By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.
American Ponzi Schemes Versus Nigerian 419 Scams
Last week, I started a conversation about some of the stylistic markers that computational linguists and information systems specialists use to identify 419 email scams, and pointed out that all of these markers are drawn from the vast repertoire of idiosyncratic Nigerian English. I continue the conversation this week with more examples.
4. “Be rest assured that…” Typical 419 email solicitations entreat their would-be preys to “be rest assured” of the authenticity of the scam they are proposing. “Please be rest assured and feel free to go into this transaction with us,” one recent 419 scam email to me read. This frequently used 419 scam email lingo is actually mainstream Nigerian English.
The fixed English idiom that this Nigerian English expression apes is “rest assured.” It means to be certain. As I pointed out in several previous articles, it is rare in Nigerian English for the expression to be rendered without the pointless and intrusive “be.” The following sentence is an example of how the phrase regularly occurs in popular Nigerian English: “You should BE rest assured that I will not disappoint you.” The “be” in the phrase is superfluous. Native speakers of the English language don’t include it.
I can’t locate the source of this lexical distortion, except to point out that what grammarians call the habitual, uninflected “be” (that is, where the verb “to be” doesn’t change form under any circumstance) occurs a lot in Nigerian Pidgin English (such as in the expression “I be don see am today,” i.e., “I have seen him today”), in African-American Vernacular English (such as in the expression “she be mean to me,” i.e., “she is mean to me”) and in many English-based pidgins and creoles. I am tempted to argue that the addition of “be” before the idiom “rest assured” in Nigerian English is attributable to the influence of Nigerian Pidgin English. Or, perhaps, it is inspired by a false analogy to expressions like "be careful," "be nice," etc., but in Standard English two verbs don’t usually follow each other. In the phrase “be rest assured,” both “be” and “rest” are verbs. But in “be careful” and “be nice,” “careful” and “nice” are adjectives, so the analogy is false. Since no Nigerian says “be sleep well” or “be go knowing that,” etc. it’s hard to fathom why the expression “be rest assured” emerged and took firm roots in Nigerian English.
5. “To enable me do something.” Email scams that originate from Nigeria or from Nigerians who may be outside Nigeria typically ask their marks to send them bank account numbers, etc. “to enable me [sic] transfer the money to you”—or such other phrase. Native English speakers don’t write or speak like that. I am not even sure that any other non-native English variety in the world omits the preposition “to” after the noun or pronoun that comes after “enable.”
This is what I wrote about this in a July 17, 2012 article titled “Prepositional and Collocational Abuse in Nigerian English”: “Many scholars of Nigerian English have identified the tendency to omit the preposition “to” in the collocation “enable someone/something to do something” as one of the key features of our dialect of the English language. ‘Enable’ and ‘to’ are indissolubly ‘married’ in American English and British English; one cannot appear without the other. So where Nigerians would write or say ‘I hereby apply for a loan to enable me buy a car,’ British or American English speakers would write or say ‘I hereby apply for a loan to enable me TO buy a car.’
“Professor [Herbert] Igboanusi, a prolific and well-regarded University of Ibadan scholar of Nigerian English, once pointed out that American English, like Nigerian English, also dispenses with the preposition ‘to’ in the phrase ‘enable someone/something to do something.’ That is wholly inaccurate. Only Nigerian, and perhaps Ghanaian, English omits ‘to’ where ‘enable’ occurs in a phrase.
“A non-Nigerian who has followed my writings on the distinctive stylistic imprints of Nigerian English was saved a potentially devastating 419 scam because he remembered my previous mention of the peculiarly Nigerian tendency to never let ‘enable’ and ‘to’ to co-occur in the same sentence. He said he received a well-written notification from a US State Department letterhead that he had won the Green Card Lottery. He was naturally overjoyed, he said, until he got to the end of the letter where this phrase appeared: ‘to enable us process your ….’
“He said the omission of ‘to’ after ‘us’ in the sentence activated memories of one of my writings on the subject and caused him to doubt the authenticity of the letter. And, sure enough, when he called the US State Department to confirm if the letter originated from them, he was told that no such letter was sent to him; that it was a scam. So, you see, awareness of the rules of grammar can save you from certain troubles.”
6. “With due respect.” This phrase often appears in the subject lines of 419 email scams—and in the subject lines of legitimate emails from honest Nigerians. It also regularly appears as a prefatory remark before a 419 scam proposition. Typical expressions with the phrase go something like this: “With due respect to you, I crave your indulgence for the unsolicited nature of this letter.” Native English speakers find this typically Nigerian English usage of “with due respect” bewildering.
First, the usual rendering of the expression is “with all due respect.” Second, native English speakers use the phrase only when they want to politely disagree with someone, as in “with all due respect, that statement is not accurate.” Whenever the phrase “with due respect” is uttered the people to whom it is addressed always prepare themselves for a mild, tempered criticism. So when Nigerians write “with due respect” and don’t follow it up with a criticism or disagreement, native English speakers are often befuddled. They have no clue that in Nigerian English “with due respect” simply means “in a respectful manner”; that the writer wishes to convey the sense that he holds the addressee in high esteem. (Indians say “respected sir” where Nigerians would say “with due respect”; both are strange to native English ears).
I receive tons of fan emails from my Nigerian readers that go something like: “With due respect, I have been following your weekly articles, and I am very happy to be among the fortunate and lucky ones that read and learn a great deal from you.” Almost always, I brace myself up for a mild critique, when I read emails that have “with due respect” as a subject line or that start a sentence with the phrase, but the emails are often very laudatory and gracious. Incidentally, Gmail and Yahoo Mail send all such emails to my spam folders. I don’t know why. Perhaps their spam filters have also associated the phrase with 419 email scams.
To be concluded next week
American Ponzi Schemes Versus Nigerian 419 Scams