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CUSTOMERS PERCEPTION OF THE INFLUENCE OF PIDGIN ENGLISH AS A TOOL OF ADVERTISING
1.1 Background to the Study
Communication is the key to human evolution. It is what defines human existence and civilization. But without recognizable sounds, signs or symbols, or in a wider context, language, what we call communication –be it verbal or non-verbal or in any of it forms, would be non-existent. One of the most significant variances amongst man and animal is man’s ability to express himself effectively and make others comprehend him easily. Language is only possible because within each society, people agree to understand a particular pattern of sound in a particular way. For instance, all Anglophone countries understand the meaning of the word ‘fire’. Scholars and researchers have over the years given us wider and robust information about language from their fields: to the linguists, it is termed a set of arbitrary symbols; the communication experts deduced that it is a tool for sharing ideas from a sender to a receiver and so on.
However, language can be simply put as what members of a particular society or culture utilize in order to communicate or make mutual interaction possible. According to Akindele and Adegbite (1999p.1), language is a human phenomenon that has form which can be described in terms of units of sound (phonemes), word, morphemes, phrases, sentences and paragraphs or discourse. This definition shows that language has often been identified as the most unique attribute of man. It is through language that human beings grasp and understand reality and transmit it from one generation to another. This view is buttressed by Blakar (1979p.4) who asserts that “we actually live and behave in a world of language”. Fromkin and Rodman (1980p.1) quoted Noam Avram Chomsky as saying that “when we study human language, we are approaching what some might call the human essence. The distributive qualities of mind that are so far as we know unique to man”. This underlines the basic fact that man is continuously using language, be it spoken, written or printed form and is constantly linked to others via shared norms or behaviour. Language has been a major tool, chiefly responsible for the social consciousness of any country’s citizenry, because it is essentially with the usage of language that information about the on-goings in the environment get to the people, either directly, through contact with any medium of mass communication, like the television, radio, newspapers, magazines, books and journals, and other forms of the mass media; or through indirect means such as conversations, meetings and discussions.
Thus, it is acknowledged that a language is essentially a set of items, what Hudson (1990) calls ‘linguistic items,’ such entities as sounds, words, grammatical structures and so on. Corroborating Hudson’s view, Oyewo (2005p.15) describe language as “the medium or vehicle for conveying ideas, a system of arbitrary vocal symbol based on social cooperation; the totality of meaningful utterance in any given society” and this, is by far the most essential means of human communication. Consequently, it is these items, their status and their arrangements that have brought about creation of both spoken and written languages.
Among the many languages of the world are a few often assigned to a somewhat marginal position, the various lingua franca, pidgins and creoles have existed since time immemorial but have not been studied as full-fledged languages. Pidgin languages have their different histories majorly from language contact and subsequent borrowing and code-mixing. The origin of Nigerian Pidgin can be traced to the contact which was established between multilingual coastal communities and Portuguese merchants, who were joined later by the Dutch and the English. There is a paucity of historical records; the history of serious study of such languages goes back only a few decades, and because of the circumstances of their use, they have often been regarded as being of little intrinsic value or interest. Until recently,
pidgins and creoles have generally been viewed as uninteresting linguistic phenomena, which have been said to lack articles, the copula, and grammatical inflections, rather than those they possess, and those who speak them have often been treated with disdain or contempt.
Hymes (1971) has pointed out that before the 1930s, pidgins and creoles were largely ignored by linguists, who regarded them as ‘marginal languages’ at best. Some linguists were often advised to abstain from them, lest they endanger their careers. He points out that pidgins and creoles ‘are marginal’, in the circumstances of their origin, and in the attitudes towards them on the part of those who speak one of the languages from which they derive.
Pidgin, as a word or a language has all through the civilization of man, characteristically made communication between two or more people simpler and has diminished the prestige and bottlenecks with respect to other languages. It is a language with no native speakers because it is no one’s first language but, is a contact language. That is, Pidgin is the product of a multilingual situation in which those who wish to communicate must find or improvise a simple language system that will enable them to do so. Perhaps, it is on this statement of intent that famous American anthropologist and motivational speaker, Dr Gary D. Chapman affirmed that “Language differences are part and parcel of human culture. If we are to communicate effectively across cultural lines, we must learn the language of those with whom we wish to communicate”
A Pidgin is therefore regarded as a ‘reduced’ variety of a ‘normal’ language. It is used to refer to a language which develops in a situation where speakers of different languages and socio-cultural origins have a need to interact but do not share a mutual language. Once a pidgin has emerged, it is generally learned as a second language and used for communication among people who speak differently.
