English Language Project Topics

Pragmatic Features of Nigerian English (A Case Study of Selected Poems of Bayo Adebowale)

Pragmatic Features of Nigerian English (A Case Study of Selected Poems of Bayo Adebowale)

Pragmatic Features of Nigerian English (A Case Study of Selected Poems of Bayo Adebowale)

Chapters One


This research aims to investigate how the pragmatic features of Nigerian English convey the cultures and traditions of Nigerians, using the selected poems of Bayo Adebowale as a case study. The objectives of this research are:

  1. To investigate the presence of the pragmatic features of Nigerian English in the selected poems of Bayo Adebowale.
  2. To examine how the pragmatic features of Nigerian English have been deployed by Nigerian writers to enhance the meaningfulness of their works.
  3. . To see how these pragmatic features of Nigerian English have contributed to the creativity of Nigerian writers, using Bayo Adebowale as a case study.
  4. To develop an empirical viewpoint on whether Nigerian English is a deviation from or variation of World English.
  5. To see how language can be affected by the environment in which it is used.




Pragmatics is a subfield of linguistics and semiotics that studies the ways in which context contributes to meaning. Pragmatics encompasses speech act theory, conversational implicature, talk in interaction and other approaches to language behavior in philosophy, sociology, linguistics and anthropology. Unlike semiotics which examines meaning, that is conventional or “coded” in a given language, pragmatics studies how the transmission of meaning depend not only on structural and linguistic knowledge (e.g grammar, lexicon, e.t.c.) of the speaker and listener, but also on the context of the utterance, any pre-existing knowledge about those involved, the inferred intent of the speaker, and other factors. In this respect, pragmatics explain how language users are able to overcome apparent ambiguity, since meaning relies on the manner, place, time e.t.c of an utterance.

The definitions of pragmatics we have today been given by scholars based on different stand points from which they have considered it to be. Several definitions of pragmatics as given by notable linguists are reviewed, in reference to Stephen Levinson view, pragmatics has been seen as “the study of language use” (5). In the earlier work of Charles Morris, it is explained in relation to syntax and semantics as an aspect of semiotics-study of signs. In the distinction he makes, “the formal relation of signs to one another” and the study of the “relations of signs to the object to which the signs are applicable” are syntax and semantics respectively while pragmatics studies “relation of signs to interpreters” (12).

In contributions of John Searle, Ferenc Kiefer and Manfred Bierwisch, it is proposed that pragmatics “is one of the words… that give impression that something quite specific and technical is being talked about when often in fact it has no clear meaning” (viii). This can be related to the view of George Yule on the subject when he says that “pragmatics is the study of ‘invisible’ meaning or how we recognize what is meant even when it is not actually said (or written)” (127).

The point here is what “has no clear meaning” or “invisible meaning” is actually the “intended speaker meaning” (127)- the central interest of pragmatics.

Identifying the intended speaker meaning for the purpose of decoding the actual message in an utterance may not be achieved based on a straight forward interpretation, the reason a much more for reaching definition of pragmatics as given by Levinson is of great importance. He says, pragmatics is “the study of the ability of language users to pair sentence with context in which they are used” (25). This is expatiated on by Kristin Denham and Anne Lobeck when they say that the meaning of an utterance “is bounded up with the context in which you hear it- where you are, what you are doing, who says it, what kind of experiences you have had, your cultural expectations and so on” (331). According to Jacob Mey, in pragmatics, understanding meaning of an utterance based on the context in which it is made is very important. This is more than a grammatical view of the form (syntactic structure) of the language used rather it is highly dependent on ‘user-oriented’ view of language use which has to do with how the linguistic elements are used in the context of interaction (39).


