"WR6_gUnUj-ztiW07KQcOCnTel9A"/> Notes From Atlanta: 02/18/10

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Reader Reactions to My People's Daily Column

I have chosen to pause this week and give space to reader reactions to various issues I raised here in the past few weeks. The reactions are as insightful as they are educative. Enjoy.

Re: Weird Words We’re Wedded to in Nigerian English
I have been trying for weeks to congratulate you for your contributions, but my mails always re-bounced...now this one is working. I very much enjoyed today's column but wanted to tell you that DEMURRAGE (fee) was very much in use after the 1973 OIL DOOM when hundreds of ships laden with cement were stranded off Lagos, because APAPA was too small and TIN CAN had not yet been built. So even the last Greek ship-owner re-mobilised his last rusty ship and sent it sailing to Nigeria only to have it 'sit' on the waves, as long as possible, so as to cash those... demurrage fees. Some people said it cost Nigeria billions. Just for info. Always tremendously enjoy your contributions.

Gerd Meuer (GerdMeuer@t-online.de)
(Oyinbo German, old boy of U.I. )

I think we in the "colonies" deserve an award for preserving original English words and protecting them from total extinction. This aside, I believe there are words that are not for everyday usage. They are rather professional terminologies used by professionals. For example, all maritime/shipping workers and people who associate with that industry know the term "demurrage". And the "estacode" is more of a bureaucratic jargon - well known to those who partake in such largess. Take for example the word "concept". Its meaning to advertising industry people is different from that of the ordinary pedestrian. The word "piece" means a feature article to a journalist or news story. But to most people it has a different meaning altogether.

My broda, dis oyinbo language im wahala too much sef!

Aliyu I. Ma’aji (aliyum@yahoo.com)

I loved your wordplay, but did want to say that I've heard parastatal before and it doesn't seem particularly recondite. The others are pretty weird...and funny. You can add one other thing: I've noticed that Nigerian pronunciation of English words often varies from American pronunciation in that words are more frequently pronounced the way they look than the way we Americans learned they are supposed to be pronounced. As there are many more Indian and Nigerian and Ghanaian etc speakers in the world, I was wondering which pronunciations would prevail over the long run, and more generally how that is historically determined.

Prof. Kenneth Harrow (harrow@msu.edu)
Dept. of English,
Michigan State University, Lansing, MI, USA

Thanks for blogging on Nigerian English consistently. I have added a link to your blog in a site I am building for "The English Language in Nigeria," a 300-level course I am currently teaching in the Department of English at UI. I will be using some of the essays to stimulate debate in my online classroom in the course.

Dr. Obododimma Oha (obodooha@gmail.com)
Dept. of English
University of Ibadan

Re: Hypercorrection in Nigerian English
In regards to your excellent and stellar article, there are a few nuances which must be clearly stated. "You and I" is not the same as "we" and "you and me" is not the same thing as "us." Both phrases allow English speakers to use specificity. In example, "The man gave us two quarters." What does this mean? Did everyone implied in the "us" received two quarters? Were the quarters shared? How many animate entities are included in the term "us?"

La Vonda R. Staples (lrstaples@gmail.com)

My Response
Maybe I didn't make my point clearly enough. I certainly didn't mean that "you and me" has the same semantic properties as "us" in all cases. I only meant that "you and me" is in the "objective mood" in the same way that "us" is, and that, in most cases, "you and me" and "us" can be interchanged where the reference is to two people only.

In your example, for instance, if the reference is to two people, it will clearly be wrong to write "the man gave you and I two quarters" because "you and I" stands for "we" and it's obviously incorrect to say "the man gave we two quarters." So the correct way to say it would be "the man gave you and me two quarters."

Of course, if the reference is to more than two people, "you and me" can't take the place of "us."

Re: American English or British English?
You have my sympathies entirely! You have been dissolved into the American soup. You couldn't have held out forever. For others who are not fully in the embrace of any one system, the mishmash of linguistic conventions continues. Some days one's spellings (and pronunciations) may be 70% American and 30% British... on other days, the reverse.

Almost makes you wish the stubborn Brits will throw in the towel in the language fisticuffs and adopt the foul Americanisms in return for the language not being renamed 'American'. All of which puts one in mind of the crisis in the Portuguese camp which has probably not died down since the Brazilian variety was officially venerated above the original version written and spoken in Portugal. (How the colonials must be turning in their graves).

Chuma Nwokolo (chuma@nwokolo.com)

When I first started learning English in middle school, the textbooks we used followed the British convention. When I first moved to the States, despite my predominantly American accent, I still would say "trousers" sometimes, pronounce the "i" in "missile" and "fragile" and swallow the last "e" in "cemetery." To this day, I'm still frustrated with words like "defence" and "practise."

Personally, I think the idea of British English being the "original" is problematic -- over the years, it also has changed (and in fact, in some instances such as in the case of "r," the American pronunciation is closer to the older version of English), and let alone that English is a language of multitude linguistic influences. However, that doesn't mean that I'm taking the side of American English (or of English in general as a "global" language) just because of its omnipresence in the world (which itself is a problematic that requires critical analysis).

That said, it's funny that I read this today because during the day when the editor of Studies in the Literary Imagination, a literary journal I work with this semester, briefed me about their style preference, she emphasized that the journal uses American spellings, and one of my editing tasks is to catch British spellings! Fun.

Jin Zhao (sabinefrog@gmail.com)

It’s amazing how Americans can't even differentiate between American and British English. I have been conditioned to speak and write like a British, but I still know these variations and will definitely not regard them as errors, so also most Nigerians. But I would edit your American spellings if I were your Nigerian editor if only to show that I am also protective of British English just like you traitorously upheld American English.

Murtala Abdulrahman (sidimury@yahoo.co.uk)


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