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Sunday, June 17, 2018

Response to Defenders of Presidential Grammatical Boo-Boos

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

Every time my grammar column calls attention to grammatical infractions by members of Nigeria’s political class—from former President Goodluck Jonathan to Patience Jonathan, from ministers to governors, and from Aisha Buhari to President Muhammadu Buhari— I almost always get the same predictably familiar, knee-jerk reactions from their minions. No one seems to care when the grammatical errors of everyday people are called out.  In fact, bewailing the fall in the quality of English among secondary school students and undergraduates is a national pastime.

But when the political elite write worse English than the everyday people we delight in pillorying and someone highlights this fact, suddenly a ragbag of hackneyed defenses is invoked such as, “na English we go chop”; English is not our mother tongue; proficiency in English is not a substitute for intelligence; Koreans, Japanese, and Chinese people don’t speak English yet they are developed; insisting on proper English grammar is “colonial mentality”; so long as the message is understood, grammatical correctness is irrelevant; and so on.

I have responded to six of these escapist reactions. People who have followed this column regularly will find some of what I write here familiar.

1. “Na Grammar We Go Chop?”
When people say “na grammar we go chop?” [will grammar bring food to the table?] they are being disingenuous because the reverse is also valid: “na bad grammar we go chop?” The truth is that neither good grammar nor bad grammar from leaders brings food to the table, which makes the whole talk about grammar's gastronomic utility silly and unproductive.  Knowledge of good grammar shows evidence of learning. Atrocious grammar, at best, betrays poor learning. That’s nothing to be proud of.

Perhaps the grammar-nescient crowd should unite and compel the National Assembly to pass legislation that will make inability to speak good English the new criterion to ascend to leadership in Nigeria. Maybe that is what will bring food to the table.

2. English is Not Our Mother Tongue
Of course it’s not, but it’s precisely because it’s not our mother tongue that its mastery shows evidence of cognitive agility. But how many Nigerians can write or speak their mother tongues proficiently? How many of them can expound high-minded thoughts in their native languages? In an August 26, 2012 article titled “The English Nigerian Children Speak,” I pointed out that we are raising a generation of Nigerians whose first and only language is a deformed, ghettoized, and impoverished form of English that is incomprehensible to other members of the Anglophone world.

And in my July 7, 2013 article titled, “Multilingual Illiteracy: What Nigeria Can Learn from Algeria’s Language Crisis,” I wrote: “I am equally troubled by what I call the prevalent multilingual illiteracy of the present generation of Nigerians. A typical educated Nigerian speaks between three and four languages….

“But our proficiency in these multiple languages is gradually deteriorating. Except for Hausa and, to some extent, Yoruba, all Nigerian languages are endangered because of a lack of language loyalty, an incompetent mastery of the rules of the languages, and the tendency toward what linguists call code-mixing and code-switching, that is, an inelegant admixture of English and our native languages.

“The desire to speak English is often blamed for the pitiful state of our native languages, except that our mastery of English, on whose behalf we devalue our native languages, is also so awful that other speakers of the language can’t help but notice. (Any form of English that is unintelligible to the rest of the English-speaking world is useless.)  And Pidgin English, the other major ‘language’ we speak, is an anarchic, linguistically deficient language that not only has limited utility outside Nigeria, but that is incapable of being the medium for serious scholarly inquiry and global communication.”

3. English Mastery Isn’t Synonymous with Intelligence
First, correcting bad grammar isn’t the same thing as implying that people who speak or write bad grammar aren’t intelligent. But several studies have shown a correlation between mastery of grammar and intelligence. P.M. Symonds’ 1931 study titled “Practice Versus Grammar in the Learning of Correct English Usage” is one of the first systematic scholarly inquiries into the relationship between aptitude for grammar and high IQ. The study found that people with a high IQ grasped grammatical concepts faster than those with a low IQ.  Richard A. Meade’s 1961 study titled, “Who Can Learn Grammar?” also found a correlation between superior intelligence and mastery of grammar. Several contemporary studies have affirmed these findings.

But it is also true that there are highly intelligent people who have no mastery of grammar, not because they can’t but because they invest their intellectual energies elsewhere.

4. Koreans, Japanese, Chinese Don’t Speak English
That’s a dumb argument. Koreans, Chinese, Japanese, etc. don’t speak English because they weren’t colonized by English-speaking people. English isn’t their official language. English isn’t the language of instruction at all levels of their education. It isn’t the language of their courts. Nor is it the language of their mass media. So there is no expectation that they should be proficient in English. But English is Nigeria’s official language. It is the language of education, of government, of the courts, of the dominant mass media, etc. in Nigeria.  That means there is an expectation that an educated Nigerian should be proficient in English. Citing the examples of Korea, Japan, etc. to justify poor mastery of English by a Nigerian is a notoriously imperfect and intellectually fraudulent contrast of contexts.

Grammarians in Korea, Japan, China, etc. also take their leaders and everyday people to task on correct usage in their native languages. For as long as English remains the official language of Nigeria, it will always be fair game to call attention to the grammatical bloopers committed by users of the language. This also happens in countries where English is a native language. Donald Trump—and before him George Bush—is habitually pilloried in the media for his incorrect grammar.

 Should we decide to adopt, say, Ogoni as our official language, and the language becomes the language of instruction at all levels of our education, like English is now, then language enthusiasts would be justified to use the rules of Ogoni grammar to call out grammatical lapses.

In Nigeria, you can't proceed to institutions of higher education if you don't have a credit in English—even if you want to study mathematics or, for that matter, a Nigerian language! Yet minions of politicians don’t want anyone to point out grammatical errors in official communication, errors that would earn students a failing grade in their exams if they were to commit them. That’s hypocritical. Plus, this is a grammar column, not a general-interest column.

5. English Grammar is “Colonial Mentality”
Nigerians who dismiss mastery of English as evidence of “colonial mentality” lack self-reflexivity. The very name of our country, Nigeria, was handed to us by English colonialists, and it’s derived from English. More than 50 years after independence, we are still stuck with it. And people talk of English being a holdover of colonialism?

Well, English is now, for all practical purposes, the world’s lingua franca. Proficiency in it opens a world of opportunities. It is a ladder to upward social mobility and is the vastest repository of the world’s knowledge. As of this month, more than 50 percent of all content on the Internet is written in English. The next “rival” to English is German with 6.3 percent. Russian is 6.2 percent. Arabic is 0.6 percent.

Similarly, the majority of the world’s scholarly and scientific papers are written in English. That’s why universities in Europe and Asia are increasingly switching to English as their language of instruction. One German university president said English has become so central to global knowledge production and circulation that for scholars who are non-native English speakers, there are now only two options: either publish in English or perish in your native tongue. That’s why proficiency in English is now mandatory for South Korean academics. They can’t be tenured, i.e., be given permanent employment, if they don’t demonstrate sufficient proficiency in English grammar. So there goes number 4.

In the contemporary world, you shut out English at your own expense. It is hard-nosed pragmatism to embrace its epistemic resources both for development and for subversion.

Most importantly, though, as I’ve argued several times, the truth is that English is the linguistic glue that holds our disparate, unnaturally evolved nation together. Although Nigeria has three dominant languages, it also has more than 400 mutually unintelligible languages. And given the perpetual battles of supremacy between the three major languages in Nigeria—indeed among all of Nigeria’s languages—it is impossible to impose any native language as a national language. So, in more ways than one, English is crucial to Nigeria's survival as a nation. Without it, it will disintegrate.

6. Message, not Grammar?
Does clarity of meaning trump grammatical correctness? Maybe. But that may be true only where poor grammar doesn’t interfere with meaning itself. For instance, in Buhari’s June 12 letter, he used “distract” when he actually meant “detract.” That’s an example of an eye-catching grammatical error that can distract the reader and detract from the message!

