Sunday, July 26, 2015

Q and A on Titles, Grammaticality of “Treasonable Felony” and Other Expressions

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

Twitter: @farooqkperogi

I have a backlog of unanswered questions from several weeks ago to which I hope to respond in the coming weeks. This week, I answered questions on the grammaticality of the term “treasonable felony,” on the use of titles such as “comrade” and “Dr.,” on Nigerian English expressions such as “recharge cards,” and other usage issues. Enjoy.

Please I need you to help clarify the term/concept "treasonable felony." I’ve heard it used several times by many Nigerian commentators. Recently the SSS accused the former NSA of allegedly committing “treasonable felony.”

“Treasonable felony” is a uniquely Nigerian English expression that also occasionally appears in Ghanaian English. No other variety of English in the world uses the expression. A check on the Corpus of Global Web-Based English confirms this. Of the 52 matches that appeared in the corpus, 43 showed up in Nigerian English and 9 in Ghanaian English. There was no record for the expression in all other English varieties the corpus indexes.

In Standard English, “treason” means the crime of wanting to overthrow a legitimately constituted government through violent, unconstitutional means. Felony, on the other hand, means any serious crime, such as murder, arson, treason, etc. In American law, it is customary to classify crimes as either felonies (which typically attract harsh punishments like the death sentence, life imprisonment, or prison sentences lasting more than a year) or misdemeanors (which are minor offenses that are punished with fines or prison sentences that last a year or less).  In other words, “treasonable felony” would be considered needless verbosity in native English varieties since “treason” is itself a felony.

 But Nigerian law differentiates between “treason” and “treasonable felony.” According to section 37(1) of the Criminal Code Act, “treason” occurs when someone actually wages a war, or conspires with any person to wage a war, against the country “in order intimidate or overawe the president or the governor of a state,” and it is punishable by death. “Treasonable felony,” on the other hand, Section 41 of the Criminal Code tells us, is an “intention” to commit treason.

That distinction makes no logical or grammatical sense, but it has been in Nigerian law books for as long as Nigeria has existed. I think it should be accepted—and defended— as a legitimate Nigerian English expression. There are a thousand and one expressions in Standard English that also make no logical or grammatical sense.

You are probably not aware that several discussion groups have been formed around your columns. I’m a member of one such discussion group, which debated the title “Dr.” Between a medical doctor and a Ph.D. holder who is more deserving of prefixing the title “Dr.” to their name? What do the world’s newspaper style guides say about this? I know our own Guardian in Nigeria had a “Simply Mr” policy. Without context, it can be hard to tell a medical doctor from a PhD holder if people are simply called “Dr.”

That’s an excellent question. By convention, both medical doctors and PhDs can prefix “Dr.” to their names. But, here, there is a clash between etymology (origin and development of words) and pragmatics (how words are actually used by speakers of a language). The word “doctor” was historically used for teachers because it’s derived from the Latin verb docēre, which means “to teach.”  So “doctor of philosophy” meant “teacher of philosophy,” where “philosophy” meant what we now know as sciences and humanities, that is, disciplines other than law, medicine, and theology. 

In contemporary uses, however, people tend to first think of medical doctors before PhDs when the term “doctor” is mentioned. For instance, when I visited home after completing my PhD here, several of my mother’s friends came to ask that I give them medicines for all sorts of illnesses. When they heard that I had become a “doctor,” they assumed that I was a medical doctor. I will never forget my mother’s response to her friends. She said, “This doctor doesn’t treat illnesses; he cures ignorance.” She said this even when she didn’t know that, etymologically, “doctor” meant one who teaches, in other  words, one who cures ignorance, although  I think it’s a bit arrogant to assume that anyone one person, however knowledgeable,  can cure all ignorance—or that  you need a doctorate to cure ignorance.

But the point is that modern usage associates “Dr.” more with medical practitioners than it does with Ph.Ds.

That’s why the New York Times style guide reserves “Dr.” only for medical doctors, and uses “Mr.” for doctoral degree holders. If the doctoral degree holder’s qualification is relevant to the story, the paper would write something like, “Mr. Smith, who has a doctorate in physics, said…” Other American newspapers suffix “PhD” to the names of doctoral degree holders in news reports, as in, “John Smith, Ph.D., said it was unwise to let that happen.”

I would like to know if the word "comrade" can be used as a title. Apart from Nigeria I have never heard of a country where people formally prefix “Comrade” to their names.

Comrade as a title isn't exclusive to Nigeria. It's used in place of conventional courtesy titles like "Mr.," "Miss," "Mrs.," etc. by communists, socialists, and freedom fighters. However, with the collapse of state socialism in the former USSR and Eastern Europe, the title has declined in usage and popularity. But many trade unionists all over the English-speaking world still prefix “comrade” to their names.

While British and Nigerian English speakers pronounce the word as /komreid/, American English speakers pronounce it as /komrad/.

Is the phrase “recharge card” not correct English? I ask because I heard one local writer saying that “phone card” is the right phrase to be used instead.

There is nothing wrong with saying "recharge card." Although it is more common in Nigerian English than in any variety of English, "recharge card" is used in other English varieties, including native varieties like New Zealand English and Australian English. I even found one record of its use in Canadian English when I checked the Corpus of Global Web-Based English.

