"WR6_gUnUj-ztiW07KQcOCnTel9A"/> Notes From Atlanta: 2017

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Re: Hausa-Speaking Northern Christian Names: An Onomastic Analysis

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

Last week’s column attracted a rich cornucopia of responses. There is no space to reproduce all of 
them here, so I will only publish a few. Although it’s not my tradition to publish reactions to my language column, except in the Q and A columns, I’ll make an exception this week because I specifically invited responses from readers and, most importantly, because the responses I received have enriched the conversation, in my opinion.

For instance, several people wrote to tell me that Rifkatu, which I couldn’t explain in last week’s column, is the Hausa Christian name for Rebecca, which is Rivka in Hebrew and Ribika in Arabic (because there is no “v” in Arabic). I have not been able to put my finger on the phonological logic behind the appearance of “f” in the Hausa version of the name. The terminal “tu” probably mimics the Africanization of female Arabic names like Hadijatu (from Khadija), Aishatu (from Aisha), Ramatu (from Rahma), etc. in Muslim societies. I hope someone reading this will help shed further light on this.


I have also been told that I should add a fifth category of Hausa Christian names. Dr. Muhammad Shakir Balogun, an epidemiologist and one of the most remarkable polymaths I’ve ever encountered, called the fifth category names that capture “moral attributes and religious sentiments” (see his comment below) which are nonetheless given in the Hausa language.

I also realized that, without intending to, I disproportionately wrote about male Hausa Christian names. When I rework the article in the future, I will correct this unintentional gender imbalance. A reader offered a brief but rich historical excursion into the personalities and historical influences that shaped the translation of the Bible into Hausa. Others shared personal reflections that redound to the richness of the data. Enjoy:

 The translation of the Holy Bible from English to Hausa started in 1854, concretized in 1869 and was completed in 1931 with a review in 1980. Its unadulterated linguistic basis was established by Reverend Bargery who had completed the ‘Kamus’ Hausa-English, English-Hausa dictionary in 1923 while residing in Koki, Kano.

 The main challenge in the translation effort was there was no standardized Hausa, so the team that included the Swiss-born but Cambridge-educated Hans Visher (Dan Hausa of Kano whose residence in Nassarawa is now a National Heritage site), Dr. Walter Miller, Malam Abdulmajid Samaila, Dan Galadiman Zazzau Peter Omar Tafida, Sarkin Ayyukan Zazzau Bulus Audu, Dai Iyan Zazzau Nuhu Bayero, Sarkin Wusasa Paul Amfani and so many others too numerous to mention here factored certain phrases to act as a binder across the Hausa people for instance in ‘The Lord’s Prayer’ (Addu’a Ubangiji) “…give us our daily bread” which is translated as “…ka ba mu rananga abincin yini”.

 Interestingly, the missionaries perfected their Hausa not in the colonial contours of what was to become Nigeria but in Tripoli because the Sokoto caliphate was in the process of being studied to be subsequently conquered piecemeal, so due to the large immigrant population of diverse Hausa speakers to and from pilgrimage to Mecca and Madina and settled business men and their families, the missionaries started their translation work in Libya.

The likes of Malam Umaru Fate worked directly from the Arabic Bible as a crosscheck with the various liberated slaves from across all the Hausa-speaking populace (the first set of converts) as sounding board.
There were also aspects like “Peace be upon you” which Muslims eventually adopted from their Christian neighbors in Arabia 600 years before Islam was established but in the first Hausa Bible edition put as – ‘Salama a gare ku’ but now back to its original ‘Salama alaikun’ to distinguish for the Maguzawa (Habe) that had vehemently resisted the Fulani Jihad back then.

This same template was now used for the Kanuri translation which was completed in 1949 and Zarma (predominantly in Niger Republic) in 1954. However, the Fulfulde translation was not completed until as recently as 1983, the reason being that the translation team had to standardize all dialects from the Futa Djallon to Cameroun and accommodate the Anglophone and Francophone Fula under a common text. Which now leads us to a new issue cropping up particularly on use of the word ‘Krista’ or ‘Masihiyawa’ instead and the further use of the word ‘Allah’ or not. The debate continues in various churches across the North before a final position is reached.
Ahmed Joe

There is a category of names that are just Hausa words for moral attributes and religious sentiments. They are unique because they are not used by Hausa Muslims. Such as Murna (Joy), Godiya (Gratitude), Alheri (Grace), Bishara (Glad tidings), etc. My younger sister attended Baba Alhamdu in Kano for a few terms. It is an ECWA-owned school. I suspect the 'Alhamdu' is from Arabic (meaning 'praise'), via Hausa. Saratu is Sarah, Iliyasu is Elias.
Muhammad Shakir Balogun