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Saturday, June 16, 2018

Obadiah Mailafia: From Fulaniphobia to Embarrassing Ignorance

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

I normally don’t respond to responses to my column if the responses do no more than disagree with me. But when a response drips wet with pitiful ignorance and willful misrepresentations, such as Obadiah Mailafia’s (see his June 7, 2018 response titled “Re: El-Rufai’s hypocritical xenophobia and Obadiah Mailafia’s Fulaniphobia”), I have a duty to set the record straight in the interest of knowledge.

I will ignore his juvenile ad hominem attacks on me. It bespeaks the barrenness of his intellect that he chose to descend to unprovoked sophomoric name-calling. Ad hominem attacks are the rhetorical weapons of first choice for the intellectually weak.

Mailafia’s original article in the BusinessDay of May 11, 2018 titled “Genocide,Hegemony and Power in Nigeria,” which inspired my June 2, 2018 column, is an astonishingly ill-informed farrago of xenophobic and simplistic garbage that masqueraded as serious thought. I encourage the reader to read the column firsthand.

In the article’s very first paragraph, Mailafia deployed what he understands to be Gramscian hegemony to explain “what is going on in relation to the genocide being perpetrated by the Fulani militias in the Middle Belt of our country today.” I actually let out a guffaw when I read this. It’s an entirely illiterate misuse of the concept. Gramsci used hegemony to explain how the ruling classes in capitalist society naturalize their dominance by getting subordinate classes to accept ruling class values as “common sense” values for all. This is achieved through artful consensus building, which requires that the consent of the subordinate classes be perpetually won and re-won voluntarily, “for people’s material social experiences constantly remind them of the disadvantages of subordination and thus poses a threat to the dominant class.”

The replacement of “Hausa” rulers with “Fulani” rulers in the far north is certainly hegemonic now. No one questions it without coming across as an extremist, anachronistic troublemaker. But by what logic can hegemony explain “genocide”? Is Mailafia implying that people who are being murdered by “Fulani militia in the Middle Belt” have accepted and internalized their condition as “common sense” and that fighting the “genocide” would come across as deviant and out-of-line?

Even when Gramsci extended his theory of hegemonic domination to encapsulate physical violence, he used it exclusively to describe totalitarian states such as Tsarist Russia. He recommended a "war of maneuver," which is resistance against the state through physical violence, in such circumstances. But Mailafia didn’t even reference this extension of hegemony. He referenced ideational hegemony for which Gramsci recommended a “war of position.” Mailafia obviously used the word only because it sounds grand and intellectually fashionable, not because he understands it.

This is just one of several examples of Mailafia’s self-indulgent wooliness and pedestrianism. He also, for instance, described the racial admixture between black Africans and “North Africa and the Middle East” that putatively produced the Fulani as “biological miscegenation.”

“Miscegenation” is a thoroughgoing racist term that only white supremacists use—with a tone of violent disapproval— to describe interracial marriage between white and black people. White racists hurled that word at Obama throughout his presidency, and many of them suffered untoward consequences for it.  But Mailafia, a hate-filled, self-aggrandizing dilettante, uses the word to describe how the Fulani, his compatriots, evolved.

In both his BusinessDay article and his response to me, he repeats the claim that “Guinea” is the “ancestral homeland” of the Fulani. He got this information entirely from Wikipedia. Well, here is why the claim is unacceptably ignorant. Linguistic evidence shows that the provenance of the Fulani is traceable to what is now Senegal. In his 1971 article titled "West Atlantic: An Inventory of the Languages, their Noun-Class Systems and Consonant Alternation," Emeritus Professor David Sapir, son of famous linguist Professor Edward Sapir, found that the closest language to Fulfulde in the world is Serer, Senegal’s third largest ethnic group after Wolof and Fulani. Serer is a Niger-Congo language like most languages in West Africa. (Léopold Sédar Senghor, Senegal’s first president who is famous for Negritude, was Serer).

Linguists have also found a smattering of Berber words in Fulfulde, which gave rise to the theory that the Fulani are the product of the ethnic fusion of Berber and Serer people around Senegambia. Only a Wikipedia-reliant dilettante like Mailafia would describe Guinea as the “ancestral home” of the Fulani. The fact that the Fulani enjoy relative numerical dominion in Guinea doesn’t make the country, which was invented by colonialists only a few decades ago, their “ancestral homeland,” whatever that means.

In any case, ethnic identities and formations are intrinsically labyrinthine and irreducible to Mailafia’s simple-minded, vulgar empiricist, and essentialist formulations. And talking about the “ancestral homeland” of any contemporary Nigerian group, not just the Fulani, whose ancestors have populated this country centuries before the formation of Nigeria is textbook case of “othering,” which is the intellectual precursor to genocide.

 I strongly recommend that Mailafia read Jean-Loup Amselle’s discipline-defining book, Mestizo Logics: Anthropology of Identity in Africa and Elsewhere, to understand the fluidity, dynamism, and originary syncretism of ethnic formations in West Africa. The genetic ancestors of several people who self-identify as Fulani today never did so several generations ago. For instance, Amselle showed that thousands of people who were Senufo (an ethnic group now found in parts of Ivory Coast, Mali, Burkina Faso, and Ghana) generations ago became Fulani, and many people who were Fulani centuries ago became Bambara or Mandinka, and so on and so forth.

Mailafia has no knowledge of this vast complexity in identity scholarship and chooses to mask his ignorance with laughably infantile self-congratulation and exhibitionistic preening of ill-digested, barely understood concepts.

When I said identity is fiction even though it’s an emotionally valid, politically consequential fiction, which is a stale fact in identify studies, Mailafia’s theoretically sterile mind couldn’t grasp it. He wrote: “What he is really saying, in plain English, is this: If a madman from Damaturu wakes up one morning and solemnly declares and earnestly believes himself, to be the long-awaited ‘Mahdi’, we are, ipso facto, bound to believe him, ‘even if that’s not necessarily who they are’. Our friend has clearly read too much postmodernist trash for his own good.”  I was embarrassed on his behalf.

Let me explain this in a simpler, less convoluted way that Mailafia’s a-theoretical mind can hopefully understand. Identity isn’t just genetic or biological; it is also cultural, historical, emotional, and often arbitrary and variable. For instance, many people who are called Hausas today merely changed to that identity; a few decades ago, their ancestors were not Hausa. Yet, this fact doesn’t invalidate their claim to being Hausa because, in any case, all modern identity is syncretic and evolutionary. To understand this point, read Frank A. Salamone’s 1975 article titled, “Becoming Hausa: Ethnic Identity Change and Its Implications for the Study of Ethnic Pluralism and Stratification.” When Arjun Appadurai talked of the “paradox of constructed primordialism,” he was talking about the variability and artificialness of identity, which nescient jingoists like Mailafia ironically choose to reify.

Interestingly, Mailafia admits that his “effort to explain” whatever he wrote in his column “may not have been adequate” and that he is “prepared to concede that” his “conclusions may have been inadequate,” yet he wasted his energies to write a worthless, self-humiliating rejoinder that was high in juvenile self-praise and ad hominem attacks and low in substance and nuance.

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Sunday, June 10, 2018

Nigerian Words and Expressions that are Untranslatable into English

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

I’d planned to write this article last week, but the egregiousness of the grammatical transgressions in President Muhammadu Buhari’s Democracy Day speech was too much to ignore. I was almost derailed again by the mortifying grammatical howlers in the president’s June 6 press statement that, among other things, announced June 12 as Nigeria’s new Democracy Day.

From indiscriminate capitalization, to incompetent use of articles, to inelegant, error-ridden phraseology, to misuse of words such as “distract” for “detract,” and basic proofreading errors, the letter was disappointingly subpar. It would get an “F” if a WAEC examiner in English were to grade it. We wail with distress and in national self-pity every year over mass failure in English in school certificate exams, but our president’s official speeches and letters can’t pass muster with WAEC examiners in English. What message does that send to our secondary school students? Well, that’s not my preoccupation for now.

As I pointed out two weeks ago, interlingual translation is not always possible in every circumstance. There are words and expressions that are so culturally specific that they can’t be translated into another language. I made this point two weeks ago—and in previous columns— in response to requests from some readers of this column that I share with them the English rendition of barka da shan ruwa, the special Hausa greeting to acknowledge the Ramadan fast. I said the expression has no English equivalent. See below other Nigerian expressions that can’t be idiomatically translated into English.

1. “Santi.” This Hausa word deceptively looks like the lexical equivalent of the English “satiation” or, more specifically, gastronomic satiation, that is, the joy and gratification that one derives from food. But “santi” way more than that. It also encapsulates a whole gamut of attitudes that gastronomic satiation inspires. For instance, if, as a consequence of the satiation people derive from eating good food, they wax lyrical or just become uncharacteristically talkative, they are said to be trapped by or in santi.

The closest equivalent to “santi” that I have found in American English is the expression “sugar high,” which is said when children become hyperactive as a result of eating sugary things. There is no scientific basis for the notion that children become inexorably restless when they eat sweets, but the expression exists to describe that condition. Note, though, that santi isn’t delimited by age nor is hyperactivity its marker.

It isn’t only English that has no lexical or idiomatic equivalent to the Hausa santi; many Nigerian languages also don’t. My Baatonum language doesn’t, either. I first encountered the expression in the early 1990s from my cousins in Kano, who were born and raised there. People who have never lived in Hausa society would probably still find the word and its meaning puzzling.

2.”Gyara.” The closest American linguistic and cultural approximation to “gyara” (which is rendered as “jara” in certain variants of Nigerian Pidgin English) can be found in the word “lagniappe” (pronounced LAN- YAP), which my dictionary defines as “A small gift (especially one given by a merchant to a customer who makes a purchase.).” That is precisely what “gyara” means in Hausa. Lagniappe isn’t a Standard English word, and most Americans don’t know what it means, nor can they relate to it meaning.

In my December 4, 2010 column titled “Neologisms and Ebonics in American English,” I wrote the following:  “The word ‘lagniappe,’ for instance, is an exclusively Louisiana invention, even though it is now usual to hear many people in the [American] South use it….

“It means ‘a small gift, especially one given by a merchant to a customer who makes a purchase.’ But this definition does not adequately capture the cultural meaning of the word. Its exact socio-linguistic equivalent is “gyara” in Hausa (now incorporated into Nigerian Pidgin English as jaara).

“It is also used to indicate any kind of addition or extras. While the word sounds and looks French, its semantic content is decidedly African. I once wrote about the intriguing convergence of French, Spanish, and African influences in Louisiana’s racial, cultural, and gastronomic landscape. This convergence also manifests in the socio-linguistic experience of the people in many ways. It is conceivable that the “gyara” culture was brought to Louisiana by former [Hausa] slaves.”

3. “Well done!” This special form of greeting in Nigerian English is a direct translation from Nigerian languages. It can’t be translated into Standard English. It is reserved specifically for a person who is working or doing something. It is an example of the appropriation (or linguistic “hijacking”) of an existing English lexical item to give expression to a peculiar Nigerian socio-linguistic habit. The way “well done” is used in Nigerian English approximates such expressions as “sannu da aiki” in Hausa, “eku ise” in Yoruba, “daalu olu” in Igbo, “ka soburu” in Baatonum (my native language), etc., which have no parallels in native varieties of the English language. That is why there is usually a communication breakdown when Nigerians use the expression “well done” in native-speaker English environments. The usual retort among native speakers is, “Well done for what?” Or “what have I done well?”

As I’ve written here many times, in native varieties of English, “well done” either functions as an adjective to describe thoroughly cooked food or meat (Example: That piece of meat is tough because it is not well done), or as an exclamation of applause— synonymous with "bravo." It is also used as an adjective to describe something that has been done well (e.g. "Thank you for a job well done"). It is never used as a special form of salutation for people who are working.

An American friend of mine who is faintly familiar with Nigerian English once asked me why Nigerians reserve a special form of salutation to acknowledge people who are doing something. My response was that it is analogous to the greetings reserved for special times of the day in the English language. We say “good morning” when we meet people in the early hours of the day and say “good afternoon” when we meet them during the midpoint of the day, etc. There may really be nothing “good” about the time we greet them. Heck, we even say “good morning” or “good evening” or “good day,” etc. to people on their sick beds! Nigerians use and understand “well done” in the same socio-linguistic context. The people we say “well done” to in Nigerian English don’t need to be doing anything well; they just need to be doing something.

4. “Sorry!” This is another direct translation from Nigerian languages, which makes no sense in Standard English. Nigerian English has extended this word’s original native English meaning. The word’s dictionary meaning is that it is an exclamation to indicate an apology or to ask an interlocutor to repeat or clarify something you don’t understand during a conversation. In Nigerian English, however, it is used as an exclamation not just to express apology but to express concern or sympathy for a person who has had a freak accident (such as when someone skips a step and falls) or a person who has suffered a personal tragedy (such as when a person loses a loved one).

 Nigerians say “sorry” whether or not they are personally responsible for the accident or the misfortune of the person to whom they say “sorry.” This usage of the word, which is completely absent in native varieties of English, is an approximation of such expressions as “sannu fa” in Hausa, “pele” in Yoruba, “ndo” in Igbo, “kpure kpure” in Baatonum, etc.

The closest that native English speakers come to saying “sorry” in ways Nigerians say it is when they say something like “I’m sorry to hear that (you lost your dad!)” to a person who is bereaved, etc. But note that “sorry” in this context is synonymous with “sad,” not to “sannu” or “pele” or “ndo,” etc. in native Nigerian languages. The real linguistic equivalents in native varieties of English to the Nigerian English usage of “sorry” seem very distant and lacking in empathy and warmth.

 In America, for instance, if someone misses a step, falls on the ground and breaks an ankle, the usual expression to show concern would be to say something like “Oh my God, are you OK?” I wish someone would tell them: “Of course, I am NOT OK! Can’t you see I’m bleeding and have a broken ankle?” As Elizabeth Pryse, author of the hugely popular English without Tears, once noted, the expressions that native English speakers use to show concern for other people’s personal tragedies and misfortunes come across to Nigerians as unfeeling, cold, and detached. Most Nigerians feel offended when native English speakers say “take care,” “watch out,” “are you all right?” etc. when they have freak accidents.

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Saturday, June 9, 2018

Great News on Discontinuation of HND in Nigeria

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

The most consequential news story this week, for me, wasn’t the 2019-reelection-fever-inspired declaration of June 12 as Democracy Day and posthumous honors to the late MKO Abiola and the late Gani Fawehinmi; it was the federal government’s decision to discontinue the Higher National Diploma, retain the National Diploma, convert Kaduna Polytechnic and Yaba Tech to city universities of technology, and the conversion of polytechnics to campuses of nearby universities for the award of B. Tech degrees.

I have written several columns advocating these policies for years. I must thank education minister Malam Adamu Adamu for taking these bold and praiseworthy decisions for the future of Nigeria’s education. I hope he will also either bring back teachers colleges or reform the curricula of our colleges of education to make them responsive to the pedagogical needs of elementary education.

I am taking the liberty to republish a condensed version of my September 10, 2016 article titled “Einstein was a Polytechnic Graduate:Thoughts on Nigerian HNDs,” the last of several columns I wrote advocating the policies the federal government just announced:

If you are a Nigerian university graduate who has been socialized into disdaining polytechnics as inferior higher education institutions, think about this: Albert Einstein, the world’s most renowned physicist and one of the most influential thinkers of all time, graduated from the Zurich Polytechnic (now called the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich) in 1900 with a diploma in mathematics and physics.

 Unlike in Nigeria, his diploma wasn’t a handicap to his pursuit of advanced degrees. He studied for and earned his Ph.D. in experimental physics from the University of Zurich, five years after his diploma. If a polytechnic produced one of the world’s greatest thinkers, why are polytechnics so low on the totem pole of post-secondary education in Nigeria? Why do we reserve ice-cold derision for polytechnic qualifications?

 Well, the answer lies in the different philosophies that informed the establishment of polytechnics in different countries. In the United States, “polytechnic universities” and “institutes of technology” are, and have always been, similar in status and structure to conventional universities. So they don’t have the reputational baggage that our polytechnics have.

 But the UK tradition of polytechnic education, which we inherited in Nigeria, intended for polytechnics to be no more than intermediate technical and vocational schools to train technologists and a lowbrow, middle-level workforce. So their mandate limited them to offering sub-degree courses in engineering and applied sciences.

In time, however, they ventured into the humanities and the social sciences and then sought to be equated with universities. This request was grudgingly granted only after the British government set up the Council for National Academic Awards (CNAA)—composed wholly of people from universities—to examine and validate the quality of polytechnic qualifications.

Nevertheless, in spite of this elaborate institutional quality control (which had no equivalent for universities) the higher national diploma (HND) was treated as only the equivalent of a bachelor’s degree “without honors.” In university administration lingo, only a “pass” degree—the lowest possible rank in British degree classification—is considered a degree “without honors.”

This means that first-class, upper-second-class, lower-second-class and third-class degrees have “honors” and that the HND is only equivalent to a “pass” degree. That’s why, traditionally, British universities did not—and many still do not— admit HND graduates to master’s degree programs (even if the HND graduates had a distinction in their diploma) without first requiring them to undergo a one-year remedial postgraduate diploma program—just like people with “pass” degrees must undergo a remedial program before being admitted to master’s degree programs.

This invidious discrimination against polytechnic graduates and manifestly preferential treatment for university graduates, often called the “Binary Divide” in UK higher education parlance, predictably gave rise to pervasive feelings of deep, bitter anger and ill will in the system.

So in 1992, under the Further and Higher Education Act, the “binary divide” was abolished, and all the 35 polytechnics in the UK were elevated to universities and given powers to award bachelor’s, master’s, and Ph.D. degrees. There are no more polytechnics—and the HND qualification— in the UK.

 Most other countries with British-style binary divides have also eliminated the distinction between polytechnics and universities to varying degrees. In Australia, polytechnics were elevated to “universities of technology” in the 1990s.

Hong Kong, a former British colony like Nigeria, upgraded its two polytechnics—The Hong Kong Polytechnic and the City Polytechnic of Hong Kong—to universities in 1994 and 1995 respectively.
New Zealand also merged all its polytechnics with existing universities and allowed only one—Auckland University of Technology (formerly the Auckland Institute of Technology)—to transmute into a full-fledged university in the 1990s.

 Greece abolished its polytechnics and upgraded them to universities in 2001. In South Africa, from 2004, polytechnics, known as technikons, were either merged with universities or upgraded to “universities of technologies,” although with limited rights and privileges.

In Germany, polytechnics can now, in addition to diplomas, award bachelor’s and master’s degrees in technical and vocational subjects (and in some humanities and social science courses such as communication studies, business and management, etc.) but cannot award PhDs.

In Sierra Leone, where polytechnic education began only in 2001, the country’s three polytechnics award bachelor’s degrees in a limited number of courses, in addition to awarding sub-degree diplomas and certificates.

 Kenya, another former British colony, merged its polytechnics with older universities and made them degree-awarding institutions since 2009. And Ghana has announced plans to convert its polytechnics into “technical universities” starting this month.

In India, Pakistan, and Singapore, polytechnics don’t grant higher education qualifications; students are admitted to a 3-year diploma program in technical and vocation fields from what we would call SS1 in Nigeria, that is, after the 10th year of formal schooling. So Indian, Pakistani, and Singaporean polytechnics are actually an alternative to traditional secondary education; they are not higher education institutions like Nigerian polytechnics are. (India’s “institutes of technology” award bachelor’s degrees and aren’t the same as “polytechnics.”)

Malaysia’s premier polytechnic, Ungku Omar Polytechnic, offers bachelor’s degrees in addition to diplomas and advanced diplomas. Other polytechnics in the country only offer diplomas and advanced diplomas.

What the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Hong Kong, Greece, Kenya, etc. achieved in the 1990s and 2000s— that is, abolition of the often unfair binary between polytechnic and university qualifications—had been achieved in Albert Einstein’s polytechnic in 1909, five years after he got his diploma there. It was, like most other polytechnics in Switzerland, elevated to a full-fledged university, although it is still fondly called “Poly” by its students, staff, and alumni to this day.
Almost no country in the world, except Nigeria, retains the binary divide between polytechnics and universities. Nigeria has no business being the lone exception.

So this is my recommendation to education minister Adamu Adamu: The HND should be abolished forthwith. However, the OND should be retained to supply the nation’s middle-level labor pool and to serve as a foundational qualification for entry into B. Tech. degree programs.

Small and mid-sized polytechnics should continue to offer the OND and big, resource-rich polytechnics like Yaba Tech, Kaduna Polytechnic, IMT Enugu, Federal Poly Auchi, etc. should be upgraded and converted to full-fledged universities of technology.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Buhari’s Democracy Day Speech is a Grammatical Embarrassment

By Farooq A. Kperogi, PhD
Twitter: @farooqkperogi

People have asked why I have never subjected President Muhammadu Buhari’s English to the crucible of grammatical analysis like I did former President Goodluck Jonathan’s on several occasions. There are two reasons for this. One, being a PhD and a former lecturer at a higher education institution, Jonathan came to the Nigerian presidency with an intellectual capital that no president or head of state before him had. This fact raised expectations that he would be a model of grammatical and rhetorical felicity in his communication in English.

Buhari, on the other hand, came to the Nigerian presidency in 2015 with perhaps the lowest intellectual cachet of any president in recent memory. There are doubts that he ever sat for a school certificate exam. Even his zealous supporters famously said, in the run-up to the 2015 election, that even if all he had to present as his educational qualification were a NEPA bill, they would still vote for him, indicating that intellectual vitality wasn’t one of the expectations they had of him. So pointing out the grammatical errors of someone who wasn’t even expected to speak grammatically correct English by both his admirers and critics is a waste of time.

The second reason is that Buhari actually speaks far better English than Jonathan does. In spite of Jonathan’s high credentials, his spoken English falls short of the standards expected of an average secondary school student. He does not understand rudimentary rules of subject-verb agreement that most people learn in junior secondary school, has trouble with tenses, and can’t seem to be able to speak basic idiomatic English. (To see where I chronicled Jonathan’s troubles with the English language during his presidency, read my April 16, 2010 column titled, “Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, that was Embarrassing!”; my January 27, 2013 column titled, “President Goodluck Jonathan’s Grammatical Boo-boos”; and my January 18, 2015 column titled, “President Jonathan’s Awkward Grammatical Miscues on the Campaign Trail”).

In spite of appearances to the contrary, Buhari speaks decent English. If you get past his heavily Hausa-inflected English accent, you will find that his syntax is almost perfect and that he speaks impressive idiomatic English. He has occasional troubles with consistency in using the past tense to describe past events, but that’s an issue that most nonnative English speakers struggle with. So, ironically, the man who came to the presidency with the least intellectual cachet speaks better English than a man who has the distinction of being Nigeria’s most credentialed president.

Democracy Day Grammatical Bloopers
Nevertheless, it is apparent that facility with proper grammar isn’t the forte of the president’s speechwriters. Nor is a concern for memorable, inspiring, and elegant prose. The speech the president delivered on May 29 was peppered with embarrassing grammatical errors, avoidable stylistic ugliness, sleep-inducing turns of phrase, and mind-numbing platitudes. I point out some of them below:

1. “Our nascent democracy.” In the very first sentence of the speech, the president referred to Nigeria’s 19-year-old democracy as “nascent.” That’s an inexcusable misuse of the word. Nascent means “beginning.” No one in his right mind would describe a nearly two-decade-old political system as “beginning.” “Our nascent democracy” is a stereotyped, clichéd expression that Nigerian politicians have been enamored with for years; they don’t want to let go of it even when it no longer makes sense. Clichés are overused, ready-made expressions that save intellectually lazy people the trouble of thinking. But it’s time to retire that maggoty expression to the verbal garbage where it properly belongs.

2. Inconsistent capitalization: The president’s speechwriters demonstrated the capitalization skills of a lower-level elementary school kid. It’s impossible to point out all the capitalization errors in the speech. In some places, “administration” is written with an upper-case “A” and in others with a lower-case “a.” “Change” is capitalized in the middle of sentences. So are “Anniversary,” “Government,” “Local Governments,” “Organizations,” “IDP Camps,” “International Community,” “the Elders,” “Billions,” etc. Well, the basic rule for capitalization is that only proper nouns are capitalized. Common nouns are never capitalized unless they begin a sentence.

3. “Naira” shouldn’t be capitalized, either. Throughout the speech, the president’s speechwriters capitalized “naira.” But currency names are never capitalized unless they begin a sentence. It should be, “billions of naira,” “millions of dollars,” “several euros,” etc., not “billions of Naira,” “millions of Dollars,” “several Euros,” etc. When specific amounts are mentioned, as was the case in the Democracy Day speech, use the symbol of the currency.

4. Subject-verb disagreement. In at least one place in the speech, the subject of a sentence disagrees with its verb. Look at this sentence, for example: “The unfortunate incidences of kidnappings, herdsmen and farmers clashes in several communities which have led to high number of fatalities and loss of properties across the country is being addressed and the identified culprits and their sponsors shall be made to face the full wrath of the law.”

The subject of this sentence is, “The unfortunate incidences of kidnappings, herdsmen and farmers clashes in several communities.” That is clearly a plural subject. But the verb that follows the subject in the sentence is the singular “is”! If you strip the sentence of its appurtenances, you would have, “The unfortunate incidences is being addressed.” The proper verb should be “are,” not “is” since the subject is “incidences.” Plural subjects should agree with plural verbs and singular subjects should agree with singular verbs.

By the way, “the full wrath of the law” isn’t a Standard English expression. I have no space to expound it, but people who are interested in the origin of the expression should read my June 26, 2016 column titled, “‘Face the Full Wrath of the Law’: Q and A on Nigerian, American and British English.”

5. “Amnesty of forgiveness.” The president said, “The Voluntary Asset and Income Declaration Scheme (VAIDS) aimed at expanding tax education and awareness has offered the opportunity for tax defaulters to regularise their status in order to enjoy the amnesty of forgiveness on overdue interest, penalties and the assurance of non-prosecution or subject to tax investigations.” What in the world is “amnesty of forgiveness”? Amnesty itself means forgiveness, so VAIDS makes tax defaulters enjoy “forgiveness of forgiveness”?

6. Punctuation. The president’s speechwriters obviously don’t know the function of a semi-colon. They think it’s used to introduce a list. Well, that is what a colon does.

7.  Other avoidable errors in the speech are, “loans had been disbursed to 4,822 societies in the 36 States and FCT, while another 370,635 are awaiting release of funds.” Use “had” only when an action has been completed in the past and has no effect in the present. Example: “In 1960, loans had been disbursed to 3,000 women.” That’s evidently not the case here. So it should have been, “loans have been disbursed.”

 The definite article “the” has also been misused in many places in the speech such as, “in order to sustain the international best practices and ensure safety and security” and “by the Boko Haram.” The definite article is unneeded in both phrases.

Finally, “private-owned Universities” should be “privately-owned universities” (in American English, it would be “privately owned universities”; note the absence of a hyphen between “privately” and “owned”), “hitch free elections” should be “hitch-free elections,” and “violence free process” should be “violence-free process.” The last two examples are what grammarians call compound modifiers or compound adjectives. They are groups of words, always joined by a hyphen, that modify the nouns that come after them. For instance, “violence-free” is a compound adjective that modifies “process.”

Why This Matters
Presidents, by virtue of the enormous symbolic power they wield, have an outsize influence on grammar and usage. Their errors can become new norms and can confuse people who look up to them for guidance. Most importantly, important presidential speeches, such as the Democracy Day speech, often outlast their time. 

That is why speechwriters invest time and energy into making them remarkable, quotable, and fitting. Incidentally, last week, President Donald Trump’s two letters (one to the leader of North Korea and the other to a retired high school teacher) were also the subject of vicious critiques and parsing by American grammarians and journalists. So Buhari is in “good” company.

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Saturday, June 2, 2018

El-Rufai’s Hypocritical Xenophobia and Obadiah Mailafia’s Fulaniphobia

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

Gov. Nasir El-Rufai loves to flaunt his appointment of "non-indigenes" in his government as evidence of his cosmopolitanism. I know at least five top appointees of his who are not—and have never claimed to be—from Kaduna State. In fact, his Senior Adviser on Media and Communication is a Yoruba man by the name of Muyiwa Adekeye. Yet during a May 4, 2018 rabble-rousing speech at a campaign rally in Kaduna, he called into question the "indigeneity" of all three senators from his state—in addition to tacitly imploring his supporters to visit violence on the senators when they set feet on the state.

I have no knowledge of the ancestral provenance of the three senators, but it doesn’t matter where their ancestors came from. What matters is that they grew up in Kaduna State and identify with the state. If we were to all shake our ancestral trees, we would be shocked by what falls from them. In my May 7 Facebook status update on this issue, I pointed to a longstanding whispering campaign in Kaduna that El-Rufai himself is descended from Ebira ancestors in what is now Kogi State.

In response to the update, several people wrote to tell me that El-Rufai’s paternal ancestors are Malian Fulani, not Ebira. But this information just proves the point of my intervention: that our ethnic and geographic identities are mere accidents, which are incidental to our humanity. It’s both disappointing and hypocritical that a state governor would choose to delegitimize his state’s senators by calling attention to their supposed “foreignness” while taking credit for having a mind broad enough to appoint “foreign” people in his government.

In his May 11, 2018 Business Day column titled “Genocide, Hegemony and Power in Nigeria,” former Central Bank of Nigeria deputy governor Dr. Obadiah Mailafia also singled out the entire Fulani ethnicity for “othering.” I have to admit, though, that given the unchecked murderous fury of herders in the part of Nigeria Mailafia identifies with, his rather over-the-top emotional reaction is entirely legitimate and defensible. But in making his points, he played fast and loose with some facts. I highlight only three:

1. He identified Shehu Shagari, Murtala Mohammed (“through his mother”), Umaru Musa Yar’adua, and Buhari as Nigerian presidents “of the Fulani ethnic extraction.” Well, when I lived in Katsina for a year, I learned that the Musa Yar'adua family (of which the late President Umaru Musa Yar'adua was a scion) isn't, as Mailafia claims, Fulani; it is patrilineally Tuareg (the Tuareg are a branch of the Berber cluster in North Africa), whom Hausa people call Buzu. Another prominent Buzu family in northern Nigeria that people mistake for Fulani is the Baba-Ahmed family in Mailafia's Kaduna State.
Similarly, the late Murtala Mohammed's paternal identity is the subject of elaborate, long-standing speculations, none of which points to a Fulani ethnicity. The most credible, in my opinion, is the speculation that his father was from northern Edo State. A man by the name of Austin Braimoh, who says he is Murtala’s paternal first cousin, wrote in a February 19, 2016 Vanguard article titled “Remembering Murtala Mohammed” that Murtala’s father's name was Dako Mohammed and that he migrated to Kano from the village of Igbe in the Auchi area of Edo State via Lagos. Given the number of "Auchi" people who rose to prominence in the Kano society, this speculation isn't far-fetched. We know, of course, that his mother was a member of the powerful Inuwa Wada family in Kano, but if Mailafia can arbitrarily use matrilineal lineage to determine Murtala’s ethnicity, then he should also denude Buhari of his Fulani ethnicity since Buhari's mother is half Hausa and half Kanuri.

2. There are two incumbent elected presidents in West Africa who self-identify as Fulani: Macky Sall of Senegal and Adama Barrow of the Gambia. The Fulani are just about 18 percent of Senegal’s population and 21 percent of the Gambia’s. Ahmadou Ahidjo, a Fulani man, was also Cameroon's president (actually the country's first president) from 1960 to 1982, even though the Fulani are only 10 percent of Cameroon's population. So Mailafia's notion of universally reviled, unredeemable Fulani demons whom no nation in West Africa wants to entrust with leadership at the highest level which, according to him, “explains why the Fulani have turned their attention to Nigeria,” is not supported by the facts. Not everyone, obviously, is as obsessed with unreflective ethnic particularism as Mailafia is.

3. Mailafia's ethnic essentialist arguments are also perched on a thin thread of evidence. All scholars of identity will tell you that identity is fiction, even if it's emotionally valid, politically consequential fiction. Mailafia himself has said several times that he is part Fulani. The truth is, no one is pure anything. Whether we know it or not, we are all ethnic "mongrels” trapped in what Jean-Loup Amselle calls "mestizo logics."

My recent interest in recreational genetics has solidified the truth of this mestizo logic of our ethnicity for me. I did an ancestry DNA test for my mother and me a few months ago and found that I am 14 percent Asanti (I was able to determine the ethnicity because Ancestry.com's database matched my mother with a 4th cousin from Ghana who turned out to be a New York-based Asanti man from Accra), 17 percent Malian (I haven't determined what Malian ethnicity it is, but I suspect it’s Bambara), 33 percent Benin Republic/Togo, and 34 percent Nigerian. (One percent is from Senegal and another one percent from Congo/Cameroon).

My mother had not the foggiest idea that she had any ancestors from the Asanti. No one ever mentioned it to her. I knew she had Malian ancestry from the clan names of her forebears (“Manneh” and “Toure”), which are names Bambara/Mandinka/Mandingo/Malinke/Jula, etc. people bear in Mali, Senegal, the Gambia, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Sierra Leone, etc. But the oral history that was handed down to her says her ancestors came from Katsina and Borno. I have a slightly higher Malian DNA than she does, which means my father has a little bit of Malian bloodline, too.

 It's known to geneticists that several people in Mali, Guinea, the Gambia, Senegal, Sierra Leone, etc. embody complex ethnic alchemies, so it's reductionist to talk of ethnicity in the essentialist terms that Mailafia did in his article. For instance, Alpha Konare, Mali's president from 1992 to 2008, was born by a Fulani mother and a Bambara father, but he self-identifies as Bambara. The country's first president, Modibo Keita, has a Fulani first name, although he didn't self-identify as Fulani. Several Guinean presidents who self-identified as Mandinka had Fulani mothers or grandmothers. If we use the matrilineal logic of identity that Mailafia deployed to assign a Fulani ethnicity to Murtala Mohammed, many Guinean presidents would also qualify as Fulani.

My own attitude to identity is that people are who they say— and believe— they are, even if that's not necessarily who they are. But given the originary syncretism of all modern ethnic identities, Mailafia's misguided nativist logic of Nigerian citizenship (which alienates even the Fulani people whose ancestors have been here before Nigeria was conceived) is politically inconsequential fiction.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

“Sannu da Shan Ruwa,” or “Eku Ongbe,” is Untranslatable into English

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

Every Ramadan season, without fail, I get a steady stream of questions from my Hausa-speaking readers wanting to know the English lexical or idiomatic equivalent to “sannu da shan ruwa” or “barka da shan ruwa,” the special greeting for people who are observing the Ramadan fast. I always respond that English has no equivalent literal or idiomatic expression for it. I will reproduce and expand on the responses I’ve traditionally given over the years.

Many expressions are simply untranslatable into other languages because of the vastness of the socio-cultural differences between the languages. The Hausa “Sannu da shan ruwa,” the Yoruba “eku ongbe,” or the Baatonum “bese ka noru,” which, as I will show shortly, all signify the same thing, is one such expression. (I will write a full-length column next week on Nigerian expressions that are untranslatable into English).

A literal translation of sannu da shan ruwa (which would be, “greetings on drinking water”) makes absolutely no grammatical or cultural sense in English. Even a proximate idiomatic translation of the expression in English is impossible because the Ramadan fast isn’t integral to the culture of native English speakers. Cultures only lexicalize socio-cultural experiences that they undergo firsthand, on a large scale, and on a consistent basis.

 So if I were to meet a native English speaker who is a Muslim and I need to greet him or her to celebrate the mood of the month of Ramadan, I would simply say, "sannu da shan ruwa.” If I want to be linguistically nationalistic, I would say “bese ka noru,” which is the literal and idiomatic Baatonum (or Baruba) equivalent to the Hausa sannu da shan ruwa. I will then explain what the expression means instead of trying to get an English equivalent for it, because it doesn't exist.

Yoruba Muslims say “eku ongbe,” which literally means, “greetings on thirst.” (“Ongbe” means thirst. So does the Baatonum word “noru.”) Apparently, Nigerian Muslims perceive deprivation from drinking water, not food, as the central self-denial in the Ramadan fast.

It is conceivable that in the near future, if enough Nigerian Muslims live in environments where English is a native language, these kinds of unique socio-cultural phrases will be literally translated into English and adopted by the speakers—if the phrases fill a cultural and socio-linguistic void. That was what happened with the expression “long time, no see.” It is a direct translation from the Chinese expression Hǎojiǔ bùjiàn, which literally translates as, “very long-time no see.” It makes no grammatical sense in English. It isn’t even a complete sentence. As I pointed out in my book, Glocal English: The Changing Face and Forms of Nigerian English in a Global World, “long time, no see” first started as a mocking imitation of Chinese English in the United States. But because it actually filled a void in the English-speaking world, it has stuck in the language in spite of its ungrammaticality. (The English expression, “hey, stranger!” isn’t quite as evocative as “long time, no see.”)

Another example of a direct translation from another language that has become idiomatic in English is the phrase “enjoy!” often uttered in (American) airlines and restaurants after people are served a meal. It’s an attempt to translate the French “bon appetit,” which would literally translate as “good appetite” in English, but which actually means “enjoy your meal.” It’s a unique French sociolinguistic quiddity that English speakers now have a need to mimic because of recent French cultural and gastronomic influences. Outside of the grace (a short prayer of thanks before a meal) in religious homes, native English speakers don’t traditionally utter any special greetings before meals, like we don’t in Nigeria.

What American and British Muslims Say
Nevertheless, it might help to know that English-speaking American and British Muslims usually say “happy iftar,” or “wish you a joyous iftar,” during the feast after fast. Collins Dictionary says the first recorded usage of “iftar” in English dates back to 1722. Interestingly, the expression didn’t come to English directly from Arabic; it came from Ottoman Turkish, according to the Oxford English Dictionary. Thomas Jefferson, America’s third president, is the first American president to host an iftar dinner in the White House on December 9, 1805. He hosted it in honor of Sidi Soliman Mellimelli, the Tunisian ambassador to the United States at the time.

In contemporary times, “iftar” reemerged in American English lexicon after former First Lady Hillary Clinton reintroduced and instituted the annual White House Iftar Dinner in 1996. During the dinners, she her husband, and other American officials often said “Happy iftar”—or some version of that expression— to American Muslims. George Bush and Barack Obama continued the tradition throughout their presidencies, but Donald Trump has stopped it.

“Happy Iftar” not Adequate
But “happy iftar,” “enjoy your iftar,” “wish you a joyous iftar,” etc. are all woefully incapable of encapsulating or even approximating the deep cultural, sociolinguistic signification of “sannu da shan ruwa” in Hausa, bese ka noru in Baatonum, or eku ongbe in Yoruba. For one, iftar literally means, “break fast.” It comes from the Semitic root word “ptr” (rendered in Arabic as “fatara” or “fitr” since Arabic has no “p” sound), which denotes breaking, splitting, detaching, or separating. While the Arabic iftar comes from a metaphor of breaking, Nigerian languages deploy the metaphor of water in their everyday cultural salutations during the Ramadan fast.

Second, “iftar” refers to the meal after the Ramadan fast, for which Nigerian languages have lexical equivalents. For instance, Hausa speakers refer to the act of breaking one’s fast as “bude baki,” which literally means “open mouth.” Baatonum speakers say “no kora,” which literally means, “break mouth.” Yoruba speakers say “sinu,” a contraction of “si enu,” which literally means, “open mouth.” So Nigerian languages use the imagery of opening or breaking the “mouth” to express the act of eating after the Ramadan fast.

The Ramadan-specific greetings in Nigerian languages aren’t limited to celebrating the end of the daily fast with a feast; they are intended to acknowledge the spirit of communal gaiety and joyful self-denial of the Ramadan fast.

The closest socio-linguistic approximations to sannu da shan ruwa in Hausa, bese ka noru in Baatonum, or eku ongbe in Yoruba, in my opinion, are Ramadan Kareem and Ramadan Mubarak. Ramadan Kareem roughly translates as, “have a generous Ramadan” and “Ramadan Mubarak” roughly translates as, “greetings on the blessed Ramadan.” (“Kareem” means “generous” and “Mubarak” means “blessed”).  Although they are Arabic expressions, they are widely understood in the English-speaking world and have entries in all major dictionaries.

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Saturday, May 26, 2018

Ibrahim Idris: Inspector General for the President (IGP)

By Farooq A. Kperogi
Twitter: @farooqkperogi

I refused to jump on the bandwagon of ridiculing IGP Ibrahim Kpotun Idris over his “transmission” speech mishap in Kano the other day, although I was tempted to intervene by the intentional lies of people who said the video was “doctored” and by the ignorance of people who said the IGP’s flub provides evidence of his illiteracy.  The viral video was clearly only edited to shorten it so that it’s easily shareable on social media; It wasn’t doctored. And Idris was evidently experiencing what speech-language pathologists call aphasia, which is a symptom of a bigger problem.  

But that’s not my worry. My worry is that, like his predecessor, IGP Idris has abdicated his position as Inspector General of the Police; he is now the Inspector General for the President. In my April 18, 2015 column titled “People President Buhari Must Fire to Show he Means Business,” I mentioned former IGP Suleiman Abba as the number 2 person that should be fired forthwith.

But I prefaced my suggestions with this forewarning: “My only caveat is that if [Buhari] will merely replace them with people who will replicate their notoriety, unprofessionalism, and toxic partisanship in his government, then there is no point reinventing the wheel. The same people will change loyalty and render the exact services they rendered to Jonathan—with, of course, the same results. And we all know what the results are.

“If Buhari is prepared to be a real change agent, to be the catalyst for Nigeria’s structural and systemic makeover, to be the trendsetter for future generation of transaction-oriented leaders, he should get rid of the people listed below and tell their replacements never to repeat their mistakes:”

When I read my November 29, 2014 column titled, “Suleiman Abba: Inspector General for the President (IGP),” I was unnerved by the eeriness of the similarities between Idris and Abba. They both owe their loyalties not to the nation or the police but to the presidents who appointed them. Here is an excerpt from the column:

“Let’s stop the pretense. We have no Inspector General of Police in Nigeria. What we have is an Inspector General for the President. It’s still IGP, but we know what the ‘P’ in the initialism actually stands for.

“IGP Suleiman Abba will certainly gown down in the annals as the most openly politically partisan police chief Nigeria has ever had. In the ongoing political tension between President Goodluck Jonathan and Speaker of the House of Representatives Aminu Tambuwal, Abba has carried on as if he is no more than an appendage of the president’s office.  But it isn’t his overzealously undisguised partisanship in and of itself that is unusual; it’s the bewilderingly tasteless showiness with which he is doing it.

“From instructing his men and women to forcibly deny members of the House of Representatives entry into their chambers, to initially spurning the invitation of the House before grudgingly accepting it, to refusing to recognize the legitimacy of the Speaker when he appeared before the House, Abba has stepped outside the bounds of decency and conventional policing. He has redefined his role as not the chief law enforcement officer of the nation but as a protector of the president and a tormentor of his opponents.

“These days it’s hard to tell the IGP apart from the People’s Democratic Party’s hacks and spin doctors. In fact, he seems to be doing a better job at defending the PDP and the President than the people who are paid to do so. Any Inspector General of Police who outdoes hacks and spin-doctors in political propaganda is beneath contempt.

“IGP Abba’s reason for refusing to recognize the Speaker is particularly disingenuous. He said since the legality of the Speaker’s position is the subject of legal disputation consequent upon his defection to the All Progressives’ Congress, it would be ‘sub judice’ to address him as the Speaker. How convenient! Well, actually, Mr. Abba, the opposite holds true: by refusing to recognize the legality of the Speaker’s position, you’re prejudging the outcome of the court thereby interfering with due process. 

“A careful, non-partisan Inspector General of Police who is concerned with not being seen as doing or saying anything that would be misunderstood as biasing ongoing court processes would steer clear of the partisan bickering between the Speaker and the President by recognizing the Speaker until the courts declare that he is no longer Speaker by virtue of his defection to another political party—that is, if the courts have the power to do that….

“It doesn’t take a lawyer to know that IGP Abba is unmistakably on the wrong side of the law for refusing to recognize Aminu Tambuwal as the Speaker of the House of Representatives. But even a self-appointed Inspector General for the President has an obligation to obey the law.”

Only the time, personalities, and specificity of facts have changed; everything else has remained the same. Like Abba, Idris is still disrespectful of the National Assembly in the service of protecting the presidency. Well, while Abba did grudgingly appear before the House of Representatives in 2014, Idris has, as of the time of writing this column, refused to.

