The other day I had the pleasure of finally meeting my best friend’s partner, a 35- year-old Nigerian lad, who’s been living and working in the Czech Republic for more than 10 years now. For the sake of simplicity as well as anonymity, let’s call him G.
On Monday night, G was invited to a party we organize each summer with a group of friends/colleagues (mostly language teachers). In the course of the evening, we discovered that G understood and spoke Czech to such an extent that we could easily converse in L1 most of the time. We did occasionally switch to English, though, especially when speaking one to one or when clarifying things. I didn’t ask G directly, but I think he normally speaks Nigerian Standard English. However, I remember my friend (his girlfriend) once said that when speaking with his friends, G uses some type of ‘unintelligible language’ (constantly using the word dey), which, I
googled infer, is Nigerian Pidgin.
Anyway, it was a wonderful evening and we were having a great time. It was after G and his girlfriend left the party when somebody opened the topic of G’s English nativeness. And later on, one of the non-language teachers used the expression ‘bastardized English’ to describe the language G speaks.
I quickly stepped in to explain that it’s not really fair to call Nigerian English bastardized English. But then more people joined in claiming that his English is obviously not the standard. I asked what exactly they meant by standard and somebody replied that standard is the English that was once exported from the British Isles (this was actually said by an English teacher!). I added in surprise: You mean, something like Shakespearean English is the standard then? I could see a somewhat
irritated puzzled expression materializing on my friend’s face when the conversation was interrupted by the host who had boisterously come out of the house with a tray full of meat or something.
And I was really happy that it was over because it would have been really tough for me from then on – I felt I was about to defend a ‘bastardized’ English in front of people who had never heard of the concept of Englishes and who had some really firm opinions about what a standard English is. I suddenly realized that it was not the right time and the right place to discuss this anyway, so I did my best to avoid the topic for the rest of the evening. As the old saying goes, no man is a prophet in his own land.
Apparently, I’m no David Crystal. I simply failed to come up with a persuasive set of arguments and I gave up before I even managed to sort out my ideas. In hindsight, I realize that standard can mean different things to different people. From a linguistic point of view, standard means conforming to models or norms of usage admired by educated speakers and writers. But it can also mean normal, familiar, or commonly used.
I’m sure my colleagues meant the latter when talking about standard. And I believe that by no means did they want to justify linguistic imperialism, even though they incidentally promoted linguistic unequity. For many people here in the Czech Republic, normal and familiar still equals British and American. We buy coursebooks produced by British and American publishers, not Nigerian ones. We go to Oxford and Cambridge for summer language courses. The films we watch were made in Hollywood. We listen to BBC Radio when we want to practice English. And we wish to speak with a British or American accent, not a Nigerian one…