"WR6_gUnUj-ztiW07KQcOCnTel9A"/> Notes From Atlanta: 09/29/10

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Reader Feedback and My Responses

By Farooq A. Kperogi

Over the past few weeks, I've received some insightful email and Facebook responses to my previous articles. Most of these came in the form of contestations or request for elaboration on some of my claims. I have reproduced some of these below. My responses follow in italics.

It’s "treated tanker water," not "treated water tanker"

Just saw your column on The Politics Of Grammer [sic]. That question "treated water tanker" or "treated tanker water"? The correct one is actually "treated tanker water," not "treated water tanker."

'Water tanker' means you're talking about the tanker, but using the water it carries to qualify it. So, it's like 'the tanker that carries water'.  'Tanker water' means you're talking about the water, but using the tanker to qualify the water. That's to say, 'the water inside the tanker'. So, 'treated water tanker' means treated tanker carrying water. While 'treated tanker water' means treated water inside the tanker.

Please cross-check in dictionaries and other materials to clarify. And thank you for your efforts in up-grading the fast declining English grammer [sic] of the Nigerian populace.

My Response

Thanks for your feedback. Well, it all depends on what you mean. If, as you rightly pointed out, your point of reference is the water, then “treated tanker water” could be defensible, although, as I will show shortly, it’s unidiomatic. However, if you’re talking about the carrier of the water, then “treated water tanker” is the only correct way to say it. I understood my questioner as asking about the tanker, not the water.

 Having said that, it’s worth mentioning that there is no where in the English-speaking world where people use the phrase “treated tanker water.” It’s not because it’s grammatically inaccurate; it’s because it’s functionally purposeless and unidiomatic. Note that the usual phrase for a tanker that carries water is “water tanker.” It’s a collocation, that is, a grouping of words that almost always co-occurs in a sentence. The word “treated” (that is,subjected to a chemical treatment, action or agent”) is the only real adjective in the phrase and it functions to qualify the collocation “water tanker.”  Again, my sense is that when people think of a truck carrying water, they think in terms of the whole vehicle (thus, “treated water tanker”) rather than the water and the vehicle in isolation (which could justify the phrase “treated tanker water”).

But more than that, type the phrase “treated tanker water” on Google, insert quotation marks around it and see if anything will come up. Well, when I did, the only results that came up were my columns on the subject. On Yahoo! search, there was zero result. But “treated water tanker” generated three results on Google (not including the result from my columns) and six matches on Yahoo! search.

What does all this tell us? First, that both phrases are rarely used outside Nigeria and that the phrase “treated tanker water” is, in fact, never used anywhere, although it’s not grammatically wrong. It is easy to tell why this is the case: people in native-speaker English environments have no need for tankers that carry drinking water; that’s a Third World peculiarity. Tap and bottled water are the usual sources of drinking water for people in these environments. In cases where tankers carry water, it’s mostly for purposes other than drinking. As I've stated here many times, there is always a relationship between people’s language and their material reality.

Sierra Leoneans also call black-eyed peas beans

“If a son shall ask bread of any of you that is a father, will he give him a stone? Or if he asks a fish, will he for a fish give him a serpent?”

Well, once in Ghana, I told JC a fellow student that I needed “some bread” whereupon he betook himself to take me all the way from the dining Hall to his room in Commonwealth Hall and there he handed over to me a few slices of bread. But a little bit of cash [was] what I had really meant, and so all my hopes were dashed. JC the generous later joined the Ghanaian military.

Soul food has its own special language and one has to be specific. As a first-timer I would have fallen into the same error as your big shot.

“Nigerians are about the only people in the English-speaking world who call black-eyed peas beans”? You're almost right about the only people and could include the people of Sierra Leone too for whom black-eyed peas belong to the category of “binch” ( Krio/ Creole word meaning beans) and the Sierra Leone cuisine has incorporated some of  the Yoruba delicacies such as moin-moin ( my favourite) and a kind of bean cake called “akra” or “Akara” which dear Doctor  of Etymology, I don't think derives from Accra, which is the capital of Ghana, although it is also consumed in that city...."

My response

Thanks for letting me—and my readers— know that Sierra Leoneans also call “black-eyed peas” beans. I guess it’s a West African thing. Plus, Sierra Leone (especially Free Town) and Nigeria are intimately interlinked historically, linguistically, and culturally.

I was emboldened to say that Nigerians were about the only people who called black-eyed peas beans because several of my Ghanaian friends assured me that in Ghanaian English the two legumes were often clearly differentiated. Since Ghanaian and Nigerian English share so many common features, I thought Nigerian English was in lonely company this time around. But I am now dubious of my Ghanaian friends’ assurances. 

 I will find out from my Gambian and Liberian friends if they too call black-eyed peas beans. I know that we call many foods by the same name in Anglophone West Africa. For instance, we all call pea nut “groundnut.”




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17. Semantic Change and the Politics of English Pronunciation

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