Because he knows where the president’s real interest lies in the conflict between crop farmers and cattle herders, he “disobeyed” the president’s directive to relocate to Benue State to contain the bloodletting in the state. The fact that he hasn’t been punished after this—and even after publicly contradicting the presidency’s claim that he had been issued a query—proves beyond all shadows of doubt that the “directive” to relocate to Benue was a charade. And Idris knows this only too well.

One would have thought that Idris would learn from the mistakes of Abba—or that Buhari would work to curb Idris’ embarrassingly excessive personal loyalty to him because, you know, government outlasts people in the corridors of power and societies develop only when they build and nurture institutions, not when people in positions of responsibility worship incumbent power wielders.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

No, “Mosque” Doesn’t Come from “Mosquito”

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

Several months ago, a couple of people drew my attention to a Facebook status update by a certain Dr. Idris Ahmed, who I understand lives in the UK. The status update essentially instructed Muslims to stop using the word “mosque” to refer to the Muslim place of worship. Ahmed said “masjid” (the Arabic word for mosque) should always be used instead of “mosque” even when the medium of communication is English because, according to him, “mosque” is a derogatory term that traces lexical descent from the word “mosquito.” He said “mosque” emerged in Spanish and later in English when Christian conquerors of Muslim Spain bragged that they would smash Muslims in their places of worship like “mosquitoes.”

I ignored the update because I thought it was self-evidently ridiculous and that no sensible person would believe it. But I am writing on the issue this week for two reasons. First, during Ramadan, I strive to, whenever I can, write columns that resonate with the spirit and mood of the month. Second, the man’s location in the UK, the birthplace of the English language, appears to have conferred unearned credibility on his claim because several people keep asking me to shed light on it.

Well, the short answer is that the etymology is entirely false. It has no basis in linguistic and historical evidence, as I’ll show shortly. But why and how did the notion that “mosque” is a derivate of “mosquito” emerge? From my research, it seems likely that it was invented—or at least popularized—by an American Muslim convert by the name of Yahiya Emerick who wrote a book in 2011 titled The Complete Idiot's Guide to Understanding Islam.

On page 14 of the book, Emerick writes, “The English term mosque is derived from the Spanish word for mosquito and came into use during the Christian invasion of Muslim Spain in the fifteenth century. The forces of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella boasted they would swat out Muslim prayer houses like mosquitoes. Understandably, many Muslims prefer not to use this unfortunate name amongst themselves.”

No Linguistic Evidence
This isn’t even folk etymology; it’s straight-up false etymology. The truth is that “mosque” is actually derived from the Arabic masjid, which literally means place of prostration, where “ma” means “place” “sujud” means “prostration,” that is, worship. When the word first appeared in English in the 1400s, it was rendered as moseak or muskey. By the 16th century, the spelling mutated to mosquee. Etymologists date the current spelling, mosque, to the year 1717. Like most English words of Arabic origin, “mosque” came to English via Middle French, where the word was rendered as mosquée. (The French conquered and colonized England for more than 300 years, which explains why there is so much French influence in the English language).

However, it wasn’t the French who first domesticated masjid to some version of mosque. That credit goes to the Spanish who first adapted it as mesquite, according to the Chambers’s Etymological Dictionary of the English Language. (Modern Spanish speakers now call masjid mezquita). So by what morphological logic did masjid transmute into mesquite and later mezquita? Here is how.

It’s actually as a consequence of a concatenation of Spanish and Italian morphological influences. Interestingly, Italian and Spanish are mutually intelligible cognate languages that descended from Vulgar Latin, that is, vernacular Latin, as opposed to Classical Latin, which is, for all practical purposes, dead now.

It’s obvious that the “mez” (in mezquita) is phonologically similar to the “mas” in masjid since, in any case, “a” in Arabic often parallels “e” in Spanish and other Latin-derived languages. Now let’s account for the hard “k” sound after “mas.” You see, there is no “j” sound in Spanish. That was the first thing I learned about Spanish when I relocated to the US more than a decade ago. Even when “j” appears in written Spanish, it’s never pronounced. Jesus, for instance, is pronounced “esus.” I called one of my Spanish students named Jesus the way I would say Jesus in English, and everyone in the class let out a belly laugh. I didn’t realize that almost every educated person in the US knows that “j” is always silent in Spanish. That experience gave me an insight into why the Spanish-speaking people I’d interacted with couldn’t say simple English words like “jump,” “just,” “jet,” etc.

 So when the Spanish borrow words from other languages that have the “j” sound, they almost always replace the “j” sound with something else. When they borrow from Arabic (and they borrowed a lot), they often either replace the “j” sound in Arabic with a “ch” sound or with a “kh” sound, that is, the deep guttural sound that makes you feel like you are discharging mucus from the lungs and out of the mouth. (Most Nigerian languages, apart from some Edo languages, don’t have the “kh” guttural sound, which explains why most Nigerians who have no Arabic education pronounce the first sounds in names like Khalid and Khadija like “k,” which is wrong. To pronounce the names correctly, say the “kh” as if you were clearing your throat. Be careful, though; you might choke!).

Spanish chose to replace the “j” in masjid with the guttural “kh” sound, which later evolved to a hard “k” sound, often represented by the letters “q” and “c” in Spanish. A Muslim linguist by the name of Abu Aisha, writing for the MuslimSpeak website, gave many examples of Spanish words of Arabic origin that followed that morphological pattern.

Now let’s account for the “t” in the Spanish and Italian rendering of masjid. When Italian borrows words from other languages, especially Arabic, that end with a “d,” it almost always changes the “d” sound to a “t” sound. That’s why Muhammad is rendered as “Maometto” in Italian, which came to English as “Mahomet” by way of French, where it was also rendered as Mahomet. In Classical Latin, (from where Italian, Spanish, French, Portuguese, and other “Romance languages” evolved), it is rendered as Mahometus. Until relatively recently, the prophet of Islam was known as Mahomet in English. For instance, the English translation of Jacques Casanova de Seingalt’s rendering of the shahada in the 1700s was, "I have had to say that God is God, and that Mahomet is the prophet."
So the “d” in masjid became a “t” in Latin-derived languages. It was later dropped in French and came to English in that form.

On the other hand, “mosquito” is an original Spanish word, derived, of course, from Latin, its parent language. It is the diminutive form of “mosca,” which means insect. (A diminutive is a suffix that is added to a word to indicate its smallness. Example: the “let” in booklet indicates that it’s a small book.) So mosquito in Spanish simply means small mosca (it’s musca in Classical Latin). It has no etymological kinship with mosque whatsoever. Mosque and mosquito are therefore false cognates, as linguists call similar-sounding words that appear to be related but that are actually completely unrelated.

History Disproves the “Mosquito” Etymology
Linguistic evidence apart, historical evidence shows that in the hundreds of years that Muslims ruled Spain, Spanish-speaking Muslims called their masjids mesquite, that is, before the Christian conquest of the country. Mesquite even appears in the surviving samples of the writings of Muslim Spaniards. It makes no chronological sense for an event that allegedly happened in the 15th century to retroactively apply to linguistic practices that predated the event by hundreds of years. Most importantly, though, Spanish Muslims would never knowingly use mesquite to refer to their place of worship if the word were indeed pejorative.

Of course, it is entirely legitimate to prefer the word masjid to the word mosque even in English communication. After all, masjid has now, in fact, been accepted as an Arabic loan in English. It is never underlined as a foreign word even by the pesky Microsoft Word dictionary, and has entries in most reputable dictionaries. But the choice to use masjid instead of mosque shouldn’t be founded on conspiratorial ignorance. Mosque traces lexical descent from masjid, and the two words are now synonyms.

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