The speech Acts Theory was developed by Austin, J.L in 1962, arose from his criticism on the earlier view that a declarative sentence is always used to describe some state of affairs, some fact, which must either be true or false. This idea that was being criticized by Austin is referred to as constantives. There are many declarative sentences which do not describe report or state anything and it will make no sense to regard them as being true or false. Any utterance that falls under this category of sentences is part of doing some action. Austin emphasizes that in every utterance, a speaker performs an act which may be stating a fact, confirming or denying something, making a promise and so on. To corroborate this, he provides examples such as a marriage ceremony; I name this ship the Queen Elizabeth as uttered by the appropriate person while smashing a bottle against the stem of the ship is question. Austin called such utterance above, performatives. This performatives can either be felicitous or infelicitous. A performative is felicitous when it is uttered by an appropriate person in a circumstance which should also be appropriate. Infelicitous is when something has gone wrong in the correction between the utterance and the circumstance in which it is uttered. According to Austin, each time an utterance is made, three simultaneous Acts are performed. These are:

  1. A Locutionary Act: This is an act of saying something with a particular sense and reference
  2.  An Illocutionary Act: This has to do with performing an act such as warning, accusing, promising, requesting by means of saying something.
  3. A Perlocutionary Act: This is the act that brings about effects on the audience by means of uttering something.

The theory of speech acts has been reviewed and critiqued by several linguists. Among these is Levinson who says that performatives in relation to speech acts are culture or religious setting, may be infelicitous in a different socio-cultural or religious setting (230). This is very close to Jenny Thomas view that “there are cross-cultural differences in the range and the use of performatives”. In an example he give, he says “obviously if one lives in a country/culture which does not have baptism, there will be no performative form, ‘I baptize you…” or the verb may not exist, but cannot be used performatively (43).





This chapter deals with the presentation and the analysis of the Nigerian English identified in the novel and their pragmatic features.


Adebowale uses linguistic modality to communicate or instantiate the Nigerian-ness of his narrative discourse. Undeniably, his English is rooted in Nigerian experience. Since Nigerian speakers or users of English language the same way the Britons, Americans or Australians do, we have identified some grammatical and culture-related English usages which reflect Nigerian expressions that are mere translations into English. Some of these expressions include:



This work examined pragmatically the elements of Nigerian English in Bayo Adebowale’s African Melody. It acknowledges the true existence of Nigerian English and recognizes it as a variety in its own right. It is based on the acknowledgement and recognition. The work moves on to identify and analyze elements of the form of English in African Melody. In the light of the above, the following findings were made.



This study is on “pragmatic features of Nigeria English: A case study of Bayo Adebowale’s African Melody” based on the findings, this study concludes that Nigeria English with its unique elements exists and it is a variety of English in its own right. The variety has increased the creativity of the writers and served as a means to reach wider audience/readers.

From a pragmatic point of view, the study believes that the other users of English may not generally be able to interpret sufficiently, utterance they read, from the point the writer based on these user’s conventional and ideational knowledge of English.

This study recognizes the fact that when understanding is considered in a broad sense, anybody who understands English should understand whatever is said in it especially in relation to variety of Nigeria English which is nationally acceptable and internationally intelligible. On the contrary, this study specifically sees understanding as a matter of degree, ranging from minimal understanding to total confusion or understanding. Thus, in order to achieve total understanding rather than total confusion there is a need for other users of English to acquire the pragmatics of Nigeria English as intuitively acquired by writers of Nigerian works. It is when this is achieved that readers of Nigerian works will be able to function very well not only in communicate acts in which Nigerian English is used but also in understanding meaningfully the utterances presented in Nigerian works, using Bayo Adebowale’s African Melodyas a case study.

Concisely, the ability of other users of English to understand meaningfully, elements of Nigerian English in the utterance presented in Bayo Adebowale’s African Melody, is not singularly determined by the variety of English used. Rather, it is basically dependent on degrees of experience, background information, ability to identify necessary speech acts and contextual competences about Nigerian socio-cultural setting.


The researcher, therefore, recommends that more writers, especially young and developing writers should adopt this style of presenting data from their novels and analyzing every sentence to the understanding of the readers.


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  • Acheoah, John. “The pragma-Crafting Theory: A proposed Theoretical framework for pragmatic Analysis”. American Research Journal of English and Literature 1:2 (2015):22. Web. 17 Mar. 2017.
  • Adegbiga, Efurosebina. “Lexico-Semantic Variation in Nigerian English”, World Englishes 8:2. (1989):165-177, web, 19 July. 2017.
  • Adichie, Chimamanda Americanah. Lagos: Kachifo Limited. 2013. Print.
  • Akindele, Femi, and Wale Adegbite. The Sociology and Politics, of English In Nigeria: An Introduction (New Edition). Ile Ife: Obafemi Awolowo University Press, 2005. Print.