"WR6_gUnUj-ztiW07KQcOCnTel9A"/> Notes From Atlanta: January 2013

Sunday, January 27, 2013

President Goodluck Jonathan’s Grammatical Boo-boos

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.
Twitter:@farooqkperogi

For those who don’t know, “boo-boo” is an informal American English term for “an embarrassing mistake.” Every Nigerian knows that good grammar isn’t President Goodluck Jonathan’s strong suit. I was probably the first to publicly call attention to this fact in my April 16, 2010 article about then Acting President Jonathan’s visit to the US.

 In the article, titled “Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, that was embarrassing,” I observed, among other things, that during the Q and A session at the Council on Foreign Relations, Jonathan “couldn’t articulate a coherent thought, hardly made a complete sentence, went off on inconsequential and puerile tangents, murdered basic grammar with reckless abandon, repeated trifles ad nauseam, was embarrassingly stilted, and generally looked and talked like a timid high school student struggling to remember his memorized lines in a school debate.” I concluded that he was “unfathomably clueless” and not “emotionally and socially prepared for the job of a president—yet.”

Almost three years after, the president hasn’t changed a bit.

 But his January 23, 2013 interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour (watch it below) will probably go down in the annals as his worst international outing as a president, particularly because of the insensate ferocity with which he murdered elementary rules of English grammar. 

This isn’t an attempt to ridicule the president’s deficiencies in English. Nor is it an analysis of his interview. Since I write about grammar on this blog every week, I thought it was appropriate that I use the president’s CNN interview, which millions of Nigerians watched, as a teaching moment. This is because the usage patterns of the elite of any country--especially of the president, who is the most important political and cultural figure in a country--tend to get naturalized and imitated by the general population over time. (Next week I will write about how the prominent political and cultural elite of (Anglophone) societies influence the rules of English usage). 

I have listed below some of the rankest grammatical bloopers that the president committed during the CNN interview. I have left out clumsy, semantically puzzling constructions that, in my judgment, were the consequence of the familiar, excusable pressures of impromptu dialogic exchange.

1. “Thank you.” Christiane Amanpour started the interview by saying “Goodluck Jonathan, thank you very much for joining me from Davos.” The president’s response to this courteous expression of gratitude was “thank you.”  Again, at the end of the interview when Amanpour said, “President Goodluck Jonathan, thank you for joining me,” the president responded by saying “thank you.”

 That is not the conventional response to an expression of gratitude in the English language. When someone says “thank you” to you, conversational courtesy in English requires you to respond with such fixed phrases as “you’re welcome,”  “(it’s) my pleasure,” etc. Other less familiar responses are “think nothing of it” and “don’t mention it” (which is chiefly British, although it’s now going out of circulation in contemporary British English.) In very casual contexts, it’s usual for people to say “(it’s) not a problem,” “sure,” “you bet,” “not at all,” “any time,” etc.

It is neither conventional nor idiomatic to say “thank you” to a “thank you.”

2. “Committed to work with….” In response to a question about the insurgency in Mali, President Jonathan said, “And that is why the Nigerian government is totally committed to work with other nationals, other friendly governments to make sure that we contain the problems in Mali.” In grammar, the verb that comes after “committed to” is always in the progressive tense, that is, it always takes an “ing” form. So the president should properly say “we are totally committed to working with…”

3. Subject-verb agreement.  This rule states that a singular subject agrees with a singular verb (that is, a verb with an “s” at the end) and a plural subject agrees with a plural verb (that is, a verb without an “s” at the end.) It is obvious that the president has a continuing challenge with subject-verb agreement. This comes out clearly in all his media interviews and extempore speeches. For instance, in response to a journalist’s question about the Libyan crisis during a “State of the Nation” media chat in 2011, the president famously said, “Libyan crisis is like a pot of water dropped and everything scatter.”
 
