Rapport Among Users of Competing Codes in Nyanya and Mararaba Open-Air Markets: A View from Phenomena of Code-Switching and Code-Mixing

This article is published by the Zamfara International Journal of Humanities.


Abayomi O. Ayansola
Department of Languages and Literary Studies,
Ahman Pategi University, Patigi,
Kwara - Nigeria
Tel: 08038451798
E-mail: abayopeayan@gmail.com


Multilingualism and the resultant convergence of market participants from Nigeria’s multicultural background accounts for language users’ intermittent switch/mix of codes and a strategy of giving expression to participants’ culture and worldview. With eight excerpted conversations with two of them featuring three discussants and six made up of two speakers/hearers, each. The study adopts the template by Hoffman (1991), which specifies code switching based on the juncture where language takes place, in its investigation of the phenomena of code-switching and code-mixing in Mararaba and Nyanya markets in the suburbs of the city of Abuja, Nigeria’s Federal Capital Territory. It was revealed that code-switching manifests at intra-sentential and inter-sentential levels for greetings, for the expression of certain market lexical items and as tools for negotiating ideal commercial bargaining. This situation is exploited by buyers and sellers who use code-switching and code-mixing as part of the strategies for courting and bonding with the buyer or seller for the purpose of good bargaining. Remarkably, code-switching and code-mixing are not negative linguistic habits but are borne out of the imperative of giving expression to the worldview of market participants which may not be adequately accommodated by other interfacing languages. Code-switching is an eye-opening phenomenon that may be exploited for the promotion of competing languages in a multilingual setting.

Keywords: code-switching, code-mixing, Pidgin, multilingualism, open-air market


Rapport in more than one language or code is a linguistic behaviour technically termed code-switching or code-mixing. Such conversational tendency is a product of bilingualism and language in contact particularly in a context where English is a Second Language (ESL) in its interaction with other languages in use in the community. In the Nigerian situation, indigenous languages with the status of mother tongue (MT) or first language (L1), are estimated at 522 and 527 (Simon and Lewis, 2013). The market place is therefore a setting where buyers and sellers move from one particular code to the other. Business motivated rapport which is facilitated by interactants flexibility of code choices, particularly in Nyanya and Mararaba open-air markets is deserving of a linguistic searchlight. Open-air market includes make-shift shops, road-side sellers, hawkers, among others that periodically converge in cluster on a particular location as are common in Nigeria’s rural and urban communities. Nigeria is multilingual and multicultural hence, market participants are naturally diverse in their language choices as well as oscillate from one code to the other.

As earlier stated, the country boasts of 522 and 527 languages sharing the same space with English, Pidgin, Arabic and French, in varying degree of communicative functions (Simon and Lewis, 2013). Unlike English, Arabic and French, Pidgin is a distinct language arising from contact with indigenous languages, Portuguese and English. There is also a dominant variant of English in use which is termed Nigerian English (NE). NE is defined by its overwhelming Nigerian peculiarities at phonological, syntactic, semantic and at the level of discourse. Some indigenous languages namely, Hausa, Ibo and Yoruba are equally dominant and used across the country.  Depending on the geographical location of a particular market, a dominant language is bound to interface or compete with one or more of Ibo, Hausa, Yoruba, Pidgin and English languages for interactional and transactional purposes.  Thus, the interface among languages in use is the pre-occupation of this study. This is for the purpose of affirming the status of Gbagyi, an indigenous language which is widely spoken in Nigeria’s Federal Capital Territory extending to Nyanya, Mararaba and beyond, among other competing languages. The use of Gbagyi and other competing languages in the market situation is bound to manifest in a unique code-switching and code-mixing (henceforth, CSM) linguistic behaviour. This paper contributes to the debate on whether or not CSM is a negative linguistic attitude.

Research motivated questions below will further unveil the rational for this paper. What therefore are the reasons for CSM? What are the forms of CSM in the market space? What are the predominant codes in Nassarawa open markets? What are the factors responsible for CSM in the market space? What are the communicative implications of CSM? These and other pertinent questions shall engage the attention of this study.