I went to high school in a community of Hausa-speaking Christians in a White missionary (SUM) establishment. So many of my classmates had Hausa Christian names such as Alheri--Grace. In fact, our Sunday morning service was in Hausa and we read from a Hausa Bible and sang hymns in Hausa. One of my favorite hymns, "There shall be showers of blessings," still pops up in my head as "Albarka cin Allah na zuwa, ka ma a ke yin ruwa."
Finally, my favorite memory of the name Yunana, I think Jonah was one of our Oyinbo missionary teachers preaching in heavily accented Hausa: "Yunana ya yi kwana uku ciki cikin kifi/Jonah was in the belly of the whale for 3 days."
Professor Oyeronke Oyewumi

I'm a northern Christian. I fall under the third category of names you mentioned above. When my father was young, he had a friend called Anas who was a northern Muslim. So close was their friendship that my father named me after him. I must confess this article is just awesome. Well done, prof.
Anas Iliyasu Mshelia

Reading your piece in the Daily Trust newspaper of Sunday 24th December, 2017 with the above-mentioned caption certainly heightened my curiosity about the significance of the names of persons. As a 'faithful ' reader of your columns on Saturday and Sunday, I had earlier read your write-up on the name 'Bello' and was deeply fascinated with what I read.

But this particular case struck a chord with me as Non Hausa speaking northern Nigeria Christian who goes by the name Ibrahim. The piece, I must confess, made my day in the midst of the depressing situation in Nigeria, even as we prepare to celebrate Christmas. My spirit was lifted up high upon reading the piece and, for once, I forgot about the lack of fuel, power and heightened insecurity around me that promised to make the Christmas celebrations a gloomy one.

I totally agree with your assertion that many Southern Nigeria Christians are totally ignorant about the northern Christian names that are in fact closer to the original 'biblical ' names than the Anglicized names they bear. I have several times been questioned by 'educated ' southern Christians as to why I bear ' Ibrahim ' as a Christian. My explanation most times do not seem to convince them. And that is why the point you made about your write-up contributing to a more cordial inter-religious and inter-ethnic understanding in Nigeria is deeply appreciated by me. I also noted with nostalgia that in the past a Muslim could give a 'Muslim name' to the child of his Christian neighbor and they live with that name happily ever after.

Ignorance and maybe 'bigotry ' have taken over our country, such that good neighborliness and peaceful coexistence that used to be the hallmark of most communities, especially in the ethnically diverse Northern Nigeria, now seem far-fetched.

Not being a scholar like you, I have nothing useful to add to or subtract from your piece. I pray and hope that those who are knowledgeable about the subject would add their meaningful voice, if any, to this highly interesting subject. You certainly made my Christmas, and God bless you real good!!
Ibrahim Wakawa

Word of the Year?
What is your Word of the Year for 2017? Or what words or phrases, in your opinion, defined Nigeria in 2017? That will be the subject of next week’s column. I will publish some of your responses in addition to my own take. Happy New Year!

Related Articles:

Saturday, December 30, 2017

No, Jonathan Wouldn’t Have Been Better!

By Farooq Kperogi, Ph.D.

At perilous times like this when Buhari’s incompetence races to the rooftops, Goodluck Jonathan minions crawl out of their miserable woodworks and try to promote the annoyingly tendentious assertion that Jonathan would have been better than Buhari; that he would have husbanded the economy better; that he was hounded out of power not because he was ineffectual but because he was Ijaw (he is, in fact, Ogbia, which isn’t even linguistically related to Ijaw) from Nigeria’s deep south, and so on and so forth.

That’s a transparently false and fraudulent narrative. The truth is that Jonathan was a desperate, unrelieved disaster. Four more years of his weak, venal leadership would have been indistinct from what we’re witnessing now. It was his disastrously incompetent presidency that cursed Nigeria with a Buhari succession. Buhari’s unexampled electoral triumph in 2015 was not so much an endorsement of him as it was a repudiation of Jonathan.

I have as much contempt for anyone who supported and wanted to reelect Jonathan in spite of the proven disaster that he was as I have for anyone who defends and campaigns for Buhari in spite of his demonstrable incompetence. Given Jonathan's unendurable ineptitude, it was reasonable to expect that a 70-something-year-old man who had seen it all and who had been fighting to get back to power would reflect on his past mistakes and try to correct them if given another chance— if only to bequeath a legacy that will outlast him. I frankly thought Buhari’s monomaniacal obsession with regaining political power (which even caused him to cry publicly) was inspired by a desire to redeem himself after his failed, short-lived stint as Head of State in the 1980s.