Of course, it should properly be “everything scatters” since “everything” is a singular subject that always agrees with a singular verb. Perhaps, the president was interlarding his speech with Nigerian Pidgin English (where the phrase “everything scatter scatter,” popularized by Nigerian pop singer Eedris Abdulkareem, is standard and means “everything is upside down.”)

 But during the Amanpour interview, in response to another question on Libya, the president again said, “the issue of Libya try to create more problems in the sub region.” Well, it should be “the issue of Libya tries to create…” because “the issue,” which modifies the verb in the sentence, is a singular subject. The president clearly has not the vaguest idea what subject-verb agreement means.

4. “Ghaddafi was thrown.” Who threw Ghaddafi? From where was he thrown? The president probably meant to say “Ghaddafi was overthrown.” 

5. “Weapons enter into hands of non-state actors.” This is undoubtedly Nigerian Pidgin English where “enter” functions as a catch-all verb for a whole host of things, such as “enter a bike” (for “ride a bike”), “enter ya shoes” (for “wear your shoes”), etc. The president meant to say “weapons got into the hands of non-state actors.”

6. “And I have said it severally…” Here, the president fell into a popular Nigerian English error: the misuse of “severally” to mean “several times.”  This is what I wrote in a previous article titled “Adverbial and Adjectival Abuse in Nigerian English”:  “Perhaps the trickiest of the adverbs we misuse is the word ‘severally.’ We often use the word as if it meant ‘several times.’ It is typical for Nigerians to say ‘I have told you severally that I don’t like that!’ or ‘I have been severally arrested by the police.’ In Standard English, however, ‘severally’ does not mean ‘several times’; it only means individually, singly, independently, without others, etc., as in ‘the clothes were hung severally.’ This means the clothes are apart from each other and don’t touch each other. Strikingly odd, not so?”

7. “They should try and filter the truth.” This is the full context of this odd sentence: Amanpour told President Jonathan that the US State Department has said that police brutality has killed more Nigerians than Boko Haram has. This outraged the president who said the following in response: “The State Department from the United States they have, they have the means of knowing the truth. They should try and filter the truth.”

Now, to filter (out) is to “remove or separate (suspended particles, wavelengths of radiation, etc.) from (a liquid, gas, radiation, etc.) by the action of a filter.” Example:  “Filter out the impurities.” By metaphorical extension, if someone “filters the truth,” as President Jonathan is urging the US State Department to do, they are actually removing the truth which, in essence, means they are lying. In other words, Jonathan is asking the US government to ignore the truth and embrace falsehood. Of course, that is not what he meant. But that is what he comes across as saying.

8. “…before the bulb can light.” This is a semantically and structurally awkward construction. It’s probably the translation of the president’s native language, which is fine. But it is confusing for people who don’t speak his language. You can light a bulb with something, such as a battery, but can a bulb “light”? The bulb has no agency. Perhaps, the president meant to say “before the bulb can light up.” Light up is a fixed verb phrase.

 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 
58. Q and A on Nigerian English and Usage Rules
59. Of Yoruba, Arabic, and Origins of Nigerian Languages
60. Language Families in Nigeria
61. Are There Native English Speakers in Nigeria? 
62. The English Nigerian Children Speak (I)
63. The English Nigerian Children Speak (II)
64. Reader Comments and My Responses to "The English Nigerian Children Speak" 
65. Q and A on American English Grammar and General Usage
66. Q and A on Prepositions and Nigerian Media English 
67. Americanisms Popularized by American Presidential Politics (I) 
67. Americanisms Popularized by American Presidential Politics (II)
68. Top 10 Peculiar Salutations in Nigerian English (I)
69. Top 10 Peculiar Salutations in Nigerian English (II)
70. Q and A on English Salutation, Punctuation and Other Usage Problems
71. More Q and A on a Variety of Grammar Usage Issues 
72. Top 10 Outdated and/or Made-up Words in Nigerian English 
73. Q and A on Outdated Nigerian English Words and Expressions  
74. 20 Obsolete English Words that Should Make a Comeback
75. Q and A About Jargon and Confusing Expressions

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Re: Bring Back Nigeria’s Teachers’ Colleges!