Literature Review and Conceptual Clarifications

Scholars tend to focus their evaluative commentaries on CSM based on the interaction involving the majority languages. Hence, research outcomes may not suffice for a situation where a minority language like Gbagyi is used interchangeably with dominant languages. For instance, English is the focus of Chrissunday (2020) which compared the kind of CSM in Facebook group of English Youth Community. The study showed that intra sentential code switching is the most widely used than intra sentential code switching and extra sentential code switching with the conclusion that CSM is occasioned by the change of topic in the English Youth Community group. Code-switching also occurs when the situation of the interlocutors change in a particular conversation changes, significantly. In a study on a bilingual Chinese-English child in an after-school Chinese program, Ruan (2003) found that the subject switched language from English to Chinese when adults or the Chinese teacher joined the conversation, or quoted some Chinese in English utterances when emphasizing the Chinese teacher’s words for practical purpose. For example, the teacher said, “Bukeyi da ren!” [the teacher said, ‘You are not allowed to punch other people!’].

Ruan (2003) demonstrated that when Chinese-English code-switch occurred between parents and children, although the older speaker may initiate a discourse in one language (usually the ethnic language), the younger speaker may choose not to conform (i.e. choose the non-ethnic language to respond).

Mother: Mommy pu si wan ni cheryianghah. [Mandarin mixed with English:

Mommy doesnlike that you are like this, hah?]

Son:      What diyou say mom? Mother: I said, tomorrow wetakepizza.

Son:     Tomorrow alreadah? I thought you said afterward? (p.98)    

Kwan-Terry (1992) found that code-switching of the bilingual child can be concluded into two categories: inter-sentential and intra-sentential code-switching. Findings of code-switching in inter-sentential involvement have shown that the more emotionally involved a child is, the more likely he/she is to want to use the language norm. This study is in line with Gumperz’ (1971) averment that the degree of personal involvement is a feature affecting code-switching. It also responds to Grosjean (1982) that a bilingual child uses code-switching to reinforce meaning by repeating an utterance in two distinct languages.

Thus, the fact that a bilingual speaker has chosen to code-switch invites a more detailed analysis which can demonstrate that in addition to its capacity of highlighting the status of on-going talk, code-switching as a contextualization cue has the capacity to bring about higher-level social meanings such as the speaker’s language attitudes, preferences, and community norms and values. Qi (1998) investigated the factors that influence the language-switching behaviour in the thinking processes of a bilingual engaged in second language composing tasks. Qi found that the participant often verified her choice of a difficult L2word by cross-checking the appropriate equivalent of the word in L1 and L2.

‘Gaoya’ [Chinese Pinyin; its intended English translation equivalent is ‘exquisite’]. Oh, this is a difficult word. ‘Gaoya,’ Noble? Noble means ‘Conggao,’ Noble songs? Sounds strange. Mm– Graceful? Yeah graceful means Gaoya. Okay. I’ll use this word (Qi, 1998:427). Qi’s findings suggested that the use of code-switching made it possible for a thought to be developed cross-linguistically without slowing down the pace of thinking. The language-switching enabled an initiated thought to continue to develop and helped generate content that the participant sometimes felt less competent to produce exclusively in L2.

Chukueggu (2010) discusses the phenomenon of diglossia and how it relates to code-switching in bilingual and multilingual societies like Nigeria. The study examined the relevance of the social and linguistic contexts in determining the linguistic code that bilinguals  and  multilinguals use in various communicative situations. It gives a detailed description of the term ‘diglossia’ and highlights the distinctive features of a diglossia situation. It also examines the peculiar features of the varieties of languages that are involved in diglossic situations.

Furthermore, it discusses the issue of codes witching and the way it takes place in diglossic situations. It then explores the various diglossic situations that exist in Nigeria and the patterns of code-switching in each diglossic situation. Lastly, the paper points out the implications of the diglossic situations in Nigeria for English language teaching and learning.

