Over half the world’s population is bilingual and many people are multilingual. They acquire a number of languages because they need them for different purposes in their everyday interactions. The research had it that most of African nations are multilingual. Nigeria is as well a multilingual nation, with 452 different ethnic languages operating daily amongst the lives of the people.Onewill need one or two of these languages in his daily interactions. Apart from these ethnic languages, there are other varieties of languages that are in operation in the society e.g. lingua franca, which is predominantly English Language, Pidgin, and creoles. All of these are what made up the linguistic varieties in Nigeria. The environment one lives (geographical location) is what determineswhichcode to be chosen per time. Also, the classes of people that are involved in the daily activities plays a vital role to some extent, in the choice of the variety of the language to be used. The linguistic code to be used in the formal school environment will be different from the one to be used at home, and the one at home is to some extent, different from the one to be used in the market.

The main reason why I have interest in carrying out research work on this project topic titled “linguistic varieties and a multilingual nation” and have Nigeria as my case study is not just to identify these various languages that are in existence in the nation.

The aim of this research is to examine how languages behave in a multilingual speech community and how people react to these linguistic behavioural patterns. In a situation where there are more than two or three languages that function simultaneously in society there are bound to be language crisis. Some languages will likely to be subjugated or dominated, thereby making them look inferior or unattractive. Therefore this research work will help in identifying such problems and to also proffer possible solution to them. It is obvious that language is an Integra part of culture, and culture is referred to as people’s way of life, therefore if there is any language that is suffering from inferiority complex, the people that own such language will suffer the some. Therefore, via this research work and any other research work that shall further this study, will be able to draw government’s attention tp these degenerating languages, and a mean of bringing them to the lime light will be carried out.

There are several other issues which are problematic to the Nigerian society orchestrated by multilingualism. This research work also takes a look at them and in the same way suggest possible solution to them. Such issues as communication barriers, language domination and so on are addressed in this work.


Problem of communication had been a common feature in all multilingual nations. People across the globe need to communicate with one another in order for society and business to keep going. Human society cannot survive without communication, and so the use of languages cannot be overlooked. There are various languages that are engaged in these enormous activities of communication in Nigeria. The problem that arises as the result of existence of these multi-languages is what necessitates this research work. It is a common feature among Nigerians that, an individual must need more than one language to survive the socioeconomic and political situation in the country.

Nigeria as one of the most multilingual nations in Africa has developed so many languages that serve as medium of communication in her day to day activities. The existence of these various Languages is what i call linguistic varieties in Nigeria. They range from: Mother Tongue (MT), to lingua franca, to pidgin and creoles,  to standard, and national language. The understanding of one or two of these languages is necessary to the survival of an individual in the nation. As earlier stated, language is vital to the survival of a society.

There are various languages Nigeria and majority of them are on their way to extinction already, except with government’s timely intervention to their restoration. The question is what will happen to their owner? Definitely they will imbibe other languages, but something very important is gone out of their lives. Some people are even ashamed of speaking their mother tongue because of inferiority complex. Government should stage programs that will cure such damaged mind. High level of favouritism that has pervaded the society today is rooted on language differences. Something should be done about it our mother tongue has almost given way to alien code in mega cities this also should be considered. All these problems are what this project research work seeks to proffer solution, or recommend solution to.


On the basis of the foregoing stated problems, the following questions are raised:

i.            How many languages do we have in Nigeria?

ii.            Which language serves as national language in Nigeria?

iii.            Which language (s) serve as lingua franca in Nigeria?

iv.            What role do pidgins and croles play in Nigeria?

v.            Which languages are standard language in Nigeria?

vi.            What is the consequences of not understanding these languages?

vii.            How do people acquired these various languages? And what do one stands to  gain  over another by understanding these language?



To examine the sociolinguistic situation of Nigeria, and how individuals acquire different languages for different purposes, and how each of these linguistic groups harmonize and form a habitable society.


This research also aims at achieving the following goals:-

i.            To examine how these various languages aid the economic and political development in Nigeria.

ii.            To examine how the understanding of these codes had contributed to the social well-being of an individual.

iii.            To widen our scope on the multilingual  and multicultural nature of Nigerian society.


In the study area, the project will be relevant because it will widen our knowledge and understanding about the subject matter – linguistic varieties and a multilingual nation: A case study of Nigeria – and setup our mind on how to positively embrace other ethnic linguistic groups that are different from ours. Also, it is very crucil because it helps identifies the language and cultural diversity in Nigeria, and also sensitizes our mind on the need to harmoniously co-habit with other ethnic groups, knowing fully well that Nigeria is a multi-lingual and multicultural nation, and so everyone should see a fellow as a relative and not a stranger, because of language differences. This knowledge will help to curtail these excesses of tribal wars in the nation Nigeria. We are one.