I am glad that my last week’s article with the above title elicited the kind of reactions it did. I have received emails and Facebook messages from people who are concerned about the neglect of elementary education pedagogy in Nigeria and the long-term consequences this could have for the country. Of the sample responses reproduced here, I find the first one, written by a seasoned educationist and international consultant on elementary and secondary education, the most enlightening and informative. It fills me with hope that there may be some light at the end of the tunnel.
 
I have been reading your columns in Weekly Trust and Sunday Trust newspapers with keen interest, especially when I am in Abuja for my consultancy services. I read your Weekly Trust column of 19th January and feel I should share my experience and update you on the current trend and development on Teacher Education Reform.

Many have advocated for a similar call in the past but educationists have been cracking their brains on a way forward. Developed countries have faced similar challenges in the development of a sound educational system that caters to the needs of a large percentage of their children. Kwara State, in collaboration with the National Commission for Colleges of Education (NCCE), has examined the issue and a new curriculum has been developed that is implemented at the two colleges of education in Kwara State. Other colleges in the country will start to implement it when the Federal Government directs them to do so.

The new NCCE curriculum will henceforth prepare specialist teachers for Early Childhood, Primary and Junior Secondary Education in addition to Adult, Non-Formal and Special Needs Teachers, although the latter  is being  reconsidered in the light of Inclusive Education. It may interest you to know that the admission requirements to colleges of education have also been upgraded to five credits, including English and Mathematics. This is to control the risk of garbage in, garbage out.

It may also interest you to know that in developed nations like the U.S and the United Kingdom you must have a first degree, plus additional teacher professional qualification, before you are considered into the teaching profession. In nations like Japan and Korea, you must be a first-class degree holder before you can be employed to teach at the primary level. Nigeria is a nation with many multifaceted problems. Excellent plans and policies are developed in paper but the implementation is always a problem.

Attached is a document for your perusal only. I hope the document will be officially published this year for implementation. However, I may remind you that there are many challenges in the education sector. For instance, the new NCE curriculum met with a serious resistance from Staff Unions of Colleges of Education. In the new curriculum, subjects not taught at the Basic Education level were removed. The Unions saw it as a way to lay off their colleagues from service. (Subjects like History, Political Science, Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Geography, etc. were not included).

I am currently a National Consultant on Institutional Development with the Education Sector Support Programme in Nigeria, a DFID-funded programe to improve Nigerian Educational system by the U.K. Government. I am hopeful that things will change for better if the new NCE curriculum is implemented with sincerity.
Alhaji Ibrahim Ibn Woru, Ilorin

You have hit the nail squarely on the head once again. It is as you put it. Phasing out teachers' colleges by the military policy makers, is indeed, the most thoughtless and toxic educational policy change, amongst so many others in Nigeria's history, due to its apparent negative chain effects—drop in educational standards, lack of adequate preparation of secondary school students, which leads to the production of half-baked graduates, which in turn results in the production of a legion of 'certified' uneducated workers. This is all largely because good primary education has been jettisoned by our elite at the top. I am sorry for all of us.

I am a constant reader of your highly enlightening and rich columns. Like the meaning of your name, you truly separate the truth from falsehood! More power to your elbows.
Tahir Aminu-Baba, Head of Documents, University Library, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University, Bauchi

You have said it all. If we are to recall and reflect back, most of the intellectuals we have at present in Nigeria were molded by those teachers that had Grade II teacher education training. What you have rightly said is a must for a solution to our educational crises.
Abdulkadir Abubakar Auyo, Kaduna

Nice piece. But I think that the decay of educational standards in Northern Nigerian can be attributed to the lack of coherent approach in policy formulation as well as paucity of funds to the educational sector rather than just the abrogation of Teachers' Colleges.
Aliyu Bashir Bauchi, Bauchi

Yes, I really can't help but to agree with you. It is now left for the government, particularly those of the northern states to act quickly so as to reverse this ugly trend.
Abubakar Algwallary, Kano

You have hit the nail on the head and your suggestions are quite OK. What baffles me is that ministers of education in Nigeria, over the time, have been educationists.
Aminu Isa, Lokoja

Related Article:

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Q and A on Jargon and Confusing Expressions

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

This week I have answered more grammar questions from my readers. I will answer even more questions in the coming weeks. Don’t be discouraged by my slow response.