 Nevertheless, the most universally understood alternative expressions for "recharge cards" are "prepaid phone cards" or “prepaid calling cards.” In advanced industrial societies like the US and the UK, prepaid phone cards are used only by foreign visitors. Citizens and permanent residents of these countries pay one-off monthly phone bills. That’s why neither “recharge cards” nor “prepaid phone cards” are popular with the general population in these countries. Language reflects people’s material reality.

Is it wrong to pluralize father's day as fathers' day?

It isn't wrong, but it's officially called "Father's Day," suggesting that it's a day for people to individually celebrate their fathers. The same rule applies to "Mother's Day." But it is “workers’ day,” not “worker’s day,” since the day is dedicated to celebrating workers collectively, not individually.

Is it grammatical to write this: Ayo is a BS holder? Or Ayo is a Ph.D holder?

I would say "Ayo has a B.S. (or BSc.) in ..." Or "Ayo is a BS (or BSc.) degree holder" (sounds rather clumsy but it's grammatical). It is more traditional, at least in America, to say "Ayo is a Ph.D." Or “Ayo has a Ph.D."  If you want to be windy, you might say "Ayo is a Ph.D. degree holder."

Which is correct? 1. I got that correctly. 2. I got that correct.

Both are correct depending on what you mean. Number 1 is correct if your focus is on the action, that is, "getting" it. Number 2 is correct if your focus is on the “what," that is, that which you got correct.

Number 1 is an adverbial construction where the focus is on the action, that is, on the verb. Number 2 is an adjectival construction where the focus is on the noun, which is implied in your sentence.  My sense is that you probably mean you got the answer right, which means “I got that correct” is what you want to say. Notice that I didn’t write “you got the answer rightly” because my focus is on the “answer” rather than on “getting” it.

I want to know the grammaticality of the expression, "Why President Buhari has yet to move to Aso Rock." I thought it should be, " yet to..."

Both expressions are correct and mean exactly the same thing, but "has yet to" is now more common among native English speakers.

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Politics of Grammar Column

Saturday, July 25, 2015

President Buhari’s Grand Moments in America

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

By all accounts, President Buhari not only had incredibly wondrous moments in America during his visit here, he also gave me and many Nigerians a cause to cheer and be proud.

While his American outing didn’t come close to Tafawa Balewa’s July 1961 visit in terms of grandeur and luster (read my April 7, 2012 article titled “Tafawa Balewa’s Electrifying 1961 American Visit”) Buhari was certainly everything that Goodluck Jonathan was not during his own April 2010 American visit.

Tafawa Balewa oozed infectious regal splendor, Buhari exuded supreme confidence and competence, but Jonathan, sadly, betrayed cringe-worthy timidity and ineptitude. (Read my April 16, 2010 article titled “Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, that was embarrassing!” in which I became the first person to call him “clueless”). But let’s leave the comparisons for another day.

From his polished, dignified comportment during meetings with Obama and other top American government officials at the White House, to his exceptionally well-written and brilliantly delivered speech at the United States Institute of Peace, to his dexterous and humorous responses to questions from audience members at the USIP, to his perfect poise and self-assured delivery at the American Chamber of Commerce dinner, to his witty, informative session with Nigerians in America, and to his interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, President Buhari shone like a star.

I am an almost compulsively fastidious person, but I found little to criticize in Buhari’s American visit. He understood the protocols and conventions of state visits, was superlatively self-confident, radiated warmth and ease, was admirably urbane, and was totally in control. I couldn’t ask for more.
 I initially had anxieties about the thickness of his accent; I thought his American guests might find his accent unintelligible. But he spoke slowly and deliberately, and articulated his words clearly, carefully, wisely, and advisedly.

I frankly feel like a snob writing this (believe you me, I am the farthest person from a snob) because we are talking about a 73-year-old man who had been everything anybody would ever want to be— a governor, a minister, a head of state, name it. Plus, he went to school in America and is as familiar with Americans as anybody can be. So why am I gushing over his outing in America as if I didn’t expect him to be poised, well-spoken, and polished? Or am I guilty of what George W. Bush once called the “soft bigotry of low expectations”?

Of course not. As I wrote in my June 20, 2015 article titled “Criticizing Buhari over ‘President Michelle of Germany’ Gaffe is Ignorant,” President Buhari’s “thought-processes are clearly complex, sophisticated, and high-level. If in doubt, get hold of any of his off-the cuff remarks, go beyond the distractions of his accent, and you will see a man whose intellect is deep and whose understanding of governance and world politics is admirably advanced. I have interviewed him twice—first when I was a journalist in Nigeria and later from here in the US for the Nigerian Village Square website in 2010.”

All this is called for precisely because many young and not so young people who know Buhari only through the miasma of vile political campaigns tend to fit him in the mold of the stereotypical northern “know-nothing” who got to his present station through nepotistic northern patronage networks. And since the man is taciturn and chooses to let his critics stew in their own ignorance about him, the stereotype sticks. But Buhari is no “quota” know-nothing, his age-induced memory lapses notwithstanding.

For me, though, one aspect of President Buhari that came out in bold relief during his American visit was the richness and rightness of his sense of humor. It takes complex cognitive ability to be able to inject humor into one’s speech. It takes even more abilities to make the humor truly rib-tickling. But it’s best if the humor is simultaneously funny and self-deprecating.