In the market situation, CSM is necessitated by the need to give expression to the worldview of interlocutors which may not be easily achieved in English, the language of a different culture. Through three Nigerian novelists, Ibhawaegbele and Edokpayi (2012) observed that Nigeria’s complex linguistic system accounts for why literary artists create literature deriving from Nigerian background, with varying local situations. This is in a bid to give expression to Nigerian culture and worldview in English. In so doing, they are constrained to modify English, thereby adopting CSM as a form of stylistic-strategy for achieving effective communication.  It is also the case that some items in the market bear names in the indigenous language (iru, okpa, rodo, tatase, etc) without specific equivalents in English. In addition, this study investigates the need for bonding and other interactional reasons that motivate CSM in the market.

 Code-switching and Code-mixing: Conceptualizations

Code-switching is the inevitable consequence of bilingualisms and multilingualism. Anyone who can speak more than one language chooses the language according to the circumstances in which the language will be comprehensible to the person addressed. A bilingual speaker tends to switch rapidly from one language to another, to certain condition and for certain reason. Gal(1988), described code-switching as a conversational strategy used to establish relationships. It can also be used to cross or destroy group boundaries.

The social context determines to a large extent, the language or variety that one chooses to use. It consists of a number of other factors, such as: the time and place of communication, the formality of the occasion, the topic under discussion, the degree of familiarity between interlocutors and soon. Also, the social characteristics of a person help to determine his choice of language or variety of a language at any given time. These social characteristics are the person’s social class, ethnic group, religious beliefs, values, age and sex to mention but a few. Code-switching from one language to another is a common feature of a bilingual or multilingual society. Bilinguals and multilingual always find themselves switching from one code to another, either consciously or unconsciously.  There are many reasons why people code-switch but generally, they do so in response to social context factors.

Code switching is the inevitable consequence of multilingualism. Anyone who can speak more than one language chooses the language according to the circumstances in which the language will be comprehensible to the person addressed. A bilingual speaker tends to switch rapidly from one language to another, to certain condition and for certain reason. Code mixing is a mixing of two codes or languages, usually without a change of topic. Code mixing often occurs within one sentence, one element is spoken in language A and the rest in language B.

According to Nababan (2016) code mixing is found mainly in informal interactions. In formal situation, the speaker tends to mix it because there is no exact idiom in that language, so it is necessary to use words or idioms from other language. Code is a system that is used by people for communication between two or more parties.  It is easy for them to switch to or mix one code to another code or one language to another language. According to Martiana (2004:3) code switching and code mixing happened as an effect of the cross language of Eros culture by people use bilingualism or multilingualism. Multilingualism is the use of more than one language, either by an individual speaker or by a group of speakers. Code-mixers or switchers often ensue intuitively or in a situation where the speaker may want to deliberately demonstrate his/her knowledge of different codes. Multilingualism is conceptualizes a  linguistic situation where  two   or more languages co-exist within the bounds of one society. Bell (1976) argues that multilingualism is both the use of an individual and the use by a group or nation of  more than two languages. This view explicates a situation where individuals can function at some reasonable level of competence in more than two languages and the existence of many languages within a territory.

A multilingual individual has the capacity to interact freely with the speakers of  other languages in different situational contexts. The open or conventional market is a multilingual setting for the practice of CSM in Nigeria involves not only the indigenous languages, but also the major groups of non-Nigerian languages. The market embodies a setting where language is used mostly for transactional purposes.

It is often the case however that interactional aspect of language use may precede the transactional functions of language in this situation. In both cases, sellers and buyers often choose from array of language, about 450 of them in Nigeria. Notable among the language in use in Nigeria is English or its derivative, the Nigerian Pidgin, which may also be regarded as a deviation contact between English and the indigenous language.

Theoretical Framework: Hoffman Model of Code-Switching and Code-Mixing

This study is majorly predicated on the code-switching template by Hoffman (1991). The model specifies types of code switching and mixing base on the juncture or scope of switching where language takes place. In addition to the occurrence of code-switching at intra-sentential and inter-sentential levels, Hoffman (1991) also identified another form of code-switching which is meant to establishing continuity with the previous speaker.