Holmes (1989) defines Pidgin as a reduced language that results from extended contact between groups of people with no language in common; it evolves when they need some means of verbal communication, perhaps for trade, but no group learns the native language of any other group for social reasons that may include lack of trust or of close contact.
According to Whinnom (1971) the process of Pidginization requires a situation that involves at least three languages, one of which is clearly dominant over the others. He further explains that when three or more languages are involved and one is dominant, the speakers of the two or more that are inferior appear to play a critical role in the development of Pidgin. So, Pidgin is a simplified means of linguistic communication, as it is constructed impromptu, or by convention, between two individuals or groups of people.
Nigerian Pidgin English (henceforth NigPE or NPE) is in fact becoming very popular in the country, especially in the secondary schools and universities; even at public function as well as in the offices. It is a lingua franca for social integration among diverse ethnic groups in the country. It is safe to say that Nigerian Pidgin English (NigePE) has evolved from the basic early development to its present phase that it is now utilized even for sophisticated literary communication –Some of which include “Dis Nigeria Sef” a poem written by famous Ogoni leader and environmental activist Ken Saro-Wiwa, “No Food No Country” a play by Tunde Fatunde, and “Grip Am” a play by Ola Rotimi. Although some people consider its speakers to be of low social status NigPE has come to stay as the major lingua franca adopted for both public and mass communication among the many different speakers in Nigeria. According to Jowitt (2000):
The situation today is that pidgin flourishes as a medium of inter-ethnic communication, especially in the south, and especially in the large cities with many non-indigenous residents (Bendel, Benin, Port Harcourt, etc) or throughout States with small many ethnic groups…(p.15)
Nigerian Pidgin in this case is a situation where normal language pattern is altered, but generally recognized to convey specific meaning. The language does not only evolve but also has its origin from a mixture of other indigenous languages spoken in Nigeria. Experiences have shown that among the residents of Benin-City for which this work was conceived, Nigerian Pidgin English has gained a wider audience in all sectors of the economy, especially in advertisements.
According to Bovee and Arens (1989p.13), advertisement is ‘a communication process, a marketing process, an economic and social process or an information process, a public relation and persuasion process depending on the point of view’. The import of this assertion is that in every communication endeavour, perception of individual differs, hence, perception is the key to how we define a phenomenon; it is a major factor that helps us defines or ascribes meanings to our perceived environment. Advertising has also been defined by Daramola (2012) as: a group of activities aiming at and including dissemination of information in any paid non-personal form, concerning an idea, product or service, to compel action in accordance with the intent of an identified sponsor.(p.201)
Corroborating these definitions, Dada (2010) affirmed that advertisements have the following indices in them:
– It has an identified author
– It is a non-personal communication
– It is paid for
– It is well planned
– It targets a specific audience
– It is purposeful
Therefore, advertisement is a communicative process that informs and influences the audience. This reveals advertisements as a vital marketing tool as well as a powerful communication force. It is further revealed as an action of calling the attention of people to something, especially by rapid announcement, usually in succession known as advertising campaign. What is more, it is a message designed to make known what we have to buy or sell, by using various channels of communication – radio, television, newspaper, magazines, posters, billboards and the internet. In view of the above-mentioned, the various aims of advertisement can only be realised through effective communication (Dada, 2013).
It is a communication tool for marketing, public relations, and promotional management, as well as social and political mobilization. It is the primary source of revenue for the mass media in a free market economy. It has not only become an integral part of man’s social, political, and economic life, but has also grown both as a business activity and as a profession.
Advertising has been one of the major sources of revenue for the media since the public media were commercialized. As argued by Pate, Adeyanju and Yahaya (2012), commercialization has affected the quality and quantity of news especially in the broadcast media. When print media prosper financially, it is because advertisers recognize their worth as advertising media (Nwabueze, Ezebuenyi & Ezeoko, 2012). Just as the Marxist saying that “he who pays the piper dictates the tune”, the mass media today strive to serve the interest of their advertisers and owners best so as to sustain them in the market (McQuail 2010). In modern societies, advertising so pervades our daily lives that Malickson and Nason (1997p.17) assert that: ‘the average person is exposed to many hundreds of advertising messages between the time he opens his eyes in the morning and clicks off his light at night’.