For instance, during the Q and A portion of his appearance at the United States Institute of Peace, Buhari said, in response to a question, that in the past few weeks that he has been president, he has transmogrified from “Baba Buhari, which means father Buhari, to Baba Go-Slow!” When the moderator of the Q and A session wanted to stack up three questions before giving him a chance to respond, Buhari said he would rather answer the questions singly because “I am not too confident about my memory,” poking fun at his “senior moments” (such as his “President Michelle of Germany” gaffe and his misidentification of his political party as the “All Nigerian People’s Congress” during remarks at the White House). That’s self-deprecating humor at its best. Few people can tell jokes at their own expense.

Again, when the moderator asked how his experience as a former military head of state would impinge on his performance as an elected president— and another windy question I don’t recall now—Buhari prefaced his response by saying “thank you for your difficult questions!” The entire hall roared with laughter. It’s good to know that we have a leader who can laugh at himself.

I was initially secretly opposed to Buhari’s visit to America for reasons I have no space to enumerate here, but having closely observed every step of the visit, I think it was worth it.

After sending this column, I became aware of Buhari's impolitic statement that it was politically fair to favor parts of the country that  voted for him, although he later corrected himself by saying he is constitutionally obligated to treat every Nigerian equally.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Response to the Critique of my Critique of Buhari’s Inaugural Speech

Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

A certain A.M. Mainasara who curiously used a plural pronominal self-reference ( i.e., “we”) took issue with my critique of President Buhari’s inaugural speech in a July 12, 2015 letter to the editor titled “Dr. Farooq’s Critique of President Buhari’s Inauguration Speech.” I have chosen to respond to the critique not because I think I am beyond reproach (as I’ve stated here several times, I too am fallible), but because I will betray the pedagogic intent of this column if I let several of the inaccurate claims of the writer to go unchallenged.

I don’t know on whose behalf Mainasara wrote, but his use of the majestic plural “we” suggests that he either wrote on behalf of Buhari’s speech writers or he thought himself too important to use a singular pronominal self-reference. If the former is true, I want to assure him that my intention was not to pillory the president’s speech writers. As I said in the original article, I isolated the grammatical and usage slips in the speech “not to ridicule the writers of the speech, but to guide people who might, out of innocence, hold up the speech as the paragon of a well-written, grammatically correct and complete speech.”

I subjected several of former President Goodluck Jonathan’s public speeches to grammatical analyses, as readers of this column know only too well. So I wasn’t picking on President Buhari’s speech writers. In what follows I address the issues raised by Mainasara. I will ignore his obliquely sarcastic ad hominem digs at me and address the substance of his critique.

1. Mainsara wrote: “May I suggest to Dr Farooq that the style, grammar and character of a public speech is very very different from a sixth form essay or even a University degree English language exam. In public speaking you take liberties with language, grammar, syntax etc for effect, for emphasis and for brevity.”

So a public speech is different from a sixth-form essay or a university degree English exam? Wow! What a revelation!! Who would have thought it?

Seriously, though, it is entirely false that public speeches, especially inaugural speeches, can “take liberties with language, grammar, syntax etc” for any reason—if by liberties Mainasara means being slipshod and being immune from adhering to formal usage norms. If the reader would indulge my immodesty a bit, I took courses in rhetorical theory and criticism in my doctoral studies where I studied public address, especially presidential inaugural speeches from George Washington’s inaugural address to Obama’s. A lot of thought and effort go into writing inaugural addresses, the kind I don’t expect to see in Nigeria given that English isn’t native to us. I neither have the space nor the inclination to write about the rhetoric and conventions of inaugural speeches; it suffices to say, however, that Mainasara wasn’t faithful to the facts when he said public speeches free people from the obligations to be grammatically correct and complete.

2.  The writer took issue with my critique of the phrase “in rain” in the president’s address. I said “in the rain” is more idiomatic than “in rain.” In refuting my claim, he reproduced a passage from Shakespeare where “in rain” appears ("In thunder, lightning or in rain?").

I admit that fussing over the grammatical propriety of the phrase “in rain” is pettifoggery. So the writer was right to call my objection a “quibble,” except that this is a specialist column that obsesses over several minutiae of grammar and usage.

Having said that, there are problems with Mainasara’s contrast of contexts. First, English has significantly evolved since Shakespeare’s time. There are several usage conventions that were perfectly permissible in Shakespeare’s time that are now taboos. Great examples are the double superlative (such as “most tallest”) and the double comparative (such as “more taller”).

For instance, in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, Antony characterizes the injury inflicted upon Caesar by Brutus as the “most unkindest cut of all.” In modern English, “most unkindest cut” would be written either as “most unkind cut” or as “unkindest cut.”

There are several other Shakespearean expressions that are ungrammatical by the standards of modern English. In the coming weeks, I will dedicate a column to isolating expressions that appear in Shakespeare’s oeuvre that are considered illiterate by the standards of modern English grammar. The point is that language evolves, its norms and conventions mutate, and you can’t always use the standards of a past era to defend usage choices in a present era.

A search through the corpora of contemporary English usage (such as the British National Corpus and the Corpus of Contemporary American English) shows that “in the rain” is clearly now the preference of a majority of native English speakers. In fact, “in the rain,” and “singin’ in the rain” are the titles of a popular song and a historic movie respectively.

Finally, Mainasara wrote: “In the unavoidable absence of William Shakespeare, perhaps Farooq Kperogi Ph.D will request Oxford, Cambridge or Trinity College, Dublin, the three Universities [that] are guardians of the English Language to agree that Shakespeare should have written.”