Inter-sentential Code-switching occurs between clause or sentence boundary, where each clause or sentence is in one language or other, as when an adult Spanish-English bilingual says: “Ok sob, let our hear, they were off-white, you know.” (Hoffman, 1991). Like Yoruba/English bilingual says: Won o arrest a single person (won o they did not).

In intra sentential code switching, exclamation and certain set phrases in one language are inserted into an utterance otherwise in another, as when a Panjabi/English says: “It’s a nice day, pndenggar?” (Hi semua? isn’t it) .It was embarrassing! It was very nice, though, but I was embarrassed!” (Hoffman, 1991:112). Like Panjabi/English bilingual says: It's a nice day, hana? (hainā isn't it).

Hoffman third form of code-switching occurs through the establishment of continuity with the previous speaker. This kind of code switching occurs to continue the utterance of the previous speaker, as when one Indonesian speaker speaks in English and then the other speaker tries to respond in English also. Yet, that speaker can also switch again to language Indonesia.

For instance:                                                                  

Speaker 1: I can’t get leave for you ‘karenasayasuka our together today...

Speaker 2: Correct! Listener let our came back the song

From Hoffman’s template, it can be deduced that code mixing often results in the mixing of two codes or languages without a change of topic. Code mixing often occurs within one sentence, one element is spoken in language A and the rest in language B. In addition, Nababan (2003) insisted that code mixing is found mainly in informal interactions. In formal situation, the speaker tends to mix it because there is no exact idiom in that language, so it is necessary to use words or idioms from other language.

Hoffman (1991) further showed types code mixing based on the juncture or the scope of switching where language takes place. Those are intra-sentential code mixing, intra lexical code mixing, and that which involves a change of pronunciation. Intra-sentential code mixing occurs within a phrase, a clause or a sentence boundary, as when a French-English bilingual says: “I started going like this. Y luegodecla (and then he said), look at the smoke coming out my fingers.” Another example is from Wardaugh (1986:108) “Estaba training Para pelar” : “He was training to fight.” In the case of intra-lexical code mixing, it occurs within a word boundary, such as in sapper (English Shop with the Panjabi plural ending) or Ku enjoy (English enjoy with the Swahili prefix Ku, meaning ‘to’).

The basic difference between code switching and code mixing is that code mixing occurs when speakers mix/insert foreign words (other code) in the dominant language used, yes including the use of foreign terms that appear intellect.While code switching, speakers change the language used to code the others (including diversity) for consideration


a.                       The other person,           

b.                  Speakers themselves,

c.                   The presence of three speakers (e.g., between English keep Sumatran, they transfer the code to Indonesian language)

d.                  Relate a sense of humour, or

e.                   Increase the prestige.


The same of code switching and code mixing is that they        commonly occur in a multilingual society in using two languages or more. The difference over the code (code switching) occurs between the language used is an autonomous individual, a conscious and deliberate, specific causes, while the mixed code (code mixing) occurs in a primary code or code base used has function and autonomy, while other code involved in the use of such language is in pieces, without function and autonomy as a code. Code Mixing involves mixing of words, phrases, clauses or complete sentences of two languages or varieties. Code Switching on the other hand is at play when speakers switch from one language to another to create a special effect. Code-mixing and switching are sociolinguistic features of a multilingual society.  In this study, code-mixing is subsumed under code-switching while the latter will be used as a generic term for all forms of code alternates.


Data were sourced randomly from sellers and buyers from diverse socio-cultural background. The longitudinal survey research method was adopted for this research, making it easier to have a proper understanding and description of the responses from the sampled population. The participants were 11 in number drawn from Nyanya and Mararaba market. Eight conversations were involved, three of which featured three discussants while the remaining six was made up of two speaker/hearers, each. Participants were bilinguals with competence in more than one language including English and Pidgin, which is treated as a variant of English. Eighty-one indiscriminate audio-recordings were made out of which 20 conversations with clarity of speech while taking cognizance of national spread were analysed  using Hoffman model on code-switching.