Question:
I will be glad if you could clarify these queries.

1. I've heard our colleagues in the medical profession say: “the patient has stroked” while referring to a patient that has developed stroke. Can we use the word 'stroke' as a verb? I thought we could only “strike” and get “struck”!

2. We sometimes in routine medical practice say “the patient has affectation of the heart” while referring to a patient whose heart was affected by one disease or the other. Is it allowed to use the word “affectation” in that sense?

3. We sometimes say that the patient passes “greenish” sputum when referring to passage of green sputum. Could that be a correct way of putting it?

Answer:
The first thing I want to say in response to your questions is that different professions have different registers and vernaculars for in-group communication. And that is legitimate. It only becomes problematic when lingo that is comprehensible only within limited professional circles is used in conversational English.

I once called attention to such distinctive usages as academese (the lingo of scholars), journalese (the lingo of journalists), corporatese (the lingo of people in the corporate world), legalese (the lingo of lawyers), officialese (the lingo of government officials), bureaucratese (the lingo of bureaucrats), etc. The specialized language of medical doctors, as I'm sure you know, is called medicalese. Specialized languages of professions don't always obey the conventions of general English usage. And that's perfectly OK. The phrases you inquired about would qualify as medicalese.   

In general usage, it's unusual to hear people say a "patient has been stroked." It's more usual to say a patient "has stroke." A quick search on the Internet for your phrase shows that it appears only in few medical textbooks. That’s an indication that the expression isn’t formal even in medical circles. But stroke can be used as a verb in other contexts, such as to mean rub something gently (as in: he stroked the cat). In American informal English when “stroke” is used as a verb, it can also mean to flatter, as in: “He stroked me to get my support for his proposal.”

Similarly, "affectation of the heart" is very rare in everyday usage. It's decidedly medicalese. But on the rare occasions that it's used outside medical contexts, it's often no more than a long-winded phrase for "love" or tender emotions. I've found the phrase used mostly in (Christian) theological literature and in archaic, sentimental writing. In modern everyday usage, affectation can also mean showy, exaggerated, insincere display (of emotions).

I don't see anything unusual with the way you say doctors use “greenish.” The suffix "ish" is used mostly to signify that something is close to something but is not quite it. It shows, in other words, that something approximates but isn't quite what you're describing. In native-speaker spoken English, for instance, it's usual for people to say something like: "let's meet around 10: 30ish tomorrow morning. That means we should meet any time from 10:30 a.m. to probably no later than 10:50 a.m. So "greenish" means not quite green but close to green in the color spectrum.

Question:
What is the difference between “ask of” and “ask after”? Should it be “my sister asked of you” or my sister asked after you”?

Answer:
To ask after someone is to seek to know about their health or wellbeing. Saying “how is your dad? Say hi to him” qualifies as “asking after” my dad. So I could say something like, “When I see my dad next week, I’ll tell him you asked after him.” Nigerian English speakers, however, tend to use “ask of” where native speakers use “ask after.” It is customary in Nigerian English to say “he asked of you” when people intend to convey the sense that someone inquired about their wellbeing.

 Well, if you tell a native English speaker that your dad or mom “asked of” them, they are likely to retort: “asked of me to do what?” In native varieties of English, “ask of” usually means “demand or request.” Example: “The present asked of his countrymen to be patriotic.” So “my dad asked of you” could be interpreted to mean a cryptic way of saying  “my daddy asked of you to be nice to people since you’re such an obnoxious person”! OK, that’s a stretch, but I hope you get the point.