Sorry, Mainasara, but the English language has no formal guardians. Oxford and Cambridge university presses publish dictionaries, but they are no guardians of the language.  The meanings of words in their dictionaries constantly change in response to changes in popular usage. One of the distinctions of the English language, about which many native English speakers brag, is that, unlike French and other European languages, it has no formal authority to police or adjudicate usage.
A friend sent me a snapshot of the letter. I couldn't find it on Trust's website

3. The writer says, “Social media is common parlance, like newspapers so whether you qualify the phrase with the the or not is immaterial.” This, frankly, isn’t worthy of a response because it says nothing, but I will respond anyway. There is a world of difference between “the social media” and “social media.” The former refers to an antecedent and the latter is generic. Saying “people in the social media” would cause any educated English speaker to ask “which social media?” because the definite article “the” indicates that a specific social media type is being referred to. The bulk of my academic research is on social media. I have never come across any scholar write or say “the social media” when referring to social media in a generic sense. Mainasara invokes no authority to back up his defense; he merely says it is right because he wants it to be right. That’s not the way language works.

4. Mainasara relies on the second definition of “brethren” given in the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary to defend the usage of the word in a presidential inaugural speech. There is something called pragmatics in linguistics that Mainasara would do well to acquaint himself with. It means how language is actually used. Dictionaries list all possible meanings of words, including the obsolescent meanings of the words. Pragmatics helps the user to determine which meaning is in use, and which is going out of currency. In no modern English prose, especially of the status and importance of a presidential inaugural speech, is “brethren” used in place of “people who are part of the same society as yourself.” Interestingly, all the dictionaries on my desk don’t have this definition.

Plus, a search through the corpora of contemporary English usage shows that “brethren” is mostly used to refer to lay members of male Christian religious sects. If you have no access to corpora, simply type “brethren” on Google and see how it’s used.

 The writer asked if we should avoid the use of "mankind" and "Sons of Adam" since I said “brethren” sounds sexist and exclusionary. Well, the answer is yes.  Modern native English speakers no longer say “mankind”; they say “humankind” or simply “humans.” “Sons of Adam” isn’t a common expression among native English speakers. If it were, it would be rendered as “sons and daughters of Adam and Eve.”

The point is, over the past few years, English has moved toward greater gender neutrality. That’s why TIME magazine’s famous “Man of the Year” award has been changed to “Person of the Year” award. “Man” is no longer the generic referent for “human” in English, just as “he” is no longer the generic pronoun for all humans.

When Louis Armstrong said, “one small step for man; one giant step for mankind” he was merely reflecting the prevailing grammatical conventions of his time. If he were to say the same thing now, he would most certainly say, “one small step for a human; one giant step for humankind.” It would interest the reader to know that Armstrong actually wanted to say “one small step for a man,” but he slipped up and omitted the indefinite article “a.”

5. Sentence fragments are acceptable in poetry or in simulations of dialogic exchanges where antecedents help complete the sense in fragments, but not in formal, conventional prose. Winston Churchill’s speech that Mainasara cited was written in verse, so it’s poetry. The example he gave from Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s speech was a simulation of dialogic exchange. So his contrast of contexts is imperfect.

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Saturday, July 18, 2015

Why Buhari Should Leave Radio Biafra Alone

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

I wasn’t aware that there was an insurgent radio station called Radio Biafra until the Nigerian government gave it visibility—and legitimacy—by publicly claiming to have jammed it and by responding to its broadcasts after its supposed jam. I imagine that this is the case for most Nigerians.

In an ironic way, the Nigerian government has helped to popularize a previously marginal rebel radio station. Perhaps the clearest indication of the rising popularity of the radio station in the aftermath of its putative electronic jamming is that when you type “radio  b” on Google’s search box, “radio Biafra” appears as the first autocomplete prediction.

This shows that, over the past few days, there has been an exponential spike in the number of searches for “radio Biafra” on Google.  According to Google, “The search queries that you see as part of Autocomplete reflect what other people are searching for and the content of web pages.”

There are so many things that are defective in government’s handling of the Radio Biafra issue. First, government overestimated the power and reach of the radio station. This overestimation caused it to overreact and, in the process, lionize an otherwise inconsequential, fringe radio station. The ministry of information grandstanded about having “successfully jammed” Radio Biafra’s signals, but a BBC reporter in Enugu said he could receive the radio’s signals as of July 15, 2015.

In any case, jamming a radio station’s signals in this digital age is frankly laughable. There are a thousand and one ways to circumvent jamming. The world is going through what new media enthusiasts like to call creative destruction. The old, familiar ways of gathering and circulating information are exploding and are being replaced by a myriad of experimental digital strategies. Social media platforms, for instance, are now more effective ways to reach and engage with vast swaths of people than legacy media outfits. Jamming radio signals is so 1990s or, to borrow a line from the lyrics of Black Eyed Pea’s “Boom Boom Pow” song, so 2000 late.

What is probably worse than jamming—or claiming to have jammed—the signals of the radio station is the presidency’s issuance of a press statement on July 15, 2015 disclaiming an alleged anti-Igbo statement credited to President Buhari by the station. That’s a huge, unearned presidential validation of the station. A multi-billion-dollar advertising blitz in all major global media outlets can’t buy the radio station the kind of publicity that the presidency cheaply handed to them. I can bet my bottom dollar that no more than 500 people heard the original libelous Radio Biafra broadcast against the president; now millions of people know about it.

