"WR6_gUnUj-ztiW07KQcOCnTel9A"/> Notes From Atlanta: 09/20/15

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Q and A on Nigerian Media English Misusage, Demonyms, and Word Usage

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

This week’s Q and A column answers questions on English usage in the Nigerian media, whether “Nigerlite” is appropriate as a demonym for someone from Niger State, why the term “complimentary card” is wrong, why “half-caste” should never be used to  describe people with  mixed-race parentage, and many other usage concerns. Enjoy.

Question:
Is this sentence grammatical: "The state governor, Aminu Masari, INFORMED THAT about 2.9 million doses of the vaccine are available for the round six, adding that "we hope by the end of the year to do nine rounds." I picked this from the Daily Trust September 6, 2015.

Answer:
The way “informed” is used in the sentence is definitely nonstandard. “Informed” is a transitive verb that must always have a direct object. That means for the sentence to be grammatically correct, a direct object must come after “inform,” such as in this sentence: “The state governor Aminu Masari informed  journalists that….” In the preceding sentence, “journalists” is the direct object of “informed.”

 Interestingly, some of my students, who are native English speakers, sometimes use “inform” intransitively, that is, without a direct object, in their news stories in my news writing classes. I penalize them for this because it is not only odd phrasing; it is also ungrammatical.

 "Said" is certainly the most appropriate verb to use in the sentence you quoted above because “said” is an intransitive verb, that is, it doesn’t require a direct object.

What I suspect is going on here is an inelegant attempt at elegant variation. Elegant variation (which some linguists also call “inelegant variation”) is the name given to the act of finding synonyms for the same word you have used many times. My students—and the Daily Trust reporter  you quoted here— think that writing “said” several times in the same story is boring and repetitive, so they go to the thesaurus and look for the synonyms for “said.” “Informed” turns up as one of the synonyms for “said,” and they just slap it into their stories without any care for its grammatical fitness.

Since “inform” doesn’t have the same grammatical properties as “said,” the kind of comical semantic misalignment that grammarians call synonymizing fallacy occurs. A lecturer at UK’s Middlesex University by the name of Chris Sadler recently invented another word for the phenomenon; he calls it “Rogeting” (also “Rogetism”), which is defined as “the creation of new meaningless phrases through the thoughtless and ill-considered use of a Roget’s Thesaurus, generally to hide plagiarised material.” In our case, it isn’t to hide plagiarism; it is to create a false, ill-digested variation.

Question:
I've been wanting to pick your brain on the use of the term "Nigerlite" to describe a person from Niger State. As a person from Niger State, I've never liked that term, nor used it to describe myself or other citizens of Niger State. I believe it was popularized by David Mark when he was the military governor of the state in the early/mid 80s, most likely copy-catting "Bendelite" for people from the then Bendel State.

While Bendelite made sense, since the word Bendel ends with an "l", Nigerlite seems absolutely silly and slightly ignorant. I've thought of "Nigerian", but that's been taken by citizens of Nigeria. And "Nigerien" has been taken by the citizens of the country Niger.  So, what do you think of "Nigerite"?

Answer:
You're absolutely spot on! “Nigerite” makes more morphological sense than "Nigerlite." The "l" in Nigerlite is a morphological abnormality. Demonymic nouns and adjectives, as grammarians call the words we use to describe people from a place, follow a certain morphological pattern, which the formation of “Nigerlite” violates.

English demonyms are formed by adding a suffix (usually “n,” as in “Nigerian”; “ite,” as in “Vancouverite”;  “i,” as in Pakisitani; “er,” as in “Londoner”; “ish,” as in English or Spanish; “ese,” as in Nepalese; and so on) to the last letter of a place name. Since the last letter of “Niger” isn’t the letter “l,” “Nigerlite” is a demonymic misnomer.

In addition to the “Nigerite” you suggested, “Nigeran” (nai-ja-ran) is also a plausible alternative demonym for a citizen of Niger State, although I admit that it is too phonetically close to Nigerian to be a good alternative.

But “Nigerlite” has become so well-established that people are unlikely to stop using it just because it breaches the basic morphological principles of demonymic formation in English. But I will say this, though: “Nigerlite” is the only demonym I know of in the entire world that simultaneously ignores the last letter of its original name and drafts an extraneous letter. I, too, won’t be proud to associate with such ignorance if I were from Niger State.

Question:
Someone recently called my attention to the fact that the term “complimentary cards,” which we use in Nigeria to refer to the card that contains your name, phone number, and address, is wrong. Why is it wrong?

Answer:
The person who told you this probably read an article I wrote in 2007 where I said “complimentary card” was nonstandard. I have since realized that it’s actually an older term for what native English speakers now call “business card.” In the over a decade that I have lived in native-English-speaking countries, I have never heard anybody call business cards “complimentary cards.”

The term “complimentary card” always struck me as odd even when I lived in Nigeria. One of the most commonly used meanings of “complimentary” is “free” (as in “complimentary breakfast,” “complimentary newspaper,” “complimentary copy of a book,” etc.), which means “complimentary card” can mean “free card.” Since no one pays to get anyone’s business cards, I thought the phrase “complimentary card” was strange and pointless. But I have since found out that the “complimentary” in the phrase is derived from the expression “with compliments,” which used to appear in business cards as a form of courtesy. “With compliments,” of course, means “with best wishes.”

So, technically, “complimentary card” isn’t wrong; it’s just not in use in places where English is spoken as a native language. Use “business card” if you want to be understood globally. Other older names for business card are “visiting card” and “compliments slip.”

Question:
 “This news is coming to you in (or is it ‘on’) the Network service of Radio Nigeria?” Or “This network news is read by Abubakar Ijiofor Mobolaji” Is it correct to say “read” while the news is just starting?

Answer:
It should be “on the network service of Radio Nigeria.” Yes, it is correct to say, at the start of a broadcast, that a news bulletin “read by…” It is an elliptical way of saying “the news is being read by….”

Question:
Why do people, including native English speakers, say “an education,” even though “education” is an uncountable noun?

Answer:
Only the general, abstract sense of “education” is uncountable. When we say “education ennobles the mind” or “he is a man of education,” we are using “education” in a broad, abstract sense, which is uncountable. But when people say “an education,” they usually mean education in the form of formal learning and instruction. That sense of the word is countable.

Question:
The grammar question set out below was posed on Facebook. Immediately my mind went to you as the one who can offer a grammatically correct explanation of what is the accurate construction and why it is accurate. The woman who ... bread also ... tomatoes
A. Sells/Sells
B. Sell/Sells
C. Sell/Sell
D. Sells/Sell

Answer:
Option A is the only correct answer. The sentence is a parallel construction in which "also" joins two clauses with similar grammatical structures. "The woman" is a singular subject that agrees with the singular verb "sells." The rule of parallel construction says the second part of the sentence that is conjoined by "also" should have the same grammatical properties as the first. That should give us "the woman also sells tomatoes," especially because we are referring to the same woman.

Question:
What is the English word used to refer to someone whose parents are from different countries? I've heard most people use the word, "halfcast" to mean people with parents from different countries.

Answer:
Half-caste is now considered offensive. It's an old word for a person with mixed racial parentage, usually black and white parents. People now just say "mixed-race child." There is no word for a person whose parents come from different countries.

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