West African English in Digital Discourse

Innocent Chiluwa


This paper applies sociolinguistic and discourse-analytical approaches to examine the features of West African English (WAE) in digital discourse. Data comprises 23,374 posts and responses from some popular social and political online forums hosted by Nigerians (i.e.  Nairaland and Naijapals); Ghanaians (i.e. Ghanaforum.com), and Sierra Leoneans (i.e. Sierra Online club and Sierra Leone Forum). These digital forums have served as social media platforms for discussions and debates on, and responses to recent socio-political events in those countries. Findings show that three varieties of WAE are evident in online discourse namely, the acrolect (high), mesolect (middle), and basilect (low), which sometimes depend on the educational level of the users. The local pidgin is also frequently used especially in the Nigerian forums. These varieties in turn reflect features that are characteristic of WAE such as (i) loan words within the standard (acrolect) variety (ii) code-switching between the standard variety and pidgin/Krio (iii) evidence of deviants/errors characteristic of the basilect variety and (iv) linguistic creativity such as coinages, and the language style of the Internet. Findings further show that West African online communicators in English have adapted their socio-cultural nuances of language use to modern information technology.

Key Words: West African English, digital discourse, online forums, language use, Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra Leone.


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