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  • Report - Symposium on Naija, Institute of African Studies (UI) June 27-29, 2019

Report - Symposium on Naija, Institute of African Studies (UI) June 27-29, 2019

An exceptionally successful international symposium

The Naija Symposium took place in the Institute of African Studies, University of Ibadan, June 27-29, 2019. The symposium was organised by IFRA-Nigeria around the NaijaSynCor ANR project  and was the occasion to introduce the Nigerian scientific community to the concept of Naija, as a new name identifying the language that has developed in Nigeria out of Nigerian Pidgin since the Independence of the country.

Nigerian Pidgin, as a creole and a first language, is spoken in the Niger Delta area, with Warri and Sapele as its focal point, and in the Ajegunle district of Lagos. Naija, or Common Nigerian Pidgin, has conquered the whole of Nigeria, from the South to the North, where it is spoken mainly as a second language, by a large majority of Nigerians, regardless of their geographic origin, education, and social background. It is now widely heard on radios, television and social media, especially on the Wazobia network and on the BBC Pidgin TV channel.

Specialists of creoles and pidgins of various countries and institutions were invited to discuss the results of the NaijaSynCor programme with its researchers. These were: Professor Miriam Ayafor, (Yaounde University), Dr Melanie Green (University of Sussex) and Dr Gabriel Ozon (University of Sheffield) for Cameroon Pidgin; Professor Kofi Yakpo (Hong Kong University) for Pichi (Equatorial Guinea) and Ghana Pidgin. Professors A.O. Offiong (University of Calabar) and M. Mowarin (Delta State University, Abraka) were invited as specialists of Nigerian Pidgin.

Emeritus Professor Ben Elugbe, the pioneer specialist of Nigerian Pidgin Studies opened the symposium presentations and debates in a keynote address summing up the contents of the seminal book he wrote with the late Professor Omamor (Elugbe & Omamor 1991). All presentations and debates were chaired by Professor Egbokhare of the Linguistic Department of Ibadan University.

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A. Chika, S. Ceplo, B. Caron
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Emeritus Prof. Ben Elugbe
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C. Ofulue, M. Ayafor, G. Ozon, M. Green, S. Kahane, S. Manfredi
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M. Mowarin


As part of the symposium, a performance of Rukewe & Julie (di Naija version of Romeo and Juliet by Ogini Bernard) was staged at the Wole Soyinka Theatre, University of Ibadan, on the 27th of June.

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The Symposium as a whole was a real success, and drew considerable attention and positive reactions, activated by the BBC News Pidgin Channel report: Why Pidgin Language dey grow fast-fast.

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More information about the symposium:

The NaijaSynCor project

An interim report on the NaijaSynCor project (NSC) was presented by Bernard Caron (IFRA, CNRS) and Professor Francis Egbokhare (UI University). B. Caron is the Principal Investigator of the NaijaSynCor ANR project (NSC), a corpus-based survey of Naija, financed by the French research agency ANR (Caron 2017). The size of the language, and its geographical span has induced a specific choice of variationist sociolinguistics (Tagliamonte 2012) as a theoretical framework, and an extensive use of Natural Language Processing tools for our corpus annotation and interpretation. As it stands now, the NSC corpus counts 321 audio files averaging 5 minutes each, and 319 speakers, which represents a total of 500,000 words collected in 11 locations. The genres recorded cover life stories, speeches, radio programs, free conversations, cooking recipes, comments on current state of affairs, etc. The sampling of speakers aims at balancing age, sex, education, linguistic and geographic background. Our aim is to annotate each file as finely as possible and prepare queries that cross the linguistic annotation with demographic information collected from each of the 319 speakers. The audio files are annotated with time-aligned transcription and translation into English, morphological tagging, macrosyntactic segmentation, dependency syntax, and prosodic annotation.

A variationist approach to the Naija Corpus.