This study will equally give suggestions that are relevant and useful, while the reports shall serve as repertoire of knowledge for other researches to consult in the nearest future.


The scope of this study is on linguistic varieties of a multilingual nation. A case study of Nigeria.  Due to the vast scope of the research area (Nigeria),  it is limited to Abuja city. Emphasis is on the nature of the linguistic varieties in Nigeria and why people acquire various languages for different purposes in their daily interactions. And how this had helped them to peacefully co-habit and manage well in a multilingual setting like Nigeria. The findings of this research might apply to other towns in Nigeria apart from FCT.

This is because thiscityis a mega city and there could be a useful information from other minor and nearby satellite towns.


–    Linguistic Varieties: refers to various or different languages that are in existence.

–    Multilingual: Speaking or using different languages

–    Multilingual Nation: This refers to society or nation that has more than two languages.

–    Nation: This is considered as a country with a group of people of the same history who live in a particular area under one government.

–     Language: A.C. Crimson defines language as “a system of conventional symbols used for communication by a whole community ” and Christophersen add that “ language is a means of communication” Edward Sapir also noted that“language is a purely human and non-instinctive method of communicating  ideas, emotions and desires by means of a system of voluntarily produced symbols”. Therefore, language is a medium through which human beings communicate.

–     Culture: This is a way of a people’s life.

–     Multiculture: refers to several different beliefs, religion, languages and traditions.

–     Population: This refers to the total number of all the people who live in a particular area, city or country.

–     Interaction: process of communicating with somebody.

–     Communication: This refers to the activity or process of expressing ideas and feelings or of giving people information.




2.1. Language is a unique and very important phenomenon, the important of which many take for granted. Human beings naturally find themselves speaking the language, unfortunately life and society of human being very boring without it. This is what Edward Sapir understood and came up with the definition of language as an entity through which all human express their thought. Edward Sapir in (1921) defines language as purely human and non-instinctive method of communicating ideas, desires and emotion through the method of voluntarily produced symbol.

The arbitrary and haphazard territorial boundaries imposed by the colonial masters in the last two centuries or so did not take cognizance of the people’s diversities before differentiating Nigeria and other sub-Saharan African states. As a result, the geo-political enclave now known as a country encompasses people with varying linguo-cultural identities. This has continued to have far reaching effects on the socio-economic potentials of the nation. This paper argues that the post independence Nigeria’s slow pace on the road of development is due to the non-participation of the Nigerian mono-lingual majority in the socio-economic and political affairs of the nation. This phenomenon is either as a result of the non-availability, non-utilization or defective language policy geared towards the use of mother-tongues.

Multiligualism has formed many Nations of the world, including Ghana and Rwanda, to mention but a few. Nigeria is also an example of a multilingual, pluralistic and heterogeneous African state with a history of British colonization. The natural implication of these diversities is that language becomes a principal source of individual identity and also a socio-political capital for interaction across different cultural and political borders. To further complicate this milieu is the colonial language bequeathed to the nation by the imperialist (Adetugbo, 1979). The debate therefore has been what language(s) should function in the lives of the people given the various political, cultural, cognitive and economical role language plays in the socio-political architecture of a nation.

Different scholars have taken different contentious and contestable positions on this polemics. Earlier debates on the language policy in Nigeria had centred on the conflicting importance of indigenous and exogenous languages in Nigeria (Bamgbose2005 and Aito 2005). This research work argues from a different perspective of contentious language policy such that gives functional roles to both exogenous and indigenous languages. To achieve the stated goal, the research work delves into the historical and sociolinguistic factors that forged Nigeria’s linguistic situation. The research work also demonstrates that ethnic diversity has always been a part of the people living around the Niger; that being the case, ethnicity and ethnic diversity is not the problem of the nation but the politicizing of ethnicity along linguistic parameters.

2.2. The Historical Background

To best understand Nigeria’s complex linguistic situation, a historical overview of the traditional societies from the past to the present becomes crucial. In a succinct and abridged fashion, the fragmentation that divides the history of the nation into its various chapters is examined. In what follows, Nigeria’s ethno linguistic history is discussed in order to locate the internal forces that drive policy change and to fully appreciate and appraise the language policy strategy discussed in this paper.

2.2.1.          Language Situation in the Pre-Colonial Era

Perhaps, one of the highest legacies bequeathed to Africa by colonialism is the political organism now known as the state. The Colonial masters organized different ethnic groups into a political unit for ease of governance and economic exploitations, paying less attention to their cultural and linguistic diversities (Rodney 1973).

Before Nigeria came in contact with Europe and colonization, it existed as a sprawling territory of diverse ethnic groups, with each group having a distinct (and to some extent overlapping) historical, linguistic, cultural patterns expressed in traditional socio-political, educational and religious systems (Ajayi and Smith 1964, Dike 1956, Enoch 1996). Therefore in the northern hemisphere, there existed the Hausa, Fulani, Kanuri, Eggon, Mada, Tiv and the Nupes, to mention a few. In the Southern protectorate are the Yoruba, Igbo, Edo, Efik, and Ibibio etc.

