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Sunday, April 13, 2014

12 Popular Misusages in Nigerian English (I)

Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

Every English-speaking nation on earth has its repertoire of idiosyncratic solecisms. I have written about common errors in American English. Several writers have written about the errors that typically occur in British English. And so on and so forth. In this article, I am concerned with 12 most popular, regularly occurring errors that appear in written and spoken Nigerian English. This is an addition to the scores of other errors I’ve identified in previous writings over the past couple of years. So here goes:
That should be "LEAVE Diezani alone"
1. “As at when due.” This widespread Nigerian English solecism is a classic example of an error that initially started in spoken English but later ended up in written English as well. The correct phrase should be “as and when due,” but many Nigerians mishear it as “as at when due” and then go ahead and write it the way they mishear it. The easiest way to remember the correct rendering of this fixed phrase is to break it down to “as due” and “when due.”

 The proper form of the idiom in British English is “as and when.” According to the Cambridge Dictionary, it meansat the time that something happens.” Wikitionary also defines it as, “in the event that the thing being discussed comes to pass.”

 The idiom regularly co-occurs with words like “due,” “needed,” and “required” (as in, “as and when due,” “as and when needed,” “as and when required”) although most Nigerian English speakers are only familiar with the idiom’s co-occurrence with “due.”

See the following examples of how the idiom is used: 1. “We pay our workers as and when due.” 2. “We don't own a car - we just rent one as and when we need it.” (That is the usage example given in the Cambridge Dictionary). 3. “I don’t have a full-time job; I work as and when required.” The phrases can also be used as compound modifiers such as, “we pay salaries on an as-and-when-due basis,” “I work on an as-and-when-required basis,” etc.

The idiom occurs in American English as “if and when.” So if the examples above were to be rendered in American English, they would be: 1. “We pay our workers if and when due.” 2. “We don't own a car - we just rent one if and when we need it.” 3. “I don’t have a full-time job; I work if and when required.” In the compound-modifier examples, the American English rendering would be ““we pay salaries on an if-and-when-due basis,” “I work on an if-and-when-required basis,” etc.

2. “Comity of nations.” This phrase is often used in Nigerian English, especially in official Nigerian English, where “community of nations” would do. “Comity of nations” is a fixed phrase that means the “courteous respect by one nation for the laws and institutions of another.” It basically means the respect that nations have for each other’s sovereignty. “Comity” means harmony, so comity of nations means harmony of nations, not a collection of nations. Unfortunately, “comity of nations” has been misused even in Nigerian presidential speeches delivered at international arenas. 

On the website of the Nigerian Embassy in the USA, the following sentence appears: “Within that period too, Nigeria gradually regained her voice in the comity of nations.” You would think that people whose exposure to and knowledge of the practices and registers of international relations are considered worthy enough to be appointed to represent Nigeria in the United States would know enough to know that “community of nations” is the right phrase to use in the sentence above.

3. “Drop.” This word is misused in Nigerian English in at least three ways. One, it is used where “get down” or “stop” would be more appropriate. In Nigerian urban areas, when passengers in commercial buses want to come down at a bus stop or on getting to their destination along the bus’s route, they often say they want to “drop.” Well, in proper English, it is the driver who drops (off) passengers. So it would make more sense to say “driver, drop me (off) here” than to say “driver, I want to drop here.” Saying you want to “drop” from a bus in other places where English is spoken might be mistaken to mean that you want to commit suicide by suddenly jumping off a moving bus.

The second common error in the use of “drop” in Nigerian English appears in the phrase “take a drop,” which is used where native English speakers would say “take a taxi.” But, here, one must acknowledge the socio-economic and cultural context of “take a drop” and admit that it is difficult to replace it with “take a taxi.” To “take a drop” means to be the exclusive occupant of a taxi since taxis in Nigeria usually take a whole bunch of people who are headed in different destinations. In the West, taxis don’t take different passengers going to different destinations; only buses do that. Even then, buses drop off passengers at designated bus stops.

However, this does not entirely explain why the phrase “take a drop” appears in Nigerian English. It seems likely that it is a linguistic appropriation (or misappropriation) of the military terminology “drop” which, according to the Oxford Dictionary of English, means “an act of dropping supplies or troops by parachute.” Nigerian English probably borrowed the sense of unidirectional flow in the military “drop” and applied it to the one-way flow that occurs when someone is the exclusive passenger in a taxi.

The third misuse of “drop” appears mostly in the lingo of Nigerian youth such as in the phrase “drop something” to mean pay out money. “Drop” is also often now used in Nigerian English where native English speakers would say “release.” For instance, a headline in the Vanguard of March 31, 2014 reads: "2face drops new video “Dance in the rain.”

I frankly was initially confounded when I saw the headline. I thought Nigerian pop musician 2face Idiba had decided to get rid of a new video he had released either because its quality was unbearably bad or because he had been accused of copyright violation. It was only after I read the lead that I realized that the headline meant 2face Idibia had released a new video.

4. “Female youths.” When I was in Nigeria last year I came across a headline in the Punch of December 11, 2013 that read: “Group urges leadership development among female youths.” The lead goes: “A not-for-profit organisation, Soroptimist International of Nigeria, has urged female youths in the country to sharpen their leadership skills in order to provide better and qualitative alternatives to the present generation.”

The phrase “female youths” is decidedly nonstandard. Here is why. When “youth” is used as a collective noun to mean “young men and women” its plural form doesn’t admit of an “s.” It is still youth, as in “the youth of Nigeria is fed up with the incompetence of the country’s ruling elite.” However, youth also means “young man.” When it is used in that sense, its plural form takes an “s.” That means “youths” invariably means “young men.” So it is impossible to have “female youths” unless you mean women who were born men but underwent sex-change operations to become men.

Out of curiosity, I searched the British National Corpus to see if by chance any British English speaker ever used the phrase “female youths” in speech or in writing. There was not a single instance. I also searched the Corpus of Contemporary American English. I found 13 instances of the usage of “female youths.” All but one appeared in academic medical journals.

The only match I found in popular usage appeared in the Washington Post of September 19, 2010 (EXTRAS; Pg. DZ18) in the sentence “Two female youths snatched a female pedestrian's cellphone and fled.” But when I went directly to the Washington Post website to read the story, I discovered that “two female youths” was changed to “two females.”

Related Articles:
Politics of Grammar Column


To be concluded next week

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