Dr Stefano Manfredi (Sedyl, CNRS), Dr Slavomir Čéplö (Austrian Academy of Science), together with Prof. Egbokhare (U.I.) and Prof. Ofulue (National Open University of Nigeria) presented a first variationist approach of the NSC corpus. Even though Naija is not officially recognized by government and its use in schools is discouraged, it has gained recognition and acceptance as an indigenous language indexed by its expansion in geographical coverage, its spread from traditional and non-formal domains into other more formal and non-traditional ones, and its acquisition of ‘high’ functions in the process. Previously associated with the uneducated and lower class, Naija speakers now include the educated and other socioeconomic classes. Naija functions as a language of inter-ethnic communication as well as for group and social identity. In particular, the functions of Naija have changed over time from serving mainly communicative purposes to integrative and expressive functions that index pan Nigerian and social identities for the youth and for Nigerians in the diaspora. Naija has expanded from non-formal spoken domains (e.g. entertainment-music, comedy) and some formal domains of traditional media (e.g. radio and television news) into newer domains of Information Communication Technology (ICT) and new media (e.g. the Internet and social media) where a predominantly young literate audience engage in both spoken and written medium on social media platforms. Other domains to which Naija has expanded include political campaigns, religion, commerce, and literature (drama, prose, poetry) with several texts such as bible translation, literacy primers, advertisements, works of fiction, and poetry. Through a statistical approach, the presentation examined morphosyntactic variation in Naija and to test Deuber’s claim of the absence of post-creole continuum. The preliminary results show, among others, that in Naija, as a complementiser, sey is the default option with dat relegated to the periphery with irrelevant indications for preference in middle-aged speakers. The contrast between VERB to VERB / VERB VERB, contrary to Deuber’s analysis for Lagos, the use of to is not related to the education parameter as it is positively associated with a narrative register used by middle-aged speakers. Inflected copulas are a well-established and fully grammatical feature of spontaneous educated speech, but negatively associated with formal register. Finally, register (contextual variation) seems to prevail over independent sociolinguistic variables. As a conclusion, more evidence is needed to ascertain those preliminary results.

SUD, A new syntactic frame for the annotation of Naija data

Kahane (Modyco, Nanterre), K. Gerdes (LLP, Sorbonne Nouvelle) and M. Courtin (LLP, Sorbonne Nouvelle) presented the methodology and results of the corpus annotation for tagging, morphology, macro- and micro-syntax. Two different strands of thought, one rather practical, the other more theoretical, have led to annotating the corpus not in the standard UD dependency annotation scheme but rather in the Surface-Syntactic UD scheme (SUD, Gerdes et al. 2018). Firstly, the Nigerian annotators have been trained in a standard syntactic X-bar sentence structure, where, for example, a PP is headed by a preposition (Osborne & Gerdes 2019). In this context, SUD is much easier to acquire than UD dependencies (Gerdes et al. 2019). Secondly, the NaijaSynCor project has a central typological component, and language comparisons should be possible, based on syntactic differences, which is easier in a scheme based purely on distributional criteria, such as SUD, than on the rather semantic function word vs content word distinction that constitutes the basis of UD.

All samples are first annotated by a trained annotator and the resulting trees together with the POS tags are then validated by an expert. Difficult cases are discussed among the annotators and the shared annotation guide is constantly updated. We apply simple error mining techniques such as looking for inconsistencies between the dictionary and the treebank. The SUD annotation scheme is a still ongoing process, and some special needs for the annotation of Naija have provided input for improvement of SUD. The preliminary assessment of the NSC corpus has proved two things. First, despite the diversity of its speakers in terms of geographic origin and mother tongues, the corpus is remarkably homogeneous. Second, this homogeneity takes place while distancing the language from Nigerian Pidgin. Not only is new vocabulary acquired through the necessity to cope with new functions and new cultures, but new grammatical structures are emerging and a new stability is found in the use of competing structures.

This development in Naija Grammar was exemplified by two presentations, on clefts and serial verb constructions respectively.