These ethnic groups were in constant contact with one another through various economic activities and military expansionism. From the standpoint of history, it is understood that there were really no completely isolated tribe; rather, there were different socio-political interaction among the different ethnic groups that constitute what is today known as Nigeria (Ajayi 1967). These contacts and transactions brought about linguistic and cultural exchange. Cultural and linguistic contact, no doubt, led to linguistic borrowing and adaptation of new vocabularies and patterns but not necessarily linguistic domination or annexation. If this claim of history is correct, it is safe to say that linguistic diversities have always been part of the people living around the Niger. For example there are lot of cognate words in Hausa and Yoruba that suggests that the two languages came in contactat some point in history.Another type of linguistic contact that Nigeria experienced happened in the late sixteen century when British missionaries and traders came into the coastal regions of Lagos and Calabar (Omamor, 1991; Elugbe, 1995; Egbokhare, 2001; Esizimetor, 2002b; Adegbija, 2003 and Esizimetor 2010). While the missionaries were concerned with Christian evangelization the merchants were interested in slave trade. After slave trade was abolished in 1807, some of Nigerian slaves who had acquired Western Education came back home with English as a foreign asset and would later serve as interpreters and copyists to the missionaries. One of them was the popular Ajayi Crowder who translated the English Bible into Yoruba language (Huber 1999). This was the beginning of the implantation of English in Nigeria. Going by this historical position, it is safe to conclude that English predates colonization in Nigeria.

2.2.2.          Language Situation at the Colonia Era

When Britain took over as the colonial power in Nigeria, English became the tool with which the new territory would be administered. Hence English became the language of administration (Bamgbose 1991, Lawal 2004). It was the language to be used in official domains of the lives of the colonized. Also, as the missionaries established more schools and propagated the gospel message and western education, the language became the prestigious language of the educated. Finally in 1882, the colonial government intervened in the system of education by promulgating a law that made English the language of instruction at schools and as a subject that must be taught in at all stages of educational growth (Adetugbo 1979). This was necessarily so as the major goal of the colonial powers was to make the colonized assimilate into their culture and way of life. However, the indigenous languages were allowed to be taught in schools alongside English (but not as the primary medium of communication). However, the attitude of people to English particularly in the southern part of the country was more positive than in the North.

People readily sent their children to schools to be educated in English. The religious proselytes had their baptismal names in English. Thus English assumed another economic function in that it became a ladder to attaining social mobility under the imperial government. Hence, English became not only the language of administration and religion; it was immediately dignified as the language of the upper class and the elites.

The religious proselytes had their baptismal names in English. Thus English assumed another economic function in that it became a ladder to attaining social mobility under the imperial government. Hence, English became not only the language of administration and religion; it was immediately dignified as the language of the upper class and the elites. In the northern region, the response and attitude to English was quite different from the southerners. For one, the Christian mission was not as successful in the north as it did with the south. For this reason, the western education that was projected along with the gospel message could not diffuse easily through the north.

The use of English was restricted only to the traditional Hausa/Fulani feudal class. The Hausas took to their Arabo-Asiatic language and their Islamic religion while a very small percentage of them embraced Christianity.

This dichotomy between the north and the south along linguistic, cultural and religious lines still exist today. Without paying cognizance to these differences, the colonial authority of those days amalgamated the Southern and the Northern protectorate for ease of governance and made English the official national language to administer the linguistically heterogeneous state.

2.2.3.          Language Situation at the Post-Colonial Era

The linguistic situation in the post-colonial Nigeria is so complex that it has been described as the biblical tower of Babel. The first tier of language found in Nigeria is the exogenous (English) language bequeathed to the nation by the Colonial rulers.

Today, English has grown to become the official national language of Nigeria and continues to play important roles in the nation as the language of education, media, religion (especially the Pentecostal Christian faith), and the language of politics, governance and law. It is the language of the elites and also the first language for some Nigerians. Also, the basilectal variety of the English language in Nigeria called the Nigerian Pidgin is a neutral language spoken across every ethnic and social boundary in the nation. Other exogenous languages with less influence are Arabic and French. The Arabic language has a major political and religious weight in the northern part of the country. It became the language of Islamic education for the northern part of the country after the Usman Dan Fodio Jihad war between 1804-1808.

The present language ethnography records over five hundred and twenty-one languages and ethnic groups in the nation.





Grace - Project Hublet

Grace - Project Hublet

Typically replies in few minutes

I will be back soon

Grace - Project Hublet
Hi esteemed researcher 👋
It’s your friend Grace. I am a customer-care.

Need help, How can I help you?
Connect via: