Department of Phonetics and Linguistics



1Titi Ufomata was a British Academy Visiting Fellow at UCL in Autumn 1995 and is currently at the Department of English & Literature, University of Benin, Nigeria.

Essentially, the domains of usage of English in an ESL context like Nigeria tend to be formal. It is the official language which in essence means it serves as the language of government, education, commerce, and to a limited extent, social interaction, especially among the educated elite.

Within Nigeria alone, it is estimated that nearly 400 languages are spoken (Agheyisi, 1984; Bamgbose, 1971); in Ghana, 47 (Dolphyne 1995) and in Sierra Leone, 16. In the context of such complex multilingualism it is expedient for governments to stick to a neutral language, such as English, as official language. English has the additional advantage of long association, being the language of the colonial rulers. It is also a world language with all the advantages accruing to an individual who speaks such a language both nationally and internationally. To quote Kachru:

Competence in English and the use of this language signify a transmutation: an added potential for material and social gain and advantages. One sees this attitude in what the symbol stands for; English is considered a symbol of modernisation, and an extra arm for success and mobility in culturally and linguistically complex and pluralistic societies.

(Kachru 1986: 1)

English enjoys a wider geographical spread than any of the indigenous languages within Nigeria. Whatever the language of discussion, a serious business transaction is sealed up in writing in English. The same goes for political campaigns which can be carried out in the language of the immediate environment, but manifestos and other documents are produced in English.

In education, English is introduced as a subject from the first year in primary schools and used as a medium and subject of instruction from the third year through secondary and tertiary education. In private schools, especially in cosmopolitan areas, children are taught in English from kindergarten. To gain admission - into any University Faculty, a credit at O'levels in English is a prerequisite. It is only in very rare cases that a pass is considered.

In recent years, Oral English as become an integral part of the senior secondary school syllabus and examination in English Language. The official attitude of the regional examining body (West African Examinations Council) which conducts these examinations, is that tests of continuous writing, comprehension and objective test of texts and structure should be assessed based on the mastery of standard English as currently used by educated African writers and speakers of English in the Commonwealth. As far as Oral English is concerned, no explicit policy statements have been issued. The mode of testing is still evolving as it changes from year to year thus constituting additional burdens on schools which in the first place are ill-prepared for teaching the subject.

In general, students are required to perceive and produce vowel/consonant contrasts and to recognise contrastive grammatical uses of stress. They are also expected to recognise attitudinal functions of intonation. It is not clearly stated which accent is being tested. The entire Oral English examination has been known to be conducted in objective tests, with no perception or performance tests given. What seems to be the case is that while the educational authorities realise the importance of teaching Oral English in schools, they find themselves unable and/or unwilling to provide the necessary funds to support effective teaching and testing of subject. The results of a pilot study we conducted show that Oral English is not taught in most public schools and where it is taught at all, it is done inadequately and ineffectively. Most teachers have no training in the teaching of pronunciation and they cannot be said to represent suitable models for the contrasts being tested in the examinations.

The range of proficiency in English within Nigeria for example, is infinite. There is a recognisable division between mainstream educated spoken Nigerian English as in other ESL contexts and other varieties which can be defined negatively in relation to these standard accents. Included within educated spoken Nigerian English for example is the accent used by Newscasters and Presenters which is a near-native speaker accent. In fact it is quite similar to it. In a survey carried out among practitioners in the electronic media, (March, 1991) I found out that they see such a near-native speaker accent as one of the demands of their profession. To accusations of sounding foreign and affected, they respond that to the extent that Nigerian names are pronounced with the correct Nigerian accent, their speech cannot be termed foreign. They cite the fact that American or British newscaster, reading the same news bulletin would sound different. Most media practitioners found nothing wrong with a native speaker accent provided it is comfortably managed by the user. What seems intolerable are people who use this accent with obvious difficulty and sound affected.