There are at least two reasons why the presidency’s press statement betrays poor judgment. One, the presidency is a primary definer of news. This fact confers visibility on anything that emanates from it. Two, people generally distrust governments, and are prepared to believe the worst about them. This sentiment is encapsulated in British journalist Francis Claud Cockburn’s famous cynical quip that you should “Never believe anything until it has been officially denied.”

Besides, the Buhari government is notorious for its snail-pace response to crucially important national informational needs, leading to the mushrooming and blossoming of online rumor mills. Why did it choose to swiftly respond to a barely known but easily verifiable falsehood from a fringe rebel radio? Why did it lend its enormous symbolic capital to a frivolous insurrectionary radio station whose signals it says it has jammed in Nigeria? I can never know what impulses drive the president’s media team, but it’s singularly ill-advised to legitimize a scarcely known fib by responding to it and thereby giving underserved wings to it.

If I were to advise the Nigerian government on how to deal with Radio Biafra I would say this: starve it of attention by not jamming it or responding to its rants. It was English philosopher John Milton who, in his famous 1644 pamphlet titled Areopagitica argued that the truth does not need to be protected from falsehood, and that, after all is said and done, truth always triumphs over “all the winds of doctrine let loose to play upon the earth.”  He said censorship does injury to the truth because it misdoubts its strength. “Let her [i.e., Truth] and Falsehood grapple; who ever knew Truth put to the worse, in a free and open encounter,” he wrote.

 The childish propaganda of Radio Biafra is merely one of the winds of doctrines let loose to play upon Nigeria. Let it be allowed to grapple with the truth. Let’s see if it can put the truth to the worse.

I took some time to listen to the radio station to find out why the Nigerian government is losing sleep over it.  It turns out that it is no more than the vulgar, incoherent, hate-filled but comical rants of some man called Nnamdi Kanu who calls Nigeria a “zoo”— or the “zoological republic”— and Nigerian citizens “monkeys” or “ill-educated vagabonds.” He labels Igbos who don’t share his insurrectionary and irredentist ideas as “Hausa-born children in Igboland.” His rants are also filled with ignorant, racially self-hating, negrophobic rhetoric, such as his habitual claims that black people are intellectually inferior and incapable of deep thought.

The station makes no effort to be persuasive. It simply revels in vulgar abuse, intentional prevarications, infantile temper tantrums, and a melodramatic display of rank, comical ignorance. The only people who will listen to the station and be affected by its message are people who already share its twisted, hateful ideals, which makes shutting it down pointless. I can bet that it does not speak for nor reach the majority of Igbo people, and that most Igbo people would snigger when they listen to it.

That’s not a station anyone should lose sleep over.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

My Book on Nigerian English is Finally Out!

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

Hundreds of readers who appreciate the insights I share weekly on this page have, for years, prodded me to write a book on Nigerian English and its place in the pantheon of the world’s “Englishes.” I listened. For three years, I edited, rewrote, and expanded several articles that first appeared here into a book.

Titled GlocalEnglish: The Changing  Face and Forms  of Nigerian English in a Global World, the new book appeared in Peter Lang’s Berkeley Insights in Linguistics and Semiotics, which is edited by Professor Irmengard Rauch, an 82-year-old University of California, Berkeley professor who is one of the world’s most celebrated linguists and semioticians.

After writing the book, the next challenge was finding a suitable publisher. Should I publish it in Nigeria, which would make it easily accessible to Nigerians? Or should I publish it in the United States, which would limit its access in Nigeria but would ensure that it is of high quality—and that it benefits my career growth? With a lot of reluctance, I chose the latter. What informed my choice?
 As many readers of this column know, I am a university teacher at an American university. If I must get credit for my hard work, I have to be published by a reputable academic publisher (in America). That means I must publish the book with an academic publisher that will send my manuscript first to an internal board of expert reviewers and later to at least three experts in the (American) academe who must critique and approve it before a decision about publication can be made. (In American academe, you don’t get credit for self-publishing or for publishing with vanity presses).

Since the death of Longman Nigeria, there have been no academic publishers in Nigeria worth the name. There are only mercantile printers who fancy themselves as publishers. So I practically had no option but to publish my book in America.

My manuscript was submitted to and accepted by Peter Lang Publishing Inc., a well-known international academic publisher with offices in New York, Bern, Brussels, Frankfurt, Oxford, Vienna, and Warsaw. The book was officially released in June this year and sells in all major American bookstores. Unfortunately, my publisher has no representative in Nigeria.

And this strikes at the core of the knotty, abiding contradictions of the scholarly production of Third World intellectuals located in the West. We produce knowledge about our home countries in Western centers of learning. Our scholarly output then enjoys high social and symbolic capital because it is vetted and circulated in the West, but the people about and for whom the scholarship is done have only marginal or no access to it. This is personally distressing to me, but I am helpless.

The good news, though, is that the book can be bought on by following this link:  I have confirmed that Amazon accepts Nigerian debit cards and ships to Nigerian addresses. It costs $81 on Amazon, $89 on Peter Lang’s website, and $81 on Barns & Noble. A Nigerian banker friend has this advice for people who want to purchase the book from American online bookstores using their debit cards: “You need to request debit card concession from your bank to use most banks' debit card on the web. So if you have challenges in using the card on the web, contact your bank for advice.”

I admit that the book is rather pricey and beyond the reach of the average Nigerian, especially with the continuing free fall of the naira against the dollar. Again, while this really and truly saddens me, I can’t do anything about it. The publisher alone fixes the price based on the cost they incurred in the production of the book. My sense is that the book is that expensive because it is a hardcover edition that is targeted primarily at institutional libraries.

