Watching a cover of Rihanna’s “Man Down” yesterday, I noticed something curious: one of the girls in the video pronounced the word “man” with a familiar consistency. I became intrigued and went to see other videos by the young ladies. Eventually I found one in which they answered questions from their fans, and I got what I was looking for. They were born to Nigerian parents, raised partly in Nigeria and in the United States. It’s unmistakable. That pronunciation of “man” in the video is of someone who has lived in Nigeria at one point or the other in their life. Watch the song cover here.

The last time something like this happened to me was four weeks ago on the streets of Chicago. “Are you from Nigeria?” I asked the taxi driver who had spoken just a few words to me through the window as I complained that his fares were too exorbitant. “Yes, in fact,” he responded, to the astonishment of my company. “There was something in his pronunciation,” I told her later. It turned out that the man had grown up in Nigeria but had lived in Chicago since 1979. Like her, he was also astonished to hear that I had guessed his nationality from just a few words in a big city.

There are some very distinct peculiarities in Nigerian English pronunciations observable usually only to compatriots, residents or regular visitors. This must be why all comedic imitations of African speech by American actors seem to be funnier (or sillier, depending on how you look at it) for being too inaccurately generic. (Chris Tucker does another one of those impressions at the end of this video, and Steve Havey in this one.)

PS: Here is a related video in which we played around with the perceptible difference in “man” on a Nigerian or an American tongue.

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