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  • Humboldt Fellow Dr. Ezekiel Olajimbiti: The secret language of street children.

Humboldt Fellow Dr. Ezekiel Olajimbiti: The secret language of street children.

2021-11-21 The Nigerian linguist is conducting research as a visiting scholar at the Insitute of English Studies. He wants to decode constructed gang identities and thus re-engage with the neglected children of his homeland.

Ezekiel Olajimbiti in front of the Libeskind building ©Leuphana/Marie Meyer
"I can build up an international network. You remain a Humboldt Fellow for life."

More than ten million children in Nigeria are out of school. Many of them live on the street. Reasons are manifold: their parents have no money, can hardly solve their own problems, or have died. The state does not show serious concern and care for the children - neither financially nor ideally. Many find a new family and identity in street gangs. The young people beg, steal, take and sell drugs or prostitute themselves. Nigeria's cities are becoming increasingly unsafe, the crime rate is rising. Police and aid organisations are trying to improve the situation, but it is almost impossible for them to reach the children and young people and break up structures. The gangs use their own linguistic code, which on the one hand enables covert communication among themselves and on the other hand creates identity and solidarity within the group. Linguist Dr. Ezekiel Olajimbiti sees the deciphering of the gang code as an important means to get in touch with the street children. "Previous studies have largely focused on intervention programmes and coping mechanisms from sociological, clinical, anthropological and psychological perspectives. Few studies on discourse analysis of street children have examined gender, metaphors, labelling and the language of representations, leaving aside the specificity of their code, which can shed light on how they construct deviance and street identity through their discourses," explains Ezekiel Olajimbiti. The scholar most recently conducted research on discourse analysis of gang language at Federal University Lokoja in Nigeria and will continue his research as a visiting scholar at the Insitute of English Studies for the next two years. During this time, Ezekiel Olajimbiti will be supported by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation as a George Forster Research Fellow. The fellowship provides him with financial and non-material support: "I can build up an international network. You remain a Humboldt Fellow for life," says the scientist. He deliberately chose Leuphana and the Institute of English Studies: "I am convinced by Professor Anne Barron's methodological approach to discourse analysis, pragmatics and sociolinguistics," says Ezekiel Olajimbiti. Another decisive factor in his decision to come to the University of Lüneburg was the Laguage-in-Action Lab. The language lab offers researchers and students technical support and methodological advice in the collection and analysis of linguistic data. It is run by the Chair of English Linguistics and cooperates with Leuphana's Method Centre.

Ezekiel Olajimbiti's research focuses on children's representations and language, media, and internet pragmatics at the intersection of pragmatics and discourse analysis and semantics. "I want to decode the linguistic code of Nigerian street children to help reduce crime and promote a peaceful, inclusive society. By understanding the children's argot and constructed street identities, we can also contextualise their socio-cultural experiences and their associated ideological implications. The findings are not only important for the situation in Nigeria but other developing countries where the menace of street children is prevalent."

Ezekiel Olajimbiti studied sociolingustics at the University of Ado-Ekiti/Nigeria. In his master's and doctoral studies at the University of Ibadan/Nigeria, he focused on discourse analysis and pragmatics. Teaching and research visits have taken him to Elizade University and the University of Ibadan, among others. Since 2019, he has been teaching at the Federal University of Lokoja/Nigeria in the Department of English and Literary Studies. Ezekiel Olajimbiti has received various awards including Ekiti State Government Scholarship Award 2008 for best undergraduate performance, Ekiti State Government Scholarship Award 2013 for outstanding postgraduate and British Writing Training Award on Childhood Studies from the British Council, at the University of Ghana, Legon. From 2021 to 2023, he will be funded by the - Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. The fellowship is aimed at experienced researchers, especially from the global south.


  • Prof. Dr. Anne Barron
  • Dr. Ezekiel Opeyemi Olajimbiti