Alas, he had other intentions, which we couldn't have known because we aren't clairvoyant. It’s now obvious that Buhari’s whole motivation for wanting to be president again is plain, unvarnished self-love. He simply wants to enjoy the perks, privileges, and attention of power. The shame is on the person who deceived, not on the person who genuinely trusted.

But the beauty of periodic elections—if they're free and fair, that is—is that they give the electorate the chance to correct their mistakes. I hope Nigerians will correct their Buhari mistake in 2019, as they did their Jonathan mistake in 2015.

To desire a return to Jonathan because Buhari has turned out to be a total disappointment is reactionary and boneheaded. It’s like desiring to return to the frying pan after escaping into the fire. It’s the same difference. Rational people avoid both—if they can. And the structures of electoral democracy guarantee Nigerians the power to do that.

There was nothing about Jonathan’s days as president that is worth sentimentalizing. I know Nigerians are notoriously amnesic, but Jonathan’s presidency was also marked by incessant petrol shortages and birdbrained responses to economic challenges. Jonathan was reviled because he was incompetent, the same way normal, straight-thinking, non-partisan people deeply resent Buhari because he is incompetent and insensitive.

But Nigeria’s biggest drawback is unreasoning attachment to silly ethno-regional and religious loyalties, which ensure that Buhari is still actively defended in the Muslim North and Jonathan is celebrated in the deep south, the Southeast and parts of the Christian North. We will continue to be stuck on the edge of the precipice, and even fall off, if we don’t snap out of this backward mindset.

The “Human” Side of Buhari?
There is, perhaps, no clearer, more direct admission that Buhari is an inhuman and insensitive, not to mention thoroughly incompetent, president than the fact that his own media team has decided to show Nigerians a documentary about his “human” side—amid one of the most crippling petrol shortages in the history of the country.

The fact that the presidency now wants to show us Buhari’s “human” side is prima facie evidence that even he himself— and the people around him— know only too well what we’ve been saying all along: that he is an inhuman, if inept, reverse Robin Hood who robs the poor to enrich the rich.
If he were not anywhere close to this description, the presidential media team wouldn’t have had the need to show us his “human” side, whatever the heck that “human” side is. This is where the late British journalist Claud Cockburn’s memorable quip about never believing anything “until it’s officially denied” is relevant.

If Buhari were “human,” we wouldn’t need a badly produced, hagiographic documentary to know that. We would feel it in his policies. We would see it in his eagerness to talk to us in moments of national distress. We would sense it in his efforts to soothe the hurt that his policies so cruelly inflict on the poor and the vulnerable. We would discern it from the compunction he shows for all his broken promises.

You can’t have a president who precipitously jacked up petrol prices by a higher margin than any president has ever done in recent time, which triggered one of the worst recessions in the history of the country, and not conclude that he is inhuman. You can’t have a president who has denuded the poor of all subsidies while increasing same for himself, his family, and his elite friends and not conclude that he is inhuman. You can’t have a president who has made citizens of his oil-exporting country to pay more for petrol than even Americans (and yet be unable to guarantee availability of the product), and not conclude that he is inhuman.

You can’t have a president who fraudulently doubles as the petroleum minister but who doesn’t even have the common decency to address the anguished citizens he supposedly governs on why they can’t have access to petrol after paying an arm and a leg for it and not conclude that he is inhuman. That’s why they need to show us that, in spite of his manifest lack of “humanness,” he has a “human” side. What an own goal!

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Hausa-Speaking Northern Christian Names: An Onomastic Analysis

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

As faithful readers of this column know, I have a scholarly fascination with the origin, form, development, and domestication of personal names—an area of inquiry linguists call onomastics. It was this fascination that inspired my viral July 13, 2014 column titled “Top 10 Yoruba Names You Never Guessed Were Arabic Names,” which explored what I called “Yoruba people’s creative morphological domestication of Arabic names.”

 I pointed out that several Arabic names “have taken on the structural features of the Yoruba language.” I said this wasn’t unique to Yoruba Muslims. “As scholars of onomastics or onomatology know only too well,” I wrote, “when proper names leave their primordial shores to other climes they, in time, are often liable to local adaptation…. That’s why, for instance, there are many Arabic-derived personal names in Hausa, the most Arabized ethnic group in Nigeria, that would be unrecognizable to Arabs. Names like Mamman (Muhammad), Lawan (Auwal), Shehu (Sheikh), etc. would hardly make much sense to an Arab.”

The personal names of Hausa-speaking Northern Nigerian Christians also have an onomastic uniqueness that is worth exploring. I use “Hausa-speaking Northern Nigerian Christians” here rather loosely to refer to a miscellany of ethnic groups primarily in Nigeria’s northwest and northeast who are nonetheless united by Christianity and the Hausa language. This geo-cultural group, for the most part, excludes northern states like Benue, Kogi, Kwara, and maybe Niger, where most Christians historically bear conventional Western Christian names, but might include Plateau and Nasarawa states.

My preliminary thoughts on Hausa-speaking Northern Christian names are that their names can be divided into four broad categories.

The first category consists of names that appear to be Muslim names on the surface but that are actually Arabic renderings (by way of the Hausa language) of Christian names. For instance, Jacob is written as Yakubu (Ya’qub in Arabic) in the Hausa Bible, as I'll show shortly. So Hausa-speaking Christians, especially from older generations, are baptized as Yakubu instead of Jacob.

When House of Representatives Speaker Yakubu Dogara first emerged on the national scene, to give just one example, many people, including journalists, mistook him for a Muslim because the name Yakubu is typically associated with (northern) Muslims. But he is a Christian who sees himself as bearing a name from the Hausa Bible, although he is not ethnically Hausa.

Other names in this category are Musa (Moses), Ishaku (Isaac), Ibrahim (Abraham), Yusuf (Joseph), Adamu (Adam), Ayuba (Job), Dauda (David), Haruna (Aaron), Suleiman (Solomon), etc. Many Hausa-speaking northern Christians told me they bear these forms of Christian names because it’s how they are written in the Hausa Bible. Obviously, the names are Hausaized from Arabic where Ishaku is Ishaq, Adamu is Adam, Ayuba is Ayyub, Dauda is Da’ud, Haruna is Harun, etc.

The second category is the one that piques my curiosity the most, and it encompasses musical but infrequent names like Istifanus, Yunana, Yohanna, Bitrus, Bulus, etc. When I first encountered these names in the 1990s as an undergraduate at Bayero University Kano, I was curious what they meant and where they came from. I made the acquaintance of a genial, mild-mannered Kano Christian by the name of Bulus Karaye who gave me some cultural education on the names.

He made me realize that these “unusual” northern Christian names are actually more faithful to the original Hebrew names than the Westernized versions of the names we’re familiar with in Nigeria, as I will show shortly.

The third category of Hausa Christian names falls in the mold of what I like to call protective onomastic mimicry, by which I mean bearing (Muslim) names to blend in with the dominant Muslim environment. While this is sometimes deliberate, it is at other times situational, such as when a Muslim neighbor chooses a name for the child of a Christian neighbor. This was common when relations between Muslims and Christians weren’t as conflictual as they are now. That is why you find northern Christians bearing exclusively Muslim names like Mohammed, Kabiru, Umaru, Usman, etc., that have no equivalents in the Bible.

The final category consists of conventional Western Christian names, which need no elucidation. It seems to me that in their bid to blend in with their southern and north-central co-religionists, Hausa-speaking northern Christians are increasingly embracing this category of names. I may be entirely wrong.

In what follows, I explicate some common Christian names that are exclusive to Hausa-speaking northern Nigerians:

1. Istifanus: This is the Hausa Christian name for Stephen (or Steven). It’s known as Stiven in Hebrew, as “Stefanos” in Greek, and as Istifanus among Arab Christians. Since Hausa and Arabic are members of the same Afro-Asiatic language family, it makes sense that Hausa speakers who want to indigenize a Western name would prefer its Arabic rendering. This seems to be the principle throughout.

2. Ishaya; Perhaps the most popular Ishayas in Nigeria are the late Professor Ishaya Audu and former Chief of Army Staff Lt. Gen. Ishaya Bamaiyi. This name is the Hausa Christian domestication of Isaiah.

Because Isaiah isn’t specifically mentioned in the Qur’an, there is no Muslim equivalent for the name, but Arab Christians know the name as Asa’ya, and that is what Hausa Christians try to approximate in Ishaya.

3. Bulus: This is the Hausa Christian name for Paul, which is derived from the Arab Christian Bulus. Arabic doesn’t have the “p” consonant and often replaces it with the “b” sound when it borrows words with a “p” sound from other languages. There are countless English jokes about Arabs calling a padlock “bad luck.”

4. Bitrus: Like Bulus, Bitrus emerged as a consequence of the absence