The BBC’s newest service uses a language made up of street slang

Common language.
Common language.
Image: (AP Photo)
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The BBC has launched an online news service that delivers news exclusively in West African pidgin English, a mixture of English, local languages and street slang spoken by millions of people across ethnic and cultural lines in the region.

BBC Pidgin is one of 12 new language services being launched by the BBC World Service in Africa and Asia, part of a £289 million expansion ($372 million) announced last year.

The digital service will offer coverage of local and international news, entertainment, culture, tech, and sports like the English Premier League, among other subjects. The news organization is targeting a young audience with an emphasis on using social media to draw listeners, particularly women. A recent study by Opera Software and Worldreader, a nonprofit, found that 60% of women in Nigeria check their mobile browsers more than eight times a day.

BBC Pidgin’s Lagos-based 15-person team will include web designers, journalists, and social media experts. Reporters will be stationed in Ghana, Cameroon, and other parts of Nigeria.

The service follows in the footsteps of Wazobia FM, a Nigerian broadcaster which launched a pidgin radio station in 2007 followed by a TV channel in 2014.

West African pidgin English developed during the trans-Atlantic slave trade as a way for British slave merchants and African slave traders to communicate. In Nigeria, pidgin has become a more informal alternative to English, considered the language of elites, as well as the country’s indigenous languages, which often aren’t given sufficient attention by schools.

An estimated 75 million Nigerians speak pidgin, and there have been efforts to standardize the language. In 2009, a group of academics called the Naija Languej Akademi developed a pidgin reference guide with an alphabet, spelling guide, and a basic history of the language.

BBC Pidgin’s launch reflects a growing recognition of the popularity and importance of locally grown dialects, which are often stereotyped as being a threat to English and only spoken by less educated people.

Hawaii declared its own version of pidgin English an official language in 2015 after a number of pidgin speakers were revealed in a the US Census Bureau survey (pdf) of the islands.  Jamaicans have been debating whether or not to make Jamaican patois an official language for some time. This August, Jamaica’s education minister, Ruel Reid, said patois should be recognized as the primary language of people who are’t regularly exposed to English.