Presentation of Data

Excerpts 1:

Buyer: Hello Ma

Seller: Good afternoon

Buyer: Good afternoon, my sister. Se e ta?

Seller: Adupe. Family nko?

Buyer: We are fine. Ese. … eeneen, elo le n ta kobiowurice?

Seller: Kobiowuabibag? Bag is better. Kobiowumesan lo waninuhalf-bag.

Buyer: Mo mon! I am just thinking of the cost. Everybody lo mope countrywa easy laigbo do so kan’oku.

Excerpts 2:     

Buyer: Good evening

Seller: Evening

Buyer: How much is that bread?

Seller: N400

Buyer: Na waoh! You nor get N200 own?

Seller: E don finish. Take it N350

Buyer: Ok! Gee me nylon make I put am.

Seller: Take (nylon and money exchanged hands)

Excerpts 3

Buyer: Aboki, Good morning

Seller: Mama, Mama, how far now?

Buyer: You no give me change yesterday.

Seller: Wetin you wan buy?

Buyer: Give me my change before anything else. I need Milo. Wait first. You get Forever Yam? You get am? I go buy am tomorrow.

Excerpts 4

Buyer: Ina kuana?

Seller: Good morning

Buyer: You did not open yesterday (the seller appeared not have understood the

speaker. He looked confused).

(Gesticulating) You no open shop yesterday.

Seller: Ba turanci! (there was a momentary stalemate until an Hausa bilingual came to the rescue).

Speaker C:(Addressing the buyer) How are you? Minnini?Wetin you want? Dis one e nor hear English.

Excerpts 5

Buyer: Good afternoon! I want to buy kulikuli.

Seller: (The seller was attending to a customer (C) who had arrived earlier). Wait make I finish. (Addressing the other customer having concluded transaction with him) Odabo. E kile o.

Speaker C:Won a gbo.

Buyer: Yoruba ni yin?

Seller:             Yes o. Original Yoruba. Ki le le fera?

Buyer: Kulikuliatigarri. Efun mi ni sugaratisatchet Milo. Elo lo j

Seller: That should beN300 altogether.

Buyer: Ok! No problem (hands a five hundred naira note to the buyer)!! E fun mi nichange.

Seller: I’m coming. Take. Thank you.

Excerpts 6

Buyer: Hello! Who’s here?

Seller: (Running from a nearby kiosk) Sorry, Anty no vex! Na change I go look for.

Speaker C:Enieleni. E eri to n mi helehele.

Buyer:             Do you have Eris?

Speaker C: E wo Sister, Eris tisu mi o. E je kara Titus.

Seller:Eleyina fine. Oloun, try am make you see.

Buyer: (Addressing Speaker C) Je k’aramejeeji. (To the seller). Just give us both of them. One kilo each. How much? Se e mop e ikannaniwa?

Seller: E san seven thousand.

Excerpts 7

Buyer: The sun is hot here!

Seller: Se eginni?

Speaker C:No be you.

Buyer: Good morning!

Seller: Morning my sister.

Buyer: I beg select better blacksoup ingredients for me. Include okporukuinside. How much dat one go come be?

Excerpts 8

Buyer: Migwo (Genuflects)

Seller: Vrendo, Maga re?

Buyer: Anty, I need starch.

Seller: E don finish. Go meet dat woman (points at a distance).

Buyer: Which one?

Seller:             Dat one wey take umbrella cofa head.

Buyer: Good evening!

Seller B:   Good evening customer

Buyer: Mama Brume say you get starch (he points at the direction of the woman who had introduced him to Seller B).

Seller B:Yes o! Na my sister (facing Seller A) Mama Brume, e se o.we kobilo. OgaHow much own you want? Oya, Come inside.



