Saturday, 15 March 2014

The Language of (Public) Diplomacy

The U.S. ambassador to Nigeria is trying to pick up Pidgin English, and although the NPR article doesn't mention the term "public diplomacy", that's exactly what he's doing--reaching out to the public of Nigeria with accessible language.

"...though it may not be the language of diplomacy, it reaches people at the grassroots level."

 One thing that struck me about the article was that they call it "broken English", but it's clearly not "broken"--it just follows rules of its own. Broken, to me, implies that they're struggling with it. Their speech is stilted, full of pauses and "how do you say...???"Any English-speaker can speak "broken English" by making a few mistakes with subject-verb agreement, pluralisation and gender (think Sacha Baron Cohen's Borat-speak). This article was the first time I'd seen Nigerian Pidgin English in print, and it's definitely not like Borat. It's much more deliberate, nuanced--the idea that "to like" something would be "sweet their belle"--that's not the kind of mistake that speakers of broken English would make. (As an aside, when I lived in the dorms, I had a Nigerian housemate who spoke British English with me and Pidgin English with her friends--both languages fluently, not 'broken').

I think the stigma of learning and speaking 'broken English' is the only explanation for why ambassadors haven't been doing this before now. It makes sense. As the article points out, Pidgin English is a common second language for millions of West Africans. Ambassadors (and public diplomacy officials) don't have the resources to learn and use the hundreds of local languages--learning Pidgin English would be an efficient move!

I haven't been using this blog to talk about PD, really, but now that I'm finishing up and looking ahead, I'll try to start commenting on PD in the news.

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