The Sociolinguistics of a Nollywood Movie

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Dr. Emmanuel Adedayo Adedun | 11 October 2010



This article demonstrates that the use of English in Nigerian (Nollywood) movies is linguicist. Linguicism is a terminology coined by Phillipson to depict ‘’ideologies, structures, and practices which are used to legitimate, effectuate, and reproduce an unequal division of power and resources (both material and immaterial) between groups which are defined on the basis of language’’. In recent time, language scholars have focused on the functional and insightful benefits that sociolinguistic study can offer to the understanding of multilingual communities and the assumptions that govern the language choice of individuals. This has prompted the assertion that ‘when individual people shift their ways of speaking… they do it… in predictable ways that are amenable to social explanation’. Language scholars have analysed language ideology in different ways but none seems to have disagreed with the view that it is the study of how languages and linguistic styles or features come to have given social and political meanings. Lukas Bleichenbacher studied multilingualism in Hollywood movies and found that multilingualism is not considered to be a universal and mainstream phenomenon as his study indicated that movie dialogues were conducted mainly in English with minor and skeletal occurrence of other languages. He outlined a framework for the description and interpretation of how multilingual practices are represented in contemporary mainstream Hollywood movies while noting that his findings and conclusions strictly applied to multilingualism in Europe and America but that ‘’the insights gained from the work can be tested against the evidence from different sociolinguistic settings’’. This study therefore attempts to validate these findings in Nigerian context where English is used as a second language.  Bleichenbacher’s study focused on the use of other languages in a context that is almost entirely English i.e. L1 English context where movie actors are native speakers. This is in contradistinction with the Nigerian situation. In spite of so many local languages in Nigeria and in spite of the fact that English is a second language, the language dominates movie production in the country. Thus, this study examines the use of English and indigenous languages in the production of Nollywood movies and how the languages are made to index social practices.


Nollywood refers to the Nigerian film industry; the name being an adaptation of its American counterpart, Hollywood. But unlike Hollywood, Nollywood is a recent phenomenon, barely one and a half decades old. In spite of its age, the industry has made an astronomical stride and has secured global attention for itself having been declared as the world’s second largest producer of film by the United Nations.


The popularity of Nollywood films can be traced not just to the people of African descent but also to Europe, America and the Caribbean where the films are ‘’hawked’’. This popularity has resulted into insightful comments from scholars. John McCall underscores this when he says’’… it’s hard not to get excited about the Nigerian video industry, …the video industry has laid the groundwork for what might be called the Nigerian Dream – a genuine opportunity for legitimate financial success and even celebrity, open to just about anyone with talent and imagination’’. Nollywood filmmakers have applied their talent and imagination to both historical and contemporary issues as reflected in diverse themes of their movies. The themes range from religion to governance, from crime to adventure and from rural/urban living to campaigns against social vices like AIDS, corruption, prostitution, etc. These are produced as common video genres like horror, comedy, urban legend, mythic parable, romance, witchcraft, melodrama, Christian morality tale and historical epic.



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* Published in the Second Issue of Journal of Global Analysis (JGA).

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