The following post, which is a selection of reader responses to my column and my answers, first appeared in the Weekly Trust on January 20, 2007.
Farooq A. Kperogi
In my tradition of allowing my readers to speak back to me—and to other readers of this column— I have decided to publish some of the responses I have received to my last series. Some of them are edited for space and clarity, but the opinions are untouched. My editorial interventions in the letters are indicated in square brackets and my responses, where they are provided, appear in italics.
Northern and Southern pronunciations
I very much enjoyed your piece on the Green Card holders you have met. It’s unfortunate for the man who is a graduate of OAU, Ife. You know [Americans] are right. A Third World country must definitely produce a Third World degree.
And one thing [about] the people of southern Nigeria is that their spoken English is not very good. However, they keep thinking that they are the best. [They are] very ignorant until they happen to be in the white man’s land when they know [the truth]. A southerner here will pronounce “mother” as “murder” and “occur” (correctly pronounced as something like “occa”) as “occo,” “doctor” (pronounced “docta”) as “docto,” and so on.
On many occasions, you will see President Obasanjo addressing the English-speaking white people who most times resort to using translators fixed to their ears [rather] than listen to him directly. I really don’t understand. What is the factor governing the difference in [pronunciation] between the North and South of Nigeria when it comes to English Language?
Dahiru A. Raji (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Good observations, Dahiru, but you will be surprised to know that most Nigerian accents sound alike to most Americans. An accent is the unique, phonologically specific, culturally determined, and sometimes unconscious, way we orally express ourselves.
Pronunciation is only part of the story of an accent. You can have a perfect English pronunciation (in any case, there is no such thing as a perfect pronunciation, and that’s why pronunciation is not an ingredient of Standard English) and have the “wrong” accent.
As far as most Americans I have met are concerned, all Nigerians—whether they are southerners or northerners—have fairly the same national accent with only insignificant variations. In fact, it’s customary for Americans to talk about not just a “Nigerian accent” but also an “African accent.” Ignorant? Yes! But that’s the reality.
I have met northerners here who equally lament that Americans have difficulty understanding them when they speak “naturally.” I am not immune from that, too. No Nigerian is. So it’s not a peculiar southern Nigerian problem. It seems to me, though, that it is easier for the Brits to understand Nigerian accents than it is for Americans to do so.
As for the Simultaneous Translators (STs) that you see Western heads of state affix to their ears when our president is speaking at international forums, I don’t think your interpretation is correct. People who have STs affixed to their ears are often non-English speakers.
Well, as I have once pointed out in this column sometime in 2005, the most basic guideline to navigate the contours of American accents is to learn to roll your “r” wherever it occurs in a word (as in muRdeR), dispense with your “t’s” when they are in the middle or the end of a word and pronounce them as if they were “d’s”—or anything but a “t” sound. Which means RiTa will be pronounced as “ReeDa,” twenTy will be pronounced as “twenDy” or simply “twenNy,” thirty will be “theRDi,” etc).
Then speak slowly and enunciate clearly. Of course, in spite of this, Americans will still remind you that you have an “accent,” (as if their own accent is not a corruption of British accent, which is itself a product of multiple corruptions over generations), but you will at least be reasonably comprehensible.
This advice works for all Nigerians I have met here who have concerns about the comprehensibility of their accents. Of course, there is no such thing as a person who has “no accent.” As phonologists often remind us, “a person without an accent would be like a place without a climate.”
America, too, has homeless people
I decided to write in order to show my deepest and whole-hearted appreciation and gratitude to you for your write-ups in the Weekly Trust which I have been patronizing unfailingly for over seven years now. In fact, my weekend is dull without it!
I was particularly moved and touched by your piece(s) on the so-called Green Card, which is a new form of trans-Atlantic slavery in disguise. Those of us blindly craving to go to America should know that, that country is not a land flowing with honey and milk.
I once saw a film about the plight of homeless American couples, and at the end of the film, it was announced that there were over 3 million homeless married couples in America then. What about now? [We] should not be deluded by what is portrayed in American [movies].
Yahaya Umar, Kano, Nigeria email@example.com
Thanks Yahaya. There are still homeless people here, especially in the urban areas. According to the most recent statistics (released early this month), there were 744,000 homeless people in the United States in 2005.
California (home to Hollywood and some of the world’s richest people) was the state with the most homeless people in 2005, followed by New York, Florida, Texas and Georgia, according to the report.
The state of Nevada (of which the incredibly flashy Las Vegas is the biggest city) had about 0.68 percent of its population homeless, the highest in the country. It was followed by Rhode Island, Colorado, California and Hawaii in that order.
You’re not patriotic
I do feel compelled to respond to the article published in your column [in] the Weekly Trust of Dec. 30 to Jan. 5 titled “Nigerian Green Card holders.” It portrays the bad political, economic and social state where Nigeria is today.
However, permit me to add that it also betrays some lack of patriotism on your part. That Nigerians are rushing to get the “God given opportunity” of traveling to your so-called God’s Own country does not guarantee an automatic “better” life for them, just as you have rightly pointed out in the same write up.
Moreover, what appalls me most and, which will do any patriotic Nigerian youth, is the way you went on and on praising a country in which you are just a sojourner, and in turn castigating your country of origin, a place where you take your roots.
Have you ever paused to think of juxtaposing Visa Lottery and brain drain? Or have the goodies in the US made you so myopic that you cannot see that neocolonialism has another face now?
Our fathers were carted away at the time when they were supposed to realize and wake up to the scientific and technological challenges in their world, just like their contemporaries in other parts of the globe.
It is therefore about time Nigerians in [the] Diaspora woke up to the fact that the question of neocolonialism has changed; just as Africans are about to find some answers.
Shola Babadiya (firstname.lastname@example.org)
I honestly don’t get the point of this email. It’s mere juvenile and incoherent rant, but I guess even misguided pubescent exuberance deserves to be given an outlet for ventilation, too. By the way, Americans don’t call their country “God’s own country.” Only Nigerians do. No American I have met—from the North to the South, to the Midwest—has ever heard of that phrase.
Most of them, in fact, are often amused when I tell them that Nigerians think Americans refer to their country as “God’s own country.” The favorite phrase Americans cherish about their country is: “the land of the free and the home of the brave.” It appears four times in their national anthem.
I was so happy reading your piece a few minutes ago titled, “Nigerian Green Card holders: Catching hell in paradise? II. It was such an interesting article. I was just browsing and looking at some of the Nigerian newspapers online, and for some reasons while I was going through the archives, I came across it and it was very interesting. Thank you so much for such informative effort.
Chicago, Illinois, USA (email@example.com).
A collection of your columns
I was trying to create some sort of a collection of your articles in the Trust since when you were writing from Louisiana. It [will be] a beneficial exercise. The contribution of the guest writer last Saturday was both captivating and educating, even though he employed too many hard words.
Musa Sule Damagun, firstname.lastname@example.org
I really appreciate what you are doing in your write-ups. You inspire us academically. My heart’s desire is to get to where you are and get a Western education. I wish you the best.
Kafanchan, Kaduna State, email@example.com
Nigerian Green Card Holders in America: Catching Hell in Paradise? (I)
Nigerian Green Card Holders in America: Catching Hell in Paradise? (II)
Nigerian Green Card Holders in America: Catching Hell in Paradise? (III)