Naija Grammar

Clefts in Naija

The study of Naija clefts is a good indicator of the specificity of Naija. Naija clefts have three variants: wey-clefts, with a relative clause introduced by the relativizer wey (as in na weekend wey we dey do am), bare clefts, where the relativizer is omitted, resulting in a bare relative clause (na weekend Ø we dey do am) and double clefts (na weekend, na im we dey do am.), where the relativizer wey is replaced by a repetition of the copula followed by an expletive invariable 3sg pronoun: na im. The relative use of these structures in Naija has been quantified in a sub-section of 9621 sentences (almost 150 000 tokens) that constitute the syntactic treebank mirroring the social and geographic sampling of the full corpus, and compared those figures with Faraclas (2013), a presentation of the structures of Nigerian Pidgin with good data analysis. Using the NSC terminology, Faraclas’s figures highlight 3 main patterns representing fairly evenly cleft constructions in NP: wey-clefts (41%); bare clefts (39%) and zero-copula clefts (17%). Our own figures are respectively 1%, 89%, and 1%, with the rest of cleft patterns taken up by double clefts (9%). This shows a tendency in Naija, over the past 30 years, to marginalize wey- and zero-copula clefts, in favour of bare clefts, and give birth to a new pattern absent in Faraclas’s description, called double cleft, which seems to replace wey-clefts. In the double cleft construction, an emerging relative pronoun (na im → [nãĩ/] ‘who, which’) which is used only in this construction, replaces the relativizer wey, which is becoming specialized in modifying relative clauses.

Serial Verb Constructions in Naija

Three of the annotators of the Projects, C. Ajede, E. Onwuegbuzia, and S. Tella, all of them PhD students at UI, presented a study of SVCs in the NaijaSynCor corpus, which they have conducted under the supervision of B. Caron.

While annotating the corpus, some analytical decisions had to be taken, involving syntactic structures specific to Naija, one of these being the Serial Verb Construction (SVC), such as im pound am finish, ‘she pounded it all’. Such SVCs have been defined by Haspelmath (2016: 296) as “A serial verb construction is a monoclausal construction consisting of multiple independent verbs with no element linking them and with no predicate–argument relation between the verbs.”

The presentation dealt with the problems arising from the identification and annotation of SVCs in our corpus by assessing SVCs in Naija against the latest research published on the topic. It explored the definition and properties of SVCs and elaborated a set of tests based on the properties of SVCs in Naija, aiming at discriminating between, SVCs and other syntactic lookalikes. Such tests are the Negation Placement Test, the TAM Placement Test, the V1 Focus Test and the Argument Insertion Test.

The presentation concluded by outlining the implications of this study for the NaijaSynCor project, and the steps to be taken to complete this survey of SVCs in Naija.

The Prosody of Naija

Biola Oyelere, presented the prosodic aspect of the NaijaSynCor project, which he is developing under the supervision of A. Lacheret (Modyco, Paris-Nanterre) and C. Simard (USP, Fiji). He focused on his own PhD thesis, which aims at descriptively working out the prosodic typology of Naija and specify a useful prosodic representation to model the intonosyntactic interface of the language. B. Oyelere presented in more details his methodology and results in the study of lexical prosody. As observed from his data, there are three factors that determine different tonal patterns of polycategorial status in Naija lexical items placed in carrier sentences. These are category uses, the position of H pitch within the concerned word and (right edge) boundary.

The future of Naija

In an inspiring roundtable suffused with the enthusiasm raised by the NaijaSynCor project, the participants of the symposium made plans for the future of Naija. These plans include creating an on-line Encyclopaedic Grammar of Naija. Melanie Green volunteered and was unanimously elected Editor in Chief of the project. An association for the development and promotion of corpus of Pidgins and Creole languages was planned, with S. Čeplö and G. Ozon in charge of creating the association, and defining its aims and status. It was decided that at least one person should represent various countries/continents in the founding committee, i.e. F. Egbokhare for Nigeria, Stefano Manfredi for France, K. Yakpo for Asia, M. Ayafor for Cameroon, etc. Finally, Stefano Manfredi announced that the Society for Pidgin and Creole Linguistics will hold its annual meeting in Paris in June 2020. The NaijaSynCor project will organise a workshop in the meeting, where the foundation of the Association will be finalised.

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