In the newspapers, magazines, outdoor posters, handbills and direct mails; on radio, television, and the internet, as well as in the cinema houses, we are daily confronted with a myriad of advertisements. Thus, advertising has become a conscious daily activity and experience which man cannot ignore whether as a practitioner, advertiser or consumer. It is little wonder, therefore, that famous American President, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, was so sold on advertising that he once zestfully declared:
If I were starting life all over again, I am inclined to think that I would go into advertising business in preference to almost any other. This is because advertising has come to cover the whole range of human needs and also because it combines real imagination with deep study of human psychology (Okigbo, 1997p.207).
Nigeria is generally regarded as the most populous black nation in the world with an estimated 165 million citizens. It is a multi-ethnic, multi-party and multi-religious nation where the youths form an active and sizeable number of this population. One major feature of the Nigerian state is the preponderance of an illiterate youth and adult population whose understanding of the Standard English language [the country’s lingua franca] is very poor. It is paramount for the Nigerian populace to be informed on the new products available for consumption in the market, and also to be enlightened on happenings in the country, through a timely dissemination of information and updates on matters of national interest to reach every nook and cranny in the country. To achieve this, Nigerian broadcast media have over the years, employed Nigeria’s most mass-oriented language, which arguably is the Pidgin English.
In the course of this study, attempts will be made to establish the synergy between Nigerian Pidgin English (NigPE), broadcasting and advertisements (which is the message itself), highlight if, and how the fusion of the tripod has affected the perception of the intended audience, and if it propels them to accept the advertisement messages, as well as motivate them to take the intended action.
1.2 Statement of the Problem
It is clear that with the level of illiteracy and knowledge-gap between the literates and the illiterates in the country, there seem to be an ignorant discrimination in the rate at which information, especially advertisements, is disseminated, at the time it is, its accuracy and the populace in the country that it reaches. There is however, the general perception that majority of the Nigerian populace, especially those in the rural areas are not carried along on issues of national interest due to their inability to understand what is being broadcast or advertised on television and radio.
Consequently, there has been a lot of misinterpretations and misconceptions of advertisement messages by a good number of residents in Benin-City due to the elitist language used in disseminating these massages. They seldom understand broadcast advertisements made in Standard English language and as such, try to ignore these market information not made in Nigerian Pidgin English and develop a negative opinion or attitude towards the products or services as well as the communicated messages itself.
The problem motivating this research thus is that, to what extent are residents of Benin-City aware or informed on latest events and products or services availability in the market? How often and timely does information reach them and how has the use of Pidgin English assisted people in getting informed, and enhance their attraction to a product?
1.3 Objectives of the Study
The purpose of this study is to find out the dominant perception of the public with regards to the use of Pidgin English language for broadcast and advertising messages in Nigeria.
Along this line, the specific objectives of the study shall be to:
1.4 Research Questions
The following research questions shall guide this study and in the course of this research, we shall attempt to find answers to the following questions:
1.5 Significance of the Study
This study shall not be carried out solely for the purpose of meeting the requirements for the partial fulfilment of the award of Bachelor of Science (B.Sc.) degree in Mass Communication, but shall also be of significance theoretically, practically and otherwise.
In terms of theoretical impact, this research could increase and add to the existing volume of literature available on the study of Nigerian Pidgin English and advertising. This could in turn lead to further investigations, thereby expanding existing depth of knowledge and at the same time, exposing certain areas that require further investigation.
By the same token, the result of the study could be of great value to advertising regulatory bodies such as APCON, ADVAN, BON etc., advertising agencies and the mass media as well as other relevant organizations as it could reveal areas where decisions should be made to improve effective utilization of Pidgin English as a potent language for broadcast
1.6 Limitations of the Study
This study is done within the larger framework of the Integrated Marketing Communication and Language. The focus on a single case study or single city in this instance, presents a challenge in generating the findings of this research to other cities in Nigeria.
Meanwhile, the techniques that shall be used to collect data may prove to be valuable as a framework for future research, even if the findings may not be effectively and comprehensively generalized.
1.7 Operational Definition of Key Terms
To foster a clear understanding of this research, the following key terms/concepts are here defined within their operational context.
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