 Data Analysis and Discussions

Code-switching in Nyanya and Mararaba market manifests at both intra-sentential and inter-sentential levels for greeting, for the expression of certain lexical items and as a tool for the achievement of good commercial bargaining among the participants consequent upon which there is greater bonding and commercial dividends.

Code-switching in Greetings

Our initial observation is that market transactions especially in Mpape market are often preceded by exchange of pleasantries. In almost all the cases, greetings were usually initiated by the buyer using the English language code. At this level, there is no prior familiarity among the participants hence the preference for English which often serve as lingua franca. An exception to this is excerpts 4 and 8. In Excerpts 8,as is the pattern, the buyer who is also the talk initiator greeted the seller in the Urhobo language. The significance of this is that there had been some level of familiarity between the buyer and Seller A.

In 4, however, it was the seller who opened the conversation with a greeting in the Hausa language:

Ina kuana (Good morning)!

It is noteworthy that the response of the addressee was in English. Two things were possibly happening at this level: One, the seller may have hastily assumed that the buyer understands the Hausa language. Secondly, the trader may be a monolingual. As the exchange proceeded, the second scenario became established as it was revealed that the trader needed an Hausa bilingual to sort out the communication difficulties.

The linguistic role of greetings in market discourse is to open the exchange as well as to soften the ground for mutually beneficial commercial transaction. Whereas the buyer often use it as indirect request strategy to engage the attention of the seller, the seller through response often use greetings to warm him/herself to the buyer. It is a sign of friendliness and promotion of cordiality. At the level of opening/greetings, there is scarcely any evidence to suggest code-mixing. This is because greetings are always brief and interactional. They are prelude to the real transaction. Moreover, it is more or less the convention that the respondent will usually acknowledge greetings with the same code in which it is made. Anything to the contrary may become impolite.

It is not out of place for greetings to extend beyond initiation/response pairing in what may be referred to a singular adjacency pair. In Excerpts 1, for instance, the initiation of the dialogue began with an attention catcher: hello ma following which the greeting was done by the buyer/respondent who addressed the seller as her sister. The interactional exchange proceeded with the buyer switching at the inter-sentence level: Se eta? (meaning I hope you have made good sales?). The switch in code from English to Yoruba is probably to establish the buyer’s in-group identity, a strategy that would further endear her to the seller.

This strategy was reciprocated by the seller leading to movement from and to codes in both Yoruba and English. The seller even had to advise the buyer to buy a half-bag of rice rather than going for kobiowu, a smaller unit of measurement. This according to the seller would be more economically beneficial to the buyer on the long run. Having established mutual in-group identity, confidence and solidarity, the interlocutors exploited the linguistic possibilities which can be activated through the  phenomenon of code-switching to discuss the nation’s current affairs. This is seen in the buyer’s last turn:

Buyer:Mo mon! I am just thinking of the cost. Everybody lo mop e dis our country easy laigbo do so kan’oku.

In the above extract, the exchange has entered into commentary on the country’s state of affairs. In a mixture of varieties of codes: Standard English, Pidgin and Yoruba, the buyer expressed worry about the economic situation in the country.

Code-switching in the Expression of Peculiar Lexical Items

There are certain lexical items particularly at the market place that do not have equivalent in the English language and in the alternative language of a bilingual. In such situation, language users often switch code to the particular language in which such item is readily available. It may also be the case a particular item has gained wider currency and usage in which case users will give it preference in the course of conversation. This has been established in the study. Let us consider the extract from Excerpts 1:

 Seller: Kobiowu abi bag? Bag is better. Kobiowu mesan lo wa ninu half-bag.

Two words, kobiowu and bag are both items of measurement. They are a sort of synonyms with the latter able to contain more items than the other. Kobiowu, a Yoruba word is a deep stainless steel or its rubber equivalent which is used as unit of measure for grains and other powdery substances with fees attached to each measure. Notwithstanding that the word originated from Yoruba, it has gained currency beyond the Southwest as was used by the seller in this particular instance. No English word will succinctly capture kobiowu for the expression of that particular meaning. “Bag” on the other hand is English and its use widespread on a national scale.

