I may be back in the states, but my heart and mind are still in Ghana. So, I’ve decided to let my mind pour out some more thoughts on my experience while it’s still fresh!
Aside from the tribal and local languages prevalent in Ghana, English isn’t the only other spoken dialect. In fact, a language spoken more commonly between males on campus is called Pidgin. Pronounced like the bird, Pidgin (known as West African Pidgin) is a vernacular of broken English combined with certain vocabulary of the local language. Pidgin usually develops in high school, or SS as Ghanaians call it, and is spoken mostly among males.
During my first few weeks in Ghana, I did my best to learn Twi so I could talk to people and integrate with Ghanaian culture as much as possible. When I learned about Pidgin, I became so fascinated with the language that it became the language that I wanted to learn. Pidgin took the highest priority, and Twi, Ewe, Ga, English, etc. took a back seat.
On campus, most of the guys speak Pidgin. During my time coaching the UG basketball team, I noticed the guys spoke pidgin exclusively, except when they were talking to an Obroni. It’s a language with no books or written rules. Girls don’t really speak it. I’ve been told that on average about 1/10 girls speaks pidgin, and I’ve noticed my experience on campus that most girls don’t even understand it, either. But, it differs wherever you go. It’s spoken but it has no grammatical structure, yet people still can understand each other easily and seem to know the structure with out realizing it.
You can find more about it yourself at
After writing this, I also realized one of my friends was writing a thesis on Pidgin, and she has a 26 page report on it. I don’t have that off hand, but I did find this site written by one of her professors. http://archive.lib.msu.edu/DMC/African%20Journals/pdfs/Institue%20of%20African%20Studies%20Research%20Review/2002v18n2/asrv018002006.pdf
If you’d rather just stay on this page and learn from what my small brain has gathered, here’s what I’ve been able to pool together about Pidgin and its history.
West African Pidgin came to be when the Europeans came to Africa during the Atlantic slave trade, as Europeans communicated their negotiations with local chiefs. Pidgin developed as the primary language spoken between the Europeans and the Chiefs, as combination between English and the local languages spoken. Africans who were able to learn Pidgin were the ones who could succeed in trading with the Europeans. West African Pidgin exists in Sierra Leon, Nigeria, Ghana, Cameroon, and most West African Countries. Each region has a different Pidgin with different terms, though a similar structure.
In Ghana, Pidgin vernacular changes as you visit different regions. The Pidgin spoken on the UG campus is different then the Pidgin spoken up north. My friends tell me that even every High School has its own Pidgin. It’s a form of broken English, so it’s mostly spoken by the youth or of people that aren’t deemed as “educated”.
(NOTE keep in mind that ‘R’s in pidgin aren’t really pronounced)
In Legon, Pidgin includes some Ga (since Ga is the tribal language of Accra) words, such as Gbekeh (night) and hia (need), some Twi words, such as “koraa” (at all). Other words stem from no language….they are just “Pidgin” words.
Some examples: “ebola”=Big, “barb” =understand/catch, “chow” (like cow with a CH)=a lot, “chop”=to eat, “Choo” (rhyming with low)= food. So…. “I chop choo chow” means, “I ate a lot of food”.
Aside from words that stem from tribal languages, there are other English words that take on different meanings or have their own abbreviations. Some make more sense than others. “Bof” means to bath. “sati” means satisfied. “Booze” = to drink alcohol. “suck”= to drink, “figa”=think. “Rydee” = Right now. “hung”=hungry. “tiya=tired”. Other words seem to stem from English words, but are still used differently. Sake of= Because. Fit= can. Wedge=to wait. “queer” means a little, and “crosh” means to meet up.
There isn’t really any set “rules” for Pidgin. I have no idea how similar Ghanaian Pidgin is to other West African countries, but I learned as much as I could about the Pidgin spoken around me. Being back in the states, I just met up with a friend from Cameroon, and we could understand each other’s Pidgin almost perfectly.
Pidgin Structure and Rules:
There are tenses. Present test includes “De”, which is similar to a “to be” verb. I de chop= I am eating. (but to chop someone is to sleep with them!) I de hung = I’m hungry. “I de go bof” = I’m going to go shower.
However, “Dey” is also used as the verb “to be”. I dey my room = I’m in my room. The pronunciation is slightly different.
Without De, it changes to passed tense. I chop already = I ate already. “I go market” =I went to the market. “I bed” = I slept
For future tense, you add, “go”. I go call you = I’m going to call you. We go jam waa = we’re going to party a lot.
For commands, you use “make”. Make I come plus you? = Can I come with you? Make we link up = Let’s meet up. There aren’t really any prepositions or articles. Make we go Mall = Let’s go to the mall. I de go campus= I’m going to campus.
For negations, use the word, “no”, and it always (I think..) comes directly after the subject. I no barb what you de talk= “I didn’t understand what you are saying”. If you change it to I no de barb what you de talk, then it means, “I’m not understanding what you are saying”.
So here are some examples:
I de chop= I’m eating
I chop = I ate
I no chop = I didn’t eat
I go chop = I will eat
I de go chop = I am going to eat
Make I chop= Let me eat/can I eat?
Make we chop= let’s eat! (you are invited to my food)
For more words and phrases: see Learn Pidgin.
If I don’t know how to say it in Pidgin, I follow 3 simple rules.
- Start with “Chalé”, (or Charlie., how it’s spelled in Africa)
- Instead of using articles or preposition, add “de” whenever it seems to be appropriate
- Add “oo” to the end.
For example, Chalé I de want learn dance azonto oo” = Yo, I want to learn to dance azonto. Chalé I chop too much den I de get fat oo = Yo, I ate too much I’m getting fat. Even if it’s not REAL REAL Pidgin (no such thing as “proper” Pidgin), Ghanaians will understand it.
Ghanaian Pidgin differs depending on where you are. When I went to cape coast I was speaking Pidgin to some Rastas and they had some different vocabulary, but we could still communicate. Some of the Pidgin used around campus is taking from other Pidgin English, most often from Nigerian Pidgin, or Patwa, Jamaican Pidgin. I hear my friends using expressions from Nigerian Pidgin and Patwa such as “How Far”, (Nigerian Pidgin) and Wogwan (Patwa). Both mean “what’s up!?
I have some favorites that I like to use consistently:
wey tin man no see before= what ever happens, happens
Chalé day break! =good morning
man tiya woman no no= I’m fed up (literally…man is tired and the woman don’t even know)
you fuck up= you’re kidding!/you’re funny!
we go crosh= see you later/around
yo muddah = your mom’s %*$$&
safe = be safe
one = one love
make we link up morrow = let’s meet up tomorrow
I booze rough = I drake too much
I make fine = I’m drunk
Masa, that thing/level no dey oo = Man! You’ve taken this too far/ That’s enough
you de bore me saf! = you’re really pissing me off
why you dawg me sof? = why are you ignoring me?
you make I make sad = you’re making me sad/you messed up my day
I de hung baaaaaad! =I’m SO hungry
My Obroni friends and I make up our own Pidgin.
I de go vom = I’m going to throw up (vomit)
Yesti I make diedie = Yesterday I had diarrhea
Make I blast your head ?= Can I poop on your head?
I de wan go chop something tantalizing = I wanna go eat Luisa’s food
I de go pop pills = I’m going to take my malaria medication
It’s so f*@#ing hot = I’m so fu@#ing hot
Charlie you de swag oo = you’re all swagged out/dressing nice!
So….if you wan speak de Pidgin plus me…just make I know sake of I no go forget Pidgin oo!! I go teach you… no yawa!
Jeremy Kwabena G.