the 1940s, was funded by a British government grant of about £290 million (S$524 million)


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 01, 2018, with the headline 'The BBC in Pidgin? People like it well-well'. Print Edition | Subscribe