Excerpts 5 featured four words as may be seen in the speech below:

Buyer:            Kulikuli ati garri. Efun mi ni sugar ati satchet Milo. Elo lo je?

Kulikuli is originally a Nupe, northern Nigerian word. Kulikuli is a sweet oily groundnut cake moulded either in a ring, ball or straight-shaped form which may be consumed as part of garri flakes. Garri, which is in powdery, form is a derivative of cassava tubers. The point here is that kulikuli is in complementary demand with garri, hence both were demanded for, simultaneously. Like kobiowu, there is hardly another code for kulikuli and garri in Nigeria.

In the same Excerpts 5, “sugar” and “satchet” are English words that remain popular across social divides.  These words have retained there forms since their meanings are accessible across regional and social divides. This is also the situation in Excerpts 6 which featured “Titus” and “Eris”, being nickname for some variant of frozen fish in Southwest, Nigeria. The fish are of different taste and quality, a situation that demands that they be given distinct name for easy identification. While “fish” is a general name for these products, “Titus” and “Eris” are the local names and a convenient label that places no burden of searching for equivalent code from other language on the users in Mpape market as in other markets in Nigeria.

In Excerpts 7, “pepper-soup” and okporoko present interesting reading. Pepper-soup is a kind of delicacy so named because of the aggravated level of peppery substances. The word “pepper-soup” is traceable to the Nigerian Pidgin with hardly a lexical substitute in English. Okporoko, on the other hand is an ingredient for preparing variety of soup. The word is rooted in Igbo. In the market situation, any mention of either “pepper-soup” or okporokois made as they appear in the data for this study. The words are convenient as their meaning is accessible to virtually all categories of language user hence they are bound to prompt users to switch code intermittently depending on the lexical needs of the users.

“Change” (pronounced as changi, as used in Excerpts 5 is a lexical word in Nigeria English which is used to denote the balance payable to the buyer who presents a denomination that is higher than the value of purchase.

Buyer:            Ok! No problem (hands a five hundred naira note to the buyer)!! E fun mi ni change.

This being the case, whenever words such as kulikuli, bag, kobiowu, sugar, Titus, Eris, change, sachet, customer, “pepper-soup” or okporoko, etc. are in use, speakers are bound to alternate from one code to the other for the expression of easily comprehensible meaning with no handy equivalent in other codes. Moreover, these codes have gained popularity and acceptability among users of various sub-nationalities. Since their usage is mostly at the lexical level, code-switching at this level is essentially intra-sentential.

Finally, the aforementioned words will see speaker using more than two languages. The words as they are representative of several languages: Yoruba, Nupe/Hausa, Pidgin and English.

Code-switching as Instrument of Commercial Bargaining

Whereas it is the intention of traders to maximize profit, buyers on the other hand seek to have value for their money. Code-switching is often used as a linguistic strategy by buyers and sellers for negotiating in-group membership and bonding. Language is an instrument of solidarity and ethnic affiliation hence, individuals who speak the same language often see one another as brother and sister. It is for this purpose that market discourse often includes codes from the indigenous languages of their interlocutors. This is illustrated below:

Buyer: Good afternoon, my sister, Se e ta?

Seller:  Adupe. Family nko?

Buyer: We are fine. Ese. … eeneen, elo le n ta kobiowu rice?

Seller:  Kobiowu abi bag? Bag is better. Kobiowu mesan lo wa ninu half-bag.

The above extract from Excerpts 1 is demonstrative of a speaker who wished to notify the seller of her affiliation to the addressee. The italicised utterances following the opening greetings “good afternoon” in line 1 is made in Yoruba code for that purpose. Se e ta was meant to seek the well-being and the sales prospect of the seller, a gesture that was reciprocated by the addressee in the response:

Seller: A dupe. Family nko? (Thanks, how is the family?).

 The switch in code from English to Yoruba for interactional purposes yielded dividend when the seller counselled the buyer on how she could have better value for her money.


