Sunday, November 20, 2011

Nigerian English 1

Prince is learning to speak Nigerian. For instance, he counts "five, six, sevwon, eight" and the days of the week include "Monday, Tuesday, Wen-es-day, Tursday...." And thus the immigrant battle to maintain cultural/linguistic purity begins! (Y'see, son, there's school English and there's home English; at home, you speak home English...) At least I have the advantage of coming from Southern California where I've debated the importance of both blending in and maintaining cultural ties before.

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Yes and No don't mean quite the same things. If I ask the guards if the bus has already come and left, they invariably say yes. So I call the bus driver, who informs me he is still on his way. The guards either mean that "Yes, the bus is still coming," or "Yes, the bus came an hour ago," but that's not the question I ask. Several other expats have confirmed that Nigerians have a different sense of reporting on the past and future than other (US/India) cultures.

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We buy our milk in cardboard cartons. It's been irradiated so it can keep on the shelf for 6 months without refrigeration. Joy went to the store and asked for two boxes. They pulled out two cases filled with boxes. Finally she learned the correct terminology: Give me two pieces of milk.

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Joy's driver advised her to stop asking around for Oatmeal. "What is this ~oat-milk~ of which you speak?" They just call them oats. To me, oats are for horses, oatmeal for humans.


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When explaining international trade as the result of different costs of production, I regale with a counter-example: the US exports chicken to China, and China exports chicken to the US. How can this be? The answer is that Americans have been taught to eat white meat while the Chinese value legs and chicken feet. So we sell them chicken feet and they sell us chicken breasts.

One of my classes (and of course, it wasn't the first one, but the third) started tittering. What is it? "Prof, chickens don't have breasts," and the rest of the class descends into guffaws. Well, what do you call it? "Chicken chest." So I try that, but they laughed again.

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One of the local cultures is supportive of plural marriage. One of the other profs knew a certain fellow had two wives, and asked him how you inquire after his family. Do you say, "How's the wife?" or "How're the wives?" The answer was that it was very rude, very forward to ask how someone's wife is. You ask: "How's the house?" That covers everything.

Of course, the answer will always and invariably be: it's fine.