In general, the accent used in the electronic media is not uniform. Those at the national level tend to be closer to native speaker accents than those based in the regions. Presenters of musical programmes and other programmes aimed at young people are tending more and more towards an American accent. This represents a general social cultural shift as younger people see America as more trendy and the use of Americanisms indicate a tough guy image. The current tendency towards Americanisms in English usage ail over the world was commented upon by Kachru:

What actually happens is that language and power go together. American English is accepted for the power and superiority which America as a nation has acquired in the areas of science, technology, commerce, military affairs, and politics.

(Kachru 1986: 144)

A proliferation of cable and satellite television in urban centres, most of which carry American programmes, is also encouraging this tendency. This importation of Americanisms, also noted in Awonusi (1994) and Bamgbose (1995), complicates issues of correctness even further, as the question arises whether Americanisms in language should be treated as 'deviant' or correct. Other professionals who use a variety close to the media accent are those in the foreign service, academic teaching generally, public relations, the Bar and Bench and increasingly the church, especially trendy new generation ones.

Most language teachers and specialists within Nigeria, agree that the Nigerian standard, which enjoys maximal social acceptability within the country, and which is internationally intelligible should be the accent taught in schools (Bamgbose 1995). This not withstanding, the need to keep accents of English spoken all over the world similar cannot be over - emphasised. Failure to do so would defeat one of the major advantages of acquiring an additional language, that is, the reaching of a wider audience. Core intelligibility features should be identified and focused upon so that the various accents remain mutually intelligible (Ufomata, 1990a).

Considering the various functions which English continues to perform in countries like India, Ghana and Nigeria, and considering limitations in financial resources, it becomes necessary to prioritise learning needs and as such set priorities in the teaching of pronunciation. Those engaged in the profession must first have a good understanding of the standard accents spoken within their areas. As far as spoken Nigerian English is concerned, there is a growing literature on the description of various aspects of the accent. Among the more detailed ones are Jibril (1982a, 1982b) Bamgbose (1982), Ufomata (1986, 1990a, 1990b). Presented below is a brief discussion of key aspects of the standard spoken Nigerian English as a basis for our discussion on the setting of priorities.

Compared to RP, vowels in Educated Spoken Nigerian English are fewer and undifferentiated.

There are no significant differences between the consonant system of RP and Educated Spoken Nigerian English. However, the following points are worth mentioning:

Other Phonological Points

Stress, intonation and rhythm
For individual words, stress patterns are almost the same as in RP, expect for some words which have acquired a different stress pattern in popular speech, (Bamgbose, 1971). Examples of such word are, ma'dam, maintenance, tribalism. Results of intelligibility tests carried out on Nigerian English by Tiffen (1974), Stevenson (1969), Strevens (1965), Ufomata (1984) seem to point towards the same conclusions. It would appear as if the greatest area of difficulty for native speakers in understanding Spoken Nigerian English is in the area of rhythm and intonation. One of most crucial aspects of the phonology of English to native speakers is the deaccenting of information already given and this is very often not done in Nigerian English. K.J. Stevenson, reflecting on the teaching of spoken English in Nigeria summarises the essence of the findings in the studies referred to above. He says and we quote:

English spoken by Nigerians is often difficult for others to understand because each syllable is of nearly the same length and given the same stress. There is a tendency to stress the final syllable in a sentence, even if it is not a personal pronoun. The effect of this is not just that a Nigerian accent is different from any other, but that the message that the speaker wishes to convey is not carried efficiently by the medium; undue importance is given to grammatical items while those words with full lexical meaning are deprived of their prominence (1969:231).

There is also a general lack of seriousness towards the study of intonation in Nigerian English. The attitude seems to be that a native speaker - like intonation sounds foreign, and therefore many make no attempt to acquired it.

From the brief analysis of the standard accent of English spoken in Nigeria, taken in conjunction with the findings of the intelligibility tests, and also taking into consideration the redundancies which exist within English itself (see Gimson 1980:303 - 310), we are now in a position to make some suggestions on the setting of priorities in the teaching of English pronunciation in an ESL context like Nigeria.


1. General
The content of English language courses in Universities and Colleges of Education should be made more practical. More emphasis need to be placed on oral performance and application rather than on theory.

The model for teaching and testing should be more realistic. Even though no explicit statements have been issued to that effect, the accent being tested is RP. A more realistic approach would be to teach and test the local standard provided core features of the language are retained to maintain international intelligibility and social acceptability within the country.