My acquisition editor assured me that after the first 500 copies of the book are sold, Peter Lang would consider publishing a paperback edition, which would be much cheaper than the hardcover edition. So my advice is that people who can’t afford the hardcover should encourage their libraries to buy it—if they have libraries.

Please see below the synopsis and reviews of the book taken straight from Peter Lang’s website and from the back and inside covers of the book:

Book synopsis
Glocal English compares the usage patterns and stylistic conventions of the world’s two dominant native varieties of English (British and American English) with Nigerian English, which ranks as the English world’s fastest-growing non-native variety courtesy of the unrelenting ubiquity of the Nigerian (English-language) movie industry in Africa and the Black Atlantic Diaspora. Using contemporary examples from the mass media and the author’s rich experiential data, the book isolates the peculiar structural, grammatical, and stylistic characteristics of Nigerian English and shows its similarities as well as its often humorous differences with British and American English. Although Nigerian English forms the backdrop of the book, it will benefit teachers of English as a second or foreign language across the world. Similarly, because it presents complex grammatical concepts in a lucid, personal narrative style, it is useful both to a general and a specialist audience, including people who study anthropology and globalization. The true-life experiential encounters that the book uses to instantiate the differences and similarities between Nigerian English and native varieties of English will make it valuable as an empirical data mine for disciplines that investigate the movement and diffusion of linguistic codes across the bounds of nations and states in the age of globalization.

About the author(s)/editor(s)
Farooq A. Kperogi is Assistant Professor of Journalism in the Department of Communication at Kennesaw State University in Georgia. A former Nigerian newspaper journalist, he received his PhD in communication from Georgia State University, Atlanta, his MS in communication from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, and his BA in mass communication from Bayero University, Kano, Nigeria. During his doctoral studies, he won the Outstanding Academic Achievement Award. He also won the Outstanding Master’s Student in Communication Award at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and the Nigerian Television Authority Prize for the Best Graduating Student in Mass Communication at Bayero University, Kano. He is published widely and blogs at

«What is wonderful about Professor Kperogi’s book is its erudition, its no-nonsense approach, and its familiar language. In other words, the reader is in for a treat…. [F]or many of us who thought we knew what ‘English’ meant, reading this book will teach us not only how language works and how English has changed, but about its speakers in Nigeria, their world, and the world of how they talk to each other. The British and American reader should emerge somewhat humbled by this process, and the Nigerian reader perhaps very satisfied over what marvels have been created in his or her own homeland. »
(Extract from the Foreword by Kenneth Harrow, Distinguished Professor of English, Michigan State University, United States)

«This delightful book by Farooq A. Kperogi gives a comprehensive overview of the peculiarities of the meaning and usage of words and phrases in Nigerian English. It contains numerous examples and demonstrates through comparisons with American and British English how the Nigerian variety of English has developed its own distinct vocabulary and rules of usage. Moreover, it traces general mechanisms of change in meaning and usage in these three varieties of English. Written in a highly accessible style that is at the same time entertaining and instructive, this book is a very enjoyable read for both scholars and non-linguists interested in Nigerian English and varieties of English as a whole.»
(Ulrike Gut, Professor and Chair for English Linguistics, University of Münster, Germany)

«Glocal English is a brilliant and provocative exploration of several intriguing dimensions in the grammar of Nigerian English, one of the ‘Englishes’ fathered by British English. This new English is struggling against many unavoidable odds and influences to secure its legitimacy and respect, uncertain whether to disown the norms of an uncomfortable parent and of ‘caregivers,’ but willing to be (mis)understood in the global centres of English language use. Farooq A. Kperogi provides deep and admirable insights into the slippery borders separating usage from abusage and errors of construction from terrors of construction. The book, which has emerged from his famous ‘Politics of Grammar’ column, is a restless hound that must keep an eye on the game. It is impossible to ignore this book in both popular and intellectual discourses on the changing colours of English. It is highly recommended for courses in world Englishes, particularly Nigerian English.»
(Obododimma Oha, Professor of Cultural Semiotics and Stylistics, Department of English, University of Ibadan, Nigeria)

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Nigerian Pentecostal Christian English Expressions in Popular Nigerian English II

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

Last week, I traced the origins of “it is not my portion” to Lamentations Chapter 3 verse 24 of the Bible (“The Lord is my portion, sayeth my soul; therefore will I hope in him.”) and pointed out that Nobel-Prize-winning Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore was one of the first known writers to invert the Biblical “my portion” to “it is not my portion”), but I can’t establish that he is the source or the inspiration for the widespread use of the expression in Nigerian Pentecostal Christianity.

What is clear, however, is that “it is not my portion” has now successfully mutated from the lingo of Nigerian Pentecostal Christians to mainstream Nigerian English. It is so mainstream that wife of President Buhari, Aisha Buhari, used it during her controversial campaign speech in Benin City, Edo State, on March 19, 2015 where she, among other things, said, “[The girl-child] doesn’t have to leave her country to go and prostitute elsewhere. It’s not her portion. Her portion is to have a highly standard and moral society for her to live in, get married, have children, train them and also mould them to become the future leaders.”

There is no more convincing evidence of the mainstreaming of this essentially Nigerian Pentecostal Christian expression than its usage by an eminent northern Nigerian Muslim woman. It is now the portion of Nigerians to say that every bad thing is not their portion.

3. “Send-forth (parties).” This is another “positive-vibe” expression coined by Nigerian Pentecostal Christians. It is used in place of the Standard English “sendoff,” which Nigerian Pentecostal Christians say sounds rather negative. As far as I can tell, unlike previous expressions, “send-forth” traces no lexical ancestry to the Bible. As I noted in my book, Glocal English: The Changing Face and Forms of Nigerian English in a Global World, “The adverb ‘forth’ appears to Nigerians to convey a connotation of forward motion, of advancement, while ‘off’ strikes them as suggesting departure with no expectation of return. So they think that to say they send people off creates the impression that they derive perverse pleasure in the people’s departure from them” (p. 182).

Many Nigerians who are not acquainted with the odd idiolect of Nigerian Christian Pentecostalism now innocently think that “send-forth (party)” is the preferred Standard English expression for a farewell party. In fact, several Muslim organizations in Nigeria, such as the Muslim Public Affairs Centre (MPAC), whose newsletter I am subscribed to, habitually use “send-forth” instead of “sendoff” without any awareness that “send-forth” is a conscious, deliberate Nigerian Pentecostal Christian coinage intended to avoid the “negativity” they think the idiomatic “send-off” conveys.

That the ungrammatical and unidiomatic “send-forth” has now become the preferred expression for “sendoff” even in Nigerian Muslim and non-Pentecostal Christian circles speaks to the powerful cultural and linguistic osmosis of Nigerian Pentecostal Christian vernacularisms.

4. “Sign of end times.” Any unusual thing that deeply scandalizes Nigerians is now described as a “sign of end times”—or other iterations of the expression. This expression used to be confined to Christian religious settings. Of course, both Islam and Christianity talk of signs of end times (Muslims call it “signs of Qiyamah”) in their holy books, but it was Nigerian Pentecostal Christians who, through Nollywood, brought the expression into Nigerian conversational English. “Sign of end times” is now liberally used even by Muslims and non-Pentecostal Muslims, especially in social media chatter, where people previously said, “This is unbelievable!” “This beggars belief!” etc. This is a classic linguistic instantiation of the secularization of the sacred.

5. “To God be the glory.” This is now the expression of choice in Nigerian English to express gratitude. It occurs in sentences like, “My wife has just given birth to a new baby. To God be the glory!” “I have just been promoted in my place of work. To God be the glory!” “I had an accident today but I survived unhurt. To God be the glory!” etc. Even (northern) Nigerian Muslims use these expressions on their Facebook timelines—again indicating the widespread vernacularization of this essentially Christian expression.

 Although it appears in Bible translations, the phrase was popularized by Fanny J. Crosby, a blind American woman who wrote a gospel hymn (i.e., a song of praise to God) in 1870 titled “To God be the Glory.” According to, although the song was first written and recorded in the United States, it was barely known in American churches until the 1950s; it had been almost exclusively sung in British churches until famous American mass evangelist Billy Graham re-popularized it.
But many non-Christian Nigerians like me first encountered the expression from Nollywood movies—many of which are produced by Nigerian Pentecostal Christian churches—with their predictable, infantile story lines and slapdash plots in which good always triumphs over evil. The movies often end with the expression, “To God be the glory!” A former southeastern Nigerian governor was also famous for inscribing “To God be the glory” on all signboards touting his “achievements.”

Many Nigerians think “To God be the glory” is the stock phrase that native English speakers use when they want to express gratitude. I have received several email inquiries from readers of this column asking to know if this is true. Well, “to God be the glory” is not an everyday conversational expression among native English speakers. I would even hazard the guess that because the phrase is structurally archaic, it isn’t used by churchgoing native English speakers. “Glory be to God!” is the more modern rendition of the expression.

But, most importantly, while public display of religiosity even in non-religious situations is normal, even expected, in Nigeria, it is rare in the UK, US, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand where English is spoken as a first language. So a native English is likely to be jarred by the utterance of the expression outside religious settings.

6. “Thank God!” Native English speakers say “Thank God” (also “thank goodness” or “thank heavens”) to express delight that something agreeable happened in an otherwise dreadful situation.

But courtesy of Nigerian Pentecostal Christians, “thank God” is now used in modern Nigerian English as a polite response to someone who says “thank you.” Example:

Mr. A: “Thank you so much for your help.”

Mr. B: “Thank God.”

If you say “thank you” to Americans, they say “you’re welcome” in response. British English speakers say “don’t mention it” or “think nothing of it.” Other stock phrases native English speakers use in response to expressions of gratitude are “You bet!” “It’s my pleasure!” “It was nothing!” “I was glad to do it!” “Don't give it another thought!” “Don't give it a (second).”

 As I pointed out in my book, “The sense that Nigerian English speakers hope to convey when they say ‘thank God’ in response to an expression of gratitude is that the honor for the favor they bestow on others belongs to God, not them. It’s a socio-linguistic evidence of the deep religiosity—or pretense to piety and modesty— of Nigerians. However, native English speakers don’t use ‘thank God’ that way. They use it mostly as an exclamation of relief. Example: ‘Thank God he is alive!’ It’s also used in the idiom ‘thank God/Heaven for small mercies/favors,’ which is said when something bright happens in an otherwise hopeless situation. Example:

“Mr. A: My brother was run over by a truck, but he survived it. The doctor said he has a 99 percent chance to be well again.