Buyer: We are fine. Ese. … eeneen, elo le n ta kobiowu rice?

Seller: Kobiowu abi bag? Bag is better. Kobiowu mesan lo wa ninu half-bag.


The buyer had sought to buy rice in kobiowu, a smaller unit of measurement whereas the seller advised that she should consider buying in bags for better returns. This is a win-win situation for both bilinguals as the trader in turn will make more marginal profit on the account of the increased number of units of kobiowu that would be bought.

The use of indigenous code for code-mixture as a strategy of unity and inclusiveness was also demonstrated in Excerpts 5.

Excerpts 5

Buyer: Good afternoon! I want to buy kulikuli.

Seller:(The seller was attending to a customer (C) who had arrived earlier). Wait make I  Finish. (Addressing the other customer having concluded transaction with him) Odabo. E kile o.

Speaker C:Won a gbo.

Buyer: Yoruba ni yin?

Seller: Yes o. Original Yoruba. Ki le le fera?

Buyer: Kulikuli ati garri. Efun mi ni sugar ati satchet Milo. Elo lo je?


As soon as the buyer knew that the seller was Yoruba following the latter’s conversation with the outgoing buyer, she gladly introduced the Yoruba code into the conversation. The seller had bid the departing buy Odabo. E kile o. (Goodbye! Regards to your family) to which the addressee (Speaker C) had replied: Won a gbo. Or “I will”. The exchange between the seller and the previous buyer (Speaker C) provided a clue as to the bilingual and ethnic status of the seller as was further confirmed by the buyer as was affirmed by the seller in the pair below:


Buyer: Yoruba ni yin? (Are you Yoruba?)

Seller: Yes o. Original Yoruba. Ki le le fera? (What did you say you wish to buy?)

The confirmation was quickly followed by the transactional component of the encounter:

Ki le le fera?

The establishment of a common linguistic ground between the two of them was probably the reason why there was no difficulty in providing “change”, being an appropriate currency denomination, for the transaction.

The establishment of a common linguistic ground notably in the indigenous code as part of the available codes to a bilingual was beneficial to the buyer who had wanted to buy starch from a seller whose stock had been exhausted. This example is drawn from Excerpts 8:


Buyer:M’igwo (Genuflects)

Seller:Vrendo, Maga re?

Buyer:Anty, I need starch.

Seller:E don finish. Go meet dat woman (points at a distance).

Having demonstrated solidarity with the seller using the Urhobo code to which the latter responded, the buyer’s desire was met notwithstanding that the seller had run out of stock. The rapport which opened with the initial pair of greeting/response was consolidated with positive politeness, Anty, a strategy of further warming-up to the seller. The rapport between the prospective buyer and seller was invoked when the buyer got to the other trader who had starch in stock. Seller B was equally willing to extend hospitality to the buyer who had been recommended to her by a co-trader whom she called “my sister”, another positive politeness strategy.


Buyer:Mama Brume say you get starch (he points at the direction of the woman who had introduced him to Seller B).

Seller B:Yes o! Na my sister (facing Seller A) Mama Brume, e se o.we kobilo. Oga How much own you want? Oya, Come inside.


In conclusion, whereas the English language is the common means of communication in the market, codes of other languages are mixed for the purpose of getting good bargaining for both buyers and sellers.


This study investigated code-switching as part of linguistic practices of market participants with the revelation that code-switching manifests at intra-sentential and inter-sentential levels for greetings, for the expression of certain market lexical items and as tools for negotiating ideal commercial bargaining. This situation is exploited by buyers and sellers who use code-switching and code-mixing as part of the strategies for courting and bonding with the buyer or seller for the purpose of good bargaining. Remarkably, code-switching and code-mixing are not negative linguistic habits but are borne out of the imperative of giving expression to the worldview of market participants which may not be adequately accommodated by other interfacing languages. Code-switching is an eye-opening phenomenon that may be exploited for the promotion of competing languages in a multilingual setting.



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