Textbooks on intonation should be made more user - friendly, by simplifying intonation markings. A scientific description of the expanded RP (Gimson 1980) should be produced as a matter of urgency, based on an international corpus of English such as the one being coordinated by the Survey of English Usage, University College London, under Professor Sidney Greenbaum.

2. Vowels
The focus. should be on durational differences as they are more crucial for intelligibility. Not much is lost with the monopthongization of diphthongs as can be seen from native speaker accents such as the Irish.

3. Consonants
Emphasis should be placed on voiced/voiceless contrasts which are very productive in English. Sounds such as the dental fricatives also need to be taught so that lexical items which are differentiated by them and dental stops would not be confused. There is not much lost by retaining after in morpheme final position, for example.

4. Sounds in Combination
The notion that clarity involves near spelling pronunciation should be discouraged. More spoken material need to be introduced into teaching. ESL teachers should be exposed to the rhythm of English through native speaker speech and appropriate teacher training courses, coupled with occasional refresher courses which should be organised regularly. Differences between the rhythm of English and the indigenous languages need to be understood by teachers as a basis for planning strategies for teaching English rhythm.

5. Stress and intonation
Students need to be made to realise that every word in English has its own accentual pattern and that the fact that tone is not lexical in the language does not imply a free - for - all situation. In the teaching of intonation, the focus should be on simple intonational patterns, as complex ones are hardly used in ESL contexts where usage to a large extent is limited to formal situations.

Agheyisi, R. N. (1 984) Minor languages in the Nigerian Context: prospects and problems. Word 35. pp. 235 - 253.

Awonusi, V.0. (1 994). The Americanization of Nigerian English. World English es 1 3. 1 . pp. 7 5 - 8 2.

Bamgbose, A. (1 971). The English Language in Nigeria. In J. Spencer (ed). The English Language in West Africa. London: Longmans.

Bamgbose, A. (1982). Standard Nigerian English. Issues of Identification. In Kachru (ed). The Other Tongue: English across Cultures. Pergamon Press. pp. 99 ~ 1 1 1.

Bamgbose, A. (1995). English in the Nigerian Environment. In Bamgbose et al (ed). New Englishes: A West African Perspective. lbadan: Mosuro. pp. 9 - 26.

Dolphyne, F. (1 995). A note on the English Language in Ghana. In Bamgbose et al (ed). New Englishes: A West African Perspective. Ibadan: Mosuro. pp. 27 33.

Gimson, A. C. (1 980). An Introduction to the Pronunciation of English. London: Edward Arnold.

Jibril, M. (1982a). Phonological Variation in Nigerian English. University of Lancaster Ph. D Thesis.

Jibril, M. (1982b). Nigerian English: An Introduction. In J. Pride (ed.) New Englishes. Rowley, Penn: Newbury House Publishers, Inc. pp. 73 - 84.

Kachru,B.B.(1986). The Alchemy of English: TheSpread Functions and models of Non-native Englishes. Oxford: Pergamon.

Stevenson, K.J. (1969). Relections on the teaching of Spoken English in Nigeria. Journal of Nigeria English Studies Association 3.2. pp. 227 - 235.

Stevens, P.D. (1965). Pronunciation of English in West Africa. In Papers in language and Language Teaching. Oxford University Press. pp. 112 - 117.

Tiffen, B. (1974). The Intelligibility of Nigerian English. London Ph.D. Thesis.

Ufomata,Titi (1986). The English Language and West Africa (with special reference to Nigeria). A monograph of the Inner London Education Authority.

Ufomata, Titi (1990a). Acceptable models for TEFL (with special reference to Nigeria). In S. Ramsaran (ed). Studies in the Pronunciation of English: A Commemorative volume in honour of A. C. Gimson. London & N.Y.: Routledge. pp. 21 2 - 21 8.

Ufomata, Titi (1990b). Thoughts on Spoken Nigerian English. Journal of the Nigeria English Studies Association. 10.2. pp. 13 - 20.

© 1996 Titi Ufomata

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