“Mr. B: Thank God for small mercies!

“Native English speakers also use ‘thank God’ in mildly satirical contexts to call attention to people’s deficiencies, such as saying ‘thank God he remembers my name this time around’ about someone who perpetually forgets your name but remembers it now. So, if a Nigerian were to say ‘thank God’ in response to an expression of gratitude from a native English speaker, the Nigerian speaker might be misunderstood as implying that the native speaker hardly ever shows gratitude. In other words, the Nigerian might be understood as saying, ‘thank God you have the good sense to say “thank you” now!’

“In sum, ‘thank God’ hardly appears as a stand-alone phrase in native-speaker varieties of the English language; it always depends on another phrase or clause to make a complete sense, as the examples above illustrate. Most importantly, it’s never used as a response to an expression of gratitude” (pg. 182-83).

Concluding Thoughts

I have not been able to exhaust the Nigerian Christian Pentecostal English expressions I have on my list. But it suffices to point out that expressions like “I reject it!” to express strong denunciation or repudiation, “the devil is a liar” to express courage and optimism in the face of dreadful shock, "I claim it," etc. have now become staple turns of phrase in Nigerian  conversational English. No religious persuasion in Nigeria has had as much impact on Nigeria’s conversational repertory in English as Pentecostal Christianity.

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Saturday, July 4, 2015

Re: Buhari, Reagan, Obama and senior moments

I received scores of responses to my columns of the last two weeks that contextualized and explained Buhari’s recent “President Michelle of West Germany” gaffe by drawing parallels between this gaffe and the gaffes made by US presidents. Below is a sample:

I am a regular reader of your columns because I find all your posts educative, thus interesting. Your columns on PMB's senior moments are, for me, one of the best columns of yours I have read so far. I hadn't the vaguest idea what senior moment was until I read your columns. However, even more educative is this last column which not only complements the previous one but which shows us the other side of the almighty Obama. Thanks, Dr. Kperogi, for helping us to see the human-ness of these leaders-cum-politicians.
Abdulkadir Adamu

This is by far the smartest “defence” (I know you will protest my calling your article a defence of Buhari) of President Buhari’s embarrassing miscue yet. His media aides simply went to bed and hoped that the issue would die down. They appear not to have the intellectual capacity to offer any perspective on why our president embarrassed us. I was one of the people who severely criticized the president over the gaffe. I actually called him a clueless old man until someone directed me to your articles. Although I wasn’t prepared to be persuaded when I started reading your article, you blew me away after I was done. That was some deep stuff. I didn’t know legendary American presidents made worse mistakes than our president. I laughed so hard when I read where you said President Nixon was in France for the funeral of the country’s president and forgot why he was there and then said, “This is a great day for France!” Classic! Haha! And Obama calling his place of birth “Asia”? Wow! Buhari’s “President Michelle of West Germany” gaffe is mild compared to the examples you gave in your articles. Thank you for the pleasurable and informative articles. You just won a new fan from Enugu.
John Chukwu

A delicate balancing act! There is something for everybody. Buharists will like the fact that occasional memory lapses are natural and excusable, while satirists and Jonathanians can laugh at the gaffes without the pangs of guilt.
Abdulrahman Muhammad

Spot on. When President Buhari called German Chancellor Merkel “President Michelle of West Germany,” he essentially offered “red meat” to his carnivorous haters on a platter. No objective person who has studied President Buhari closely would disagree with the fact that he is level-headed, thoughtful and deliberate in his actions. That said, his aides have to be taken to task for failing to prep him well. They have to up their game on how to protect President Buhari from making such a mistake in future. The daily briefing book of the POTUS (actually an iPad App) has basic information about world leaders and relevant information about their countries to keep the POTUS up to speed to mitigate newsworthy mistakes.
Sam Nyambi

Prof, I'm an avid reader of your weekly columns and so far I haven't had a reason to go against any of your articles. In this case, though, I take an exception. While I'm not going to label the president clueless, old or ignorant, he's definitely careless and those around him are most likely going to be his downfall. His calling the German Chancellor Michelle and her country West Germany is a slap to Nigerians. His woopsie would have been forgiven if he were a different or lesser person, but he's the freaking president. He represents us abroad. I also will disagree on your label of a "senior citizen moment". You don't go to a meeting with other State heads and you don't know their names or that of their country. It's irresponsible and careless. We demand better preparation for him by his handlers next time. Today it's West Germany, tomorrow it might be him calling Obama "Osama".
Barnabas Isaac

Brilliant article, though I take slight issue with you for saying that we the legion of supporters of the General are humourless. Some of us had a laugh over it as well.
Yusuf Bulama

Yes...we hope PMB and his legion of zealous supporters will laugh because more gaffes will come and Nigerians will laugh at them. So they should learn to live with it. Patience Jonathan learnt to live with her own blunders and showed an attitude of "l no send you"... She was ridiculed and the world didn't come to an end.
Gift Udoro

Kai Prof! You are really making my day. I found this and the last one educative and entertaining. I enjoyed the articles not because they provide some shield to PMB but because I now know that anybody is liable to experience senior moments. I notice I tend to forget easily or unable to retrieve certain information that is done very recently. I became disturbed. Seriously. I was thinking of visiting the hospital until I read your articles. I am now relieved. I know the reason. But, to my amazement, I retain more Qur'an now (in my senior moments) than before! Once again, thank you Prof.

Ibrahim Abdullahi

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