Code-switching and Language Matters in African Music Production and Consumption

Code-switching and Language Matters in African Music Production and Consumption

This article starts off with some insights into Pidgin English as a medium of communication in Africa notably Anglophone West Africa Cameroon, Ghana and Nigeria. It then moves on to the subject of code-switching with additional insights from Urban Grooves in Zimbabwe to the South. The central message is to grasp how, and to what extent code-switching as both a style or linguistic choice impacts upon audience engagement and ultimately success of artistes. There are both theoretical and social implications especially as music of African origin has crossed international boundaries in recent years. 

In their 2007 article in a journal with an interesting nomenclature “World Englishes” Peter & Wolf undertook a comparison of the varieties of West African Pidgin English. 

Their work highlighted national varieties of West African Standard English in a comparative perspective, mostly dealing with phonetics and lexicon. Similar efforts with respect to the national varieties of Pidgin English spoken in West Africa. i.e. Ghanaian, Nigerian, and Cameroon Pidgin English, have been lacking so far. These authors consequently sought to provide a “descriptive and systematic account of features that distinguish these varieties from one another. Considering differences on the phonetic, grammatical, and lexical level [and] based on dozens of interviews with speakers of West African Pidgin English.” 

Six years later in 2013, Akinmade Akande talks about Code-switching in Nigerian hip-hop lyrics in another journal with an interesting name, i.e., Language Matters. The article examined multilingualism in relation to hip-hop lyrics in Nigeria. It focuses on the sociolinguistics of English and its contact with other Nigerian languages in hip-hop music. Akande argued that: 

“…because Nigerian Pidgin English (NPE) has the highest number of speakers as compared to other indigenous languages in the country […] its speakers are found across the country and its usage given prominence in Nigerian hip-hop, it ought to be treated as a super central language.” 

Another interesting commentary from his article reads: 

“…in addition to being one hyper central language (English), there are two sets of super central languages in Nigeria; namely, the three national languages (Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba) and Nigerian Pidgin English. The paper also reports that Nigerian rappers can be classified into four major categories, based on their language use.” 

Language Matters Moving South

Just like Akinmade Akande talks about Code-switching in Nigerian hip-hop lyrics, Victor Mugari interrogated Code-switching in Zimbabwean urban grooves music. In that article he argued that: “…code-switching as exhibited in Zimbabwean urban grooves music […] is both a music style and a linguistic style. […] based on the former, artistes code-switch as a style that defines their urban music genre; it is a stylistic device that isolates the genre from other contemporary genres.” 

As a linguistic style, “the argument is that artistes code-switch as evidence of the existence of a language style, a language choice, which, though made up of two different varieties, can be acceptable as a variety itself.” 

“The article further argues that even though code-switching in song lyrics is not spontaneous, it can still be analysed within the existing code-switching frameworks such as Audience Design. The artistes adjust their language style to suit their audience, mainly the youths who unreservedly code-switch. The analysis in the article contributes to the understanding of functions of code-switching within premeditated contexts.”

Rather interestingly, another study in the same year “Attitudes towards code-switching among adult mono- and multilingual language users,” had a different set of results, “…participants in their teens and twenties appreciated CS less than older participants. The findings thus show that the attitudes towards CS are linked to personality, language learning history and current linguistic practices, as well as some sociobiographical variables.” 

In that study Jean-Marc Dewaele & Li Wei (2014)  investigated “inter-individual variation (linked to personality traits, multilingualism and sociobiographical variables) in attitudes towards code-switching among 2070 multilinguals” and reported that “Participants who grew up in a bilingual family and in an ethnically diverse environment, and currently worked in an ethnically diverse environment had significantly more positive attitudes towards CS.” 

In summing up, despite the differences of opinion, the argument of Jean-Marc Dewaele & Li Wei does make a great deal of sense: 

“Language attitudes permeate our everyday lives: people often judge our social status, group membership, intelligence, competence by the way we use language (…). People hold attitudes to language at all its levels, e.g. accent, choice of words, speed of speech, grammar, language variety.” 

Another statement equally captures the attribution of Pidgin to “broken” English thus, “The vast majority of the existing studies on language attitudes are done on particular languages, language varieties, or certain aspects, such as pronunciation or spelling, of particular languages, usually in sociolinguistic situations where there is a troubled history of language contact and a sharp differentiation of the symbolic values of the languages involved. For example, there are studies of language attitudes towards English and other local languages in Hong Kong, India, sub-Saharan Africa and Wales…” 

Going forward language is key to audience engagement especially where music production and consumption are concerned. This is even more imperative in contexts where there are “super central languages” spoken by a majority of the population. In the case of Nigeria, Pidgin has been labelled the unofficial second language. I would let readers decide on the connection between code-switching and how we make and enjoy music.

Share this post

One thought on “Code-switching and Language Matters in African Music Production and Consumption

  1. Dear Editor,

    Kindly delete the following text from the post just above the YouTube clip “[Editor Please Insert this YouTube Video “Nigerian Pidgin English accepted as unofficial second language”


    Nnamdi Madichie


Post Comment