"WR6_gUnUj-ztiW07KQcOCnTel9A"/> Notes From Atlanta: 07/08/12

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Q and A on Nigerian English and Usage Rules


By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

I’ve decided to attend to some of the questions I’ve received from readers over the months. I will respond to the rest in the coming weeks. I implore readers to be patient with me. Hope you find this week’s Q and A useful.

Question:
"Long time." I hope I’m not trying to mangle American and British English into Nigerian English. Well, I since I started reading your articles, I am now always circumspect about using particular expressions that may actually just be Nigerian English.  What would you say about expressions like "Professor Farooq needs no introduction," "Time without number," "up and doing," "offhand,"  "believe you me," and “hit the nail on the head." Are these Nigerian English expressions? It is possible you have addressed them in one of your writings, but I need more explanation.  Thanks for your expected response.

Answer:
First, while there is merit in knowing what expressions are uniquely Nigerian English and what expressions have intelligibility across the different dialects of the English language, I don’t think it’s healthy to be so contemptuous of Nigerian English that you try to avoid it like a plaque. Nigerian English isn’t necessarily bad English. In fact, sometimes it is inevitable—and supremely creative.

In an earlier write-up, identified the following as the fundamental sources of Nigerian English: linguistic creativity (to express unique socio-cultural thought-processes that are absent in the standard varieties of English), British English archaisms that lost currency since the 1960s, initial usage errors fossilized over time and incorporated into our linguistic repertory, and a mishmash of British and American English.

Elsewhere, I noted: “I am a strong advocate for Nigerian English, as my previous writings on the subject show. However, my sentiment… is that Nigerian English is most justified where it invents or creatively contorts words to express unique Nigerian socio-cultural experiences that are not lexicalized in current Standard English.

“Clear cases of usage errors that are the consequence of ignorance should not be dignified as Nigerian English. They needlessly distort intelligibility in international communication in English, and in a world where time-honored spatial and temporal boundaries are collapsing at unimaginable speeds we can’t afford that kind of self-limiting linguistic insularity.”

In other words, of the four sources of Nigerian English that I identified, the only one I discourage are clearly avoidable usage errors. What I’ve set out to achieve in this column is to arm my readers with what I like to call a multi-dialectal linguistic competence in English, that is, the ability to tell Nigerian English from British English and British from American English so that they can easily navigate the contours of the linguistic environments of these varieties of English.

Speaking for myself, I sometimes consciously speak and write Nigerian English when I address Nigerian audiences. I have defended the nonstandard use of “flash” in Nigeria’s telephonic vocabulary and echoed Chinua Achebe’s wise words that any language that has the cheek to leave its primordial shores and encroach on the linguistic territory of other people should learn to come to terms with the reality that it will be domesticated.

Having said that, all the expressions you mentioned also occur in both British and American English, except that "time without number" is often rendered as "times without number." Note the plural in "times." And “long time” should be “long time, no see.” It’s a Standard English idiomatic expression that was derived from a direct translation of Chinese. That is why it is ungrammatical in English. 

Question:
Is it correct to use “extreme” and “end” in the same grammatical environment? Someone wrote: "It is pleonastic to use 'extreme' and 'end' in the same grammatical environment. Like 'reverse back', 'fellow colleagues', it is tautological, redundant or duplicative."

Answer:
That may be true, but there are many socially acceptable expressions in English that are redundant. In an earlier write-up, I wrote this: “grammar books in both Britain and America teach that the expressions ‘revert back’ and ‘return back’ are superfluous and redundant and therefore wrong. Yet these expressions are common in Nigerian and American English. 

"Well, I guess it’s because the rules are not consistent. For instance, ‘close proximity’ is clearly in the class of ‘revert back’ and ‘return back.’ But the expression is not only considered correct (the Oxford Dictionary of English, for instance, uses the sentence ‘do not operate microphones in close proximity to television sets’ in its example of how to use the word ‘proximity’), it also enjoys idiomatic status, although some writers feebly object to it. There are many such redundant fixed phrases in English—such as ‘aid and abet,’ ‘part and parcel,’ ‘any and all,’ ‘one and all’— which are strangely not socially disfavored.”

But “extreme end,” from my perspective, isn't redundant since an "end" is sometimes a continuum, that is, a continuous succession in which no part or portion is distinct or distinguishable from adjacent parts. So, for instance, we might regard the end of colonialism in Nigeria as beginning from the late 50s and ending in the early 60s. We can legitimately say that the extreme end of colonialism in Nigeria is 1960. Extreme end indicates the very last of the continuum.

Question:
What is the difference between a Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and a Managing Director (MD)? Some organizations in Nigeria use both titles for different officers. Is that correct?

Answer:
Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director mean one and the same thing. Well, except that CEO is the preferred American expression for the overall boss of a firm or a corporation, and Managing Director is the preferred British English expression for the same position. However, it is entirely legitimate for Nigerians to domesticate these titles and imbue them with meanings that serve their communicative purposes. Many Nigerian organizations I know that use both titles regard the CEO as superior to the MD. The trouble is that an “uninitiated” British visitor to such Nigerian companies might mistake the MD as higher than the CEO in positional hierarchy. And he would be wrong. Tough luck to him!