Apparently, Nigerian English speakers are not the only people who have distorted the idiom “ask after.” Scottish English speakers, according to the Oxford Dictionary of English, use “ask for” instead of the standard “ask after.”

Question:
I greatly enjoyed your "Top 10 Outdated and/or Made-up Words in Nigerian English.” I am guilty of using many of the words you identified. There is another word Nigerians use a lot that I don’t find in my dictionary. It’s “insultive.” Does it also belong in the category of outdated and/or made-up word Nigerian English words?

Answer:
Yes, it does. The usual word in Standard English is “insulting.” It is both an adjective (such as in the following sentence: “his action was insulting”) and a continuous verb (such as in the following sentence: “he is insulting our culture”). No modern English dictionary I know of has an entry for “insultive.” I’ve also never heard or seen “insultive” used in the spoken and written English of native speakers (of Standard English). However, I don’t think the use of “insultive” in place of “insulting” is uniquely Nigerian. I’ve seen the word used by many non-native English speakers, perhaps on the model of such adjectives as vegetative, speculative, educative, qualitative, etc.

Question:
Can “quote” be used as a noun, such as in the following expression: “I memorized many quotes from philosophers.” One of my friends said only “quotation” can be used in that expression; that “quote” should be used only as a verb. Is she right?

Answer:
She is both right and wrong. Most grammarians advise people to use “quotation” as a noun and “quote” as a verb in formal contexts. Examples: “His essay is full of quotations from famous writers.” “He quotes many philosophers in his essays.” However, in informal, casual contexts, it is perfectly acceptable to use quote as a noun. E.g.: “While going through a book of quotations, I came across many interesting quotes by famous people.”

According to the 2002 edition of the Merriam-Webster's Concise Dictionary of English Usage, “The noun quote, short for quotation, was first recorded in 1888. . . . This sense of quote has met with strong disapproval in some quarters. Such commentators as Bernstein 1965, Follett 1966, Shaw 1977, and Trimmer & McCrimmon 1988 have disparaged its use in writing, and the Heritage 1969, 1982 usage panel rejected it by a large majority (the 2000 panel has lightened up). Some other critics, however, have taken a more tolerant view. Harper 1985, for example, accepts its use in writing that has 'a conversational tone,' and Bremner 1980 calls it ‘standard in the publishing business.’”

My advice is that you should restrict the use of quote as a noun to informal contexts.

Question:
Is it finance consultant or financial consultant?

Answer:
The usual phrase is “financial consultant.” “Finance consultant” is rare. But there are occasions when “finance,” normally a noun, can be used in an attributive sense. That means it can sometimes be used like an adjective, i.e., like “financial.” For instance, it’s usual to see phrases like “finance consulting,” “finance jobs,” “finance calculator.”

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 
58. Q and A on Nigerian English and Usage Rules
59. Of Yoruba, Arabic, and Origins of Nigerian Languages
60. Language Families in Nigeria
61. Are There Native English Speakers in Nigeria? 
62. The English Nigerian Children Speak (I)
63. The English Nigerian Children Speak (II)
64. Reader Comments and My Responses to "The English Nigerian Children Speak" 
65. Q and A on American English Grammar and General Usage
66. Q and A on Prepositions and Nigerian Media English 
67. Americanisms Popularized by American Presidential Politics (I) 
67. Americanisms Popularized by American Presidential Politics (II)
68. Top 10 Peculiar Salutations in Nigerian English (I)
69. Top 10 Peculiar Salutations in Nigerian English (II)
70. Q and A on English Salutation, Punctuation and Other Usage Problems
71. More Q and A on a Variety of Grammar Usage Issues 
72. Top 10 Outdated and/or Made-up Words in Nigerian English 
73. Q and A on Outdated Nigerian English Words and Expressions  
74. 20 Obsolete English Words that Should Make a Comeback




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