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Talking Parrots in a Country with 520 Languages

(Photo: Drew Hinshaw/Wall Street Journal)

Talking parrots are prized status symbols in Nigeria. But supplying them and distributing them to different markets profitably is a challenge. Sometimes, parrots speak unusual languages, which requires retraining and therefore extra expenses for parrot dealers. Drew Hinshaw writes for the Wall Street Journal*:

It is a decision the pet shops of Nigeria confront every time a talking bird lands in their possession. Last year, a babbling grey parrot arrived at Salisu Sani’s bird stand in this northern city.

There was only one problem. She spoke one of the country’s lesser-known tongues.

“I told her: ‘This is a rubbish language. Try my own,’ ” recalled the lifelong parrot distributor, who spent weeks teaching the animal greetings in Hausa, a more widely spoken vernacular.

Nigeria is one of the world’s easier places to buy a parrot—the garrulous birds are a status symbol for some civil servants. In traffic jams, young salesmen approach car windows holding up cages with birds inside. African greys sell for about $60.

But they sell closer to $100 if you can get them to speak.

The question is what Nigerians want their pets to say. The country’s 182 million people speak 520 different languages, according to Ethnologue, an atlas of the world’s linguistic boundaries, published by the International Linguistics Center in Dallas. Church services drag for hours as deacons translate their pastor’s sermons into three, sometimes four languages. Customer service lines begin with a plethora of options: one for English, two for Hausa, three for Yoruba, four for Igbo.

*(If blocked by a paywall, try this link.)

-via Marginal Revolution


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