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
55. The Arabic Origins of Common Yoruba Words
56. Idioms, Mistranslation, and Abati's Double Standards 
57. Native English Speakers' Struggles with Grammar





Native English Speakers’ Struggles with Grammar


I saw this interesting June 19, 2012 article in the Wall Street Journal titled“This Embarrasses You and I: Grammar Gaffes Invade the Office in an Age of Informal Email, Texting and Twitter” and thought I should share it with my readers. It chronicles the violations native speakers of English commit against the rules of their language in light of social media-induced changes in the usage norms of the language. It touches on some of the errors in American English that I identified in an earlier article and provides a good prelude to the article I am working on regarding the influence of text messaging and social media on Nigerian English. Enjoy.

By Sue Shellenbarger 

When Caren Berg told colleagues at a recent staff meeting, "There's new people you should meet," her boss Don Silver broke in, says Ms. Berg, a senior vice president at a Fort Lauderdale, Fla., marketing and crisis-communications company.

"I cringe every time I hear" people misuse "is" for "are," Mr. Silver says. The company's chief operations officer, Mr. Silver also hammers interns to stop peppering sentences with "like." For years, he imposed a 25-cent fine on new hires for each offense. "I am losing the battle," he says.

Managers are fighting an epidemic of grammar gaffes in the workplace. Many of them attribute slipping skills to the informality of email, texting and Twitter where slang and shortcuts are common. Such looseness with language can create bad impressions with clients, ruin marketing materials and cause communications errors, many managers say.

There's no easy fix. Some bosses and co-workers step in to correct mistakes, while others consult business-grammar guides for help. In a survey conducted earlier this year, about 45% of 430 employers said they were increasing employee-training programs to improve employees' grammar and other skills, according to the Society for Human Resource Management and AARP.

"I'm shocked at the rampant illiteracy" on Twitter, says Bryan A. Garner, author of "Garner's Modern American Usage" and president of LawProse, a Dallas training and consulting firm. He has compiled a list of 30 examples of "uneducated English," such as saying "I could care less," instead of "I couldn't care less," or, "He expected Helen and I to help him," instead of "Helen and me."

Leslie Ferrier says she was aghast at letters employees were sending to customers at a Jersey City, N.J., hair- and skin-product marketer when she joined the firm in 2009. The letters included grammar and style mistakes and were written "as if they were speaking to a friend," says Ms. Ferrier, a human-resources executive. She had employees use templates to eliminate mistakes and started training programs in business writing.
Most participants in the Society for Human Resource Management-AARP survey blame younger workers for the skills gap. Tamara Erickson, an author and consultant on generational issues, says the problem isn't a lack of skill among 20- and 30-somethings. Accustomed to texting and social networking, "they've developed a new norm," Ms. Erickson says.

At RescueTime, for example, grammar rules have never come up. At the Seattle-based maker of personal-productivity software, most employees are in their 30s. Sincerity and clarity expressed in "140 characters and sound bytes" are seen as hallmarks of good communication—not "the king's grammar," says Jason Grimes, 38, vice president of product marketing. "Those who can be sincere, and still text and Twitter and communicate on Facebook—those are the ones who are going to succeed."

Also, some grammar rules aren't clear, leaving plenty of room for disagreement. Tom Kamenick battled fellow attorneys at a Milwaukee, Wis., public-interest law firm over use of "the Oxford comma"—an additional comma placed before the "and" or "or" in a series of nouns. Leaving it out can change the meaning of a sentence, Mr. Kamenick says: The sentence, "The greatest influences in my life are my sisters, Oprah Winfrey and Madonna," means something different from the sentence, "The greatest influences in my life are my sisters, Oprah Winfrey, and Madonna," he says. (The first sentence implies the writer has two celebrity sisters; the second says the sisters and the stars are different individuals.)

After Mr. Kamenick asserted in digital edits of briefs and papers that "I was willing to go to war on that one," he says, colleagues backed down, either because they were convinced, or "for the sake of their own sanity and workplace decorum."

Patricia T. O'Conner, author of a humorous guidebook for people who struggle with grammar, fields workplace disputes on a blog she cowrites, Grammarphobia. "These disagreements can get pretty contentious," Ms. O'Conner says. One employee complained that his boss ordered him to make a memo read, "for John and I," rather than the correct usage, "for John and me," Ms. O'Conner says.

In workplace-training programs run by Jack Appleman, a Monroe, N.Y., corporate writing instructor, "people are banging the table," yelling or high-fiving each other during grammar contests he stages, he says. "People get passionate about grammar," says Mr. Appleman, author of a book on business writing.

Christopher Telano, chief internal auditor at the New York City Health and Hospitals Corp., has employees circulate their reports to co-workers to review for accuracy and grammar, he says. He coaches auditors to use action verbs such as "verify" and "confirm" and tells them to write below a 12th-grade reading level so it can be easily understood.

Mr. Garner, the usage expert, requires all job applicants at his nine-employee firm—including people who just want to pack boxes—to pass spelling and grammar tests before he will hire them. And he requires employees to have at least two other people copy-edit and make corrections to every important email and letter that goes out.

"Twenty-five years ago it was impossible to put your hands on something that hadn't been professionally copy-edited," Mr. Garner says. "Today, it is actually hard to put your hands on something that has been professionally copy-edited."

Shellenbarger can be reached at sue.shellenbarger@wsj.com

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
55. The Arabic Origins of Common Yoruba Words
56. Idioms, Mistranslation, and Abati's Double Standards



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