“Scammer watch, eke mbo”: The pragmatics of decoding language of street children in southwestern Nigeria

31 May 2024
Room F1

“Scammer watch, eke mbo”: The pragmatics of decoding language of street children in southwestern Nigeria

The phenomenon of street children is a complex global issue, but their population and experiences in Third World countries are a cause for concern and require continuous assessment and multidisciplinary investigation. Studies have shown that street children have a unique code, not easily decipherable, through which they build a strong network of solidarity on the streets (Bajari & Kuswarno 2020; Olajimbiti 2023). This paper therefore examines the pragmatics of Nigerian street children’s language use to unpack their coded slang, which has not been adequately studied. Data were collected through participant observation and unstructured interviews with 104 street children in six southwestern states of Nigeria. These were analysed using Mey’s pragmatic act theory. Findings show that their linguistic codes manifest a two-phase mode of street culture: referential and pragmatic.  Their codes have referential values pointing to certain activities, concepts, and to some extent ingroup and out-group members as situated speech acts within the context of group-centric social relationships. Through shared social knowledge, the codes signal reflexive interpretations of activities related to solidarity and street smartness. At the pragmatic level, the codes are strategically deployed to ward off outgroup members and achieve certain intentions. The meta-level of their codes reinforces the pragmatic functions of veiling, warning, informing, and denigrating in their communicative situations. This draws pragmatic implications for intra/intercultural communication between the street and mainstream cultures, thus expanding the scope of folk-pragmatics research in Nigeria.


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