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Sunday, December 6, 2015

“Academician” Or “Academic”? Q and A on Nigerian English Errors and Usage

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

Although many Nigerians, including Professor Wole Soyinka, use “academicians” and “academics” interchangeably, they are in error. Find out why in today’s Q and A. Also find the difference between a “house” and a “home,” between the expressions “it’s me” and “it’s I,” and other usage questions.

What is the difference between an “academic” and an “academician”? I see both words used interchangeably in Nigerian English. Is this correct?

Let me answer you this way: you will probably never have a reason to use the word “academician” if you speak or write Standard English. Most people who use “academician” are either non-native English speakers or uneducated native English speakers.

So what is the difference between an “academician” and an “academic”? Well, an “academic” is someone who teaches or conducts research in a higher educational institution, typically in a university. In British and Nigerian English, academics are also called “lecturers.” In American English, they are called “professors.”

 An “academician,” on the other hand, is a person who works with or is honored with membership into an academy, that is, an institution devoted to the study and advancement of a specialized area of learning such as the arts, sciences, literature, medicine, music, engineering, etc. Examples of academies are the Nigerian Academy of Letters, the Royal Academy of Arts, the Royal Academy of Music, the Royal Academy of Engineering, the Royal Swedish Academy of Letters, History and Antiquities, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, etc.

Not all academics are academicians and not all academicians are academics. In other words, you can teach in a university, polytechnic, college of education, etc. and never be made a member of an academy, and you can become a member of an academy without ever being a teacher or a researcher at a higher educational institution. Note that while most academicians are also academics, most academics are never academicians.

A little note on pragmatics is in order here. Although many dictionaries have entries that say “academician” and “academic” can be synonymous, this isn’t really the case in actual usage, at least among educated native English speakers. It is considered illiterate usage in British and American English to call higher education teachers and researchers “academicians”; they are properly called “academics.” Many dictionaries merely capture the entire range of a word’s usage without discriminating socially prestigious usage from uneducated or archaic usage.

That is why I was disappointed when Professor Wole Soyinka used “academician” as if it meant “academic” in a 1971 newspaper article. In the article, he wrote: “What I would have expected of an academician was the advocation [sic, “advocation” is an archaic variant of “advocacy”] of a social system whereby the life of a decent [living] was guaranteed and the benevolent patronage of the privileged groups was eradicated for all time.

“Dr Isong’s cry if any should be directed against a social system which binds both him and his dependants in a vice of mutual degradation and limits his freedom of action and development by denying him equality in his association with all the potential inherent in every class of society” (quoted in James Gibbs and Bernith Lindfors (1993), Research on Wole Soyinka, pp. 243-244).

Dr. A. J.  Isong, whom Soyinka called an “academician,” wasn’t a member of an academy; he was an “academic,” that is, a lecturer, at the University of Ibadan. I think it helps to point out that “academic” is derived from “academia” (pronounced aki/deemia) or “academe” (pronounced aki/deem), which means a place of (higher) learning such as a university or, as the Online Etymology Dictionary puts it, “the world of universities and scholarship.” “Academician,” on the other hand, is derived from “academy” (pronounced as “aka-demi”), which is an institution dedicated to the pursuit of advancement in a narrowly defined field of knowledge.

Henry Watson Fowler, the famous English lexicographer who wrote A Dictionary of Modern English Usage and co-wrote the Concise Oxford Dictionary, pointed out that although Shakespeare, Tennyson, and Lowell used “academe” as a poetic variant of “academy,” it is a mistake do so in conventional usage.

In sum, don’t call anybody an “academician” if the person doesn’t work in an academy. It’s actually rare to come across an academician. That’s why I said earlier that you will probably never have a reason to use the word—if you want to use it correctly, that is.

I am a regular reader of your columns in the weekend editions of Daily Trust.  My question to you is do "house" and "home” mean the same thing or are they different?

A “house” is merely a building where someone lives while a “home” is a house we have an emotional attachment to. It is the sense of comfort and emotional connection we feel toward a house that makes it a home. You build a house and make it a home by occupying it and filling it with memories. So a building is the structure, the concrete, while a home is a combination of the building and the emotions, memories, sense of belonging, and comfort that we bring to the house.

While this distinction is generally true, it is worth noting that American English speakers, especially real estate agents, often use “home” in ways that are similar to the traditional meaning of a “house.” They say things like "homes for sale," "buy a home." Well, traditional grammarians would say you can't buy a home; you can only buy a house and make it a home.

Is the expression “the both of us” standard? Or it is Nigerian English?

It’s neither nonstandard nor uniquely Nigerian English. Several grammarians say the expression first emerged in American English as a deviation from the conventional “both of us,” but I have never heard any American in my social circles use the expression; most of them simply say “both of us.” The article “the” in the expression strikes me as pointless.

Nevertheless British music sensation Adele in her recent wildly popular, record-breaking song titled “Hello” said “the both of us.” This either means that “the both of us” has crossed over to the UK or Adele’s English has become Americanized. The latter seems more likely since Adele, who now lives in the US, sounds really American in accent and diction in her new song.

When someone asks you “who is it?” which of these responses is correct? “It is I.” “It is me.”

From a pragmatic point of view, both responses are grammatically acceptable. In formal grammar, however, “it is I” would be considered the only grammatically correct response. The responder is the subject of the sentence, and “I” is a subjective pronoun—just like “we,” “he,” “she,” “they,” etc. are subjective pronouns. Subjective pronouns initiate action in a sentence. To understand why “It is I” is considered the only grammatically acceptable response, recast the sentence. For instance, you would say “I am the one,” not “Me is the one.”

Having said that, it is worth noting that almost no one says “It is I” in conversational English anywhere in the English-speaking world. The conventional usage is “It is me.” You may find “It is I” only in formal, written contexts. Many grammarians say “It is I” is on its way out of the English language, and I agree.

Kindly say something about the use of “her,” “she,” and “it” in talking about a country or a group. My assumption is expressions like "Nigeria and her allies" and "NUJ protects her members" are old fashioned, and now better put as "Nigeria and its allies" and "NUJ protects its members" respectively. But a friend thinks the latter are incorrect expressions. Please comment.

I wrote about this some time ago. Yes, the use of feminine pronouns such as “she” or “her” to refer to a country or to an organization or to a ship is outdated. The pronoun “it” is now preferred to “she” or “her” when reference is made to countries or organizations. You will never find contemporary native English speakers say “Britain and her citizens” or “America and her interests”; they’d replace “her” with “it.”

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