"WR6_gUnUj-ztiW07KQcOCnTel9A"/> Notes From Atlanta: Q and A on African English and Common Usage Errors

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Q and A on African English and Common Usage Errors

Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

This week’s Q and A is based on questions and comments I received from a Kenyan and two Nigerian readers of this column. I will publish the rest in the coming weeks. Keep sending your questions.

Question:
Many of the examples you give English usage errors are also found in other African countries. One common English expression in Kenya that always drives me crazy is: "he resulted to" instead of "he resorted to." What do you think of the expression "he painted him to a corner?" This expression drives me crazy, too. It is quite common in Kenyan English.

Answer:
I have been thinking of doing an exploratory comparative analysis of “African Englishes.” But the thought of the sheer labyrinthine complexity such an undertaking would entail frightens me into impotence. You are now giving me the inspiration to summon the pluck to do it.

But these are my preliminary thoughts on your comments: It seems to me that we can isolate and map African Englishes and show their similarities, differences, and continuities. The varieties of English spoken in Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania seem to share enough similarities to warrant being grouped as "East African English." The English spoken in Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra Leone, and the Gambia has traditionally been labeled "West African English" in the scholarly literature.

 For historical reasons, Nigerian English and Ghanaian English are particularly sufficiently proximate in lexis and structure to deserve being called close linguistic cousins. Many, perhaps most, of Ghana's high school English teachers in the 1960s were Nigerians, and most of Nigeria's high school English teachers in the 1970s and the 1980s were Ghanaians. (For instance, most of my English teachers in the first two years of my high school education in Nigeria were Ghanaians). So it's easy to see why the varieties of English spoken in the two countries are robustly similar. Liberian English, because of its American heritage, is a West African outlier, although it has had a lot of Nigerian influence lately. 

Now Nigerian home movies appear to be spreading Nigerian English across West Africa, perhaps across all of Anglophone Africa. 

I know very little about Southern African English, i.e., the English spoken in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, Namibia, etc. But I expect them to share many similarities.

I find your examples of Kenyan English usage interesting. Some of my British grammarian friends tell me that the "result to/resort to" error is also present in British English. I have also encountered it a number of times in Nigerian newspapers. So it's not uniquely Kenyan. But it is completely absent in American English, as far as I know, because Americans roll their r's [“resort” is pronounced “resoRt”] and so don't have a reason to confuse "resort" with "result."

To "paint oneself or somebody into a corner," that is, to put oneself or somebody in a difficult situation, is a time-honored American English idiom. So the expression "he painted him into a corner" is legitimate. Kenyan English only missed the preposition "in" in their version of the idiom.

Question/Comment:
There are many annoying, obviously grammatically wrong expressions that Nigerians keep repeating. A good example is the phrase “media practitioners.” For goodness sake, how can one practice media?

Answer

"Media practitioner" is a perfectly legitimate and correct expression. The phrase is also widely used in British and American English. I am aware, of course, that some language columnists in Nigerian newspapers say it’s wrong. But they are mistaken. They are guilty of the grammatical offense of “hypercorrection,” that is, a grammatical mistake caused by a false analogy. As I am writing this, there is a book on my shelf titled
Applied Mass Communication Theory: A Guide for Media Practitioners. It is written by two respected American professors of journalism and mass communication by the names of Jack Rosenberry and Lauren Vicker and it was published in 2008 by Allyn & Bacon, a well-regarded American publishing company. So, yes, one can practice media.

      Question:
Please Dr., I’ve these problems that keep recurring in my everyday written and spoken English and I don’t know how to overcome them. The problems are when and how to use “has,” “have,” and “had.” The second is the difference between “been” and “being.” To be honest, I tried the best I could but to no avail.

Answer:
Here is a quick, easily digestible answer to your questions. "Have" is a verb that always goes with plural nouns. Examples: “People HAVE been here," "Ten people HAVE asked me the same question," "Many things HAVE happened today," etc. But there are exceptions: "Have" also goes with "You" and "I" even if "you" is used in a singular sense. Examples: "I HAVE a nice car," "You HAVE been nice to me," etc.

"Have" is also the only acceptable form to use after auxiliary verbs like "shall/should," "can/could," "will/would" even when the subject of a sentence is singular. Examples: "It should HAVE been here by now," He could HAVE gone there," "She would HAVE to come here," etc.

"Has," on the other hand, is always used with singular nouns. It is the opposite, or more correctly the singular form, of "have." Examples: "He HAS been here," "one person HAS asked me the same question," "one thing HAS happened today," etc.

"Had" is the past tense of both “has" and "have."

The best way to know the difference between "been" and "being" is to remember that "been" ONLY appears where the verbs "have," "has," "had," and “having” are in a sentence. If none of these words is in a sentence, use only "being." Examples: "He has been nice to me." Compare to: "He is being nice to me."

Related Articles:
1. A Comparison of Nigerian, American and British English
2. Why is "Sentiment" Such a Bad Word in Nigeria?
3. Ambassador Aminchi's Impossible Grammatical Logic
4. 10 Most Annoying Nigerian Media English Expressions
5. Sambawa and "Peasant Attitude to Governance"
6. Adverbial and Adjectival Abuse in Nigerian English
7. In Defense of "Flashing" and Other Nigerianisms
8. Weird Words We're Wedded to in Nigerian English
9. American English or British English?
10. Hypercorrection in Nigerian English
11. Nigerianisms, Americanisms, Briticisms and Communication Breakdown
12. Top 10 Irritating Errors in American English
13. Nigerian Editors Killing Macebuh Twice with Bad Grammar
14. On "Metaphors" and "Puns" in Nigerian English
15. Common Errors of Pluralization in Nigerian English
16. Q & A About Common Grammatical Problems
17. Semantic Change and the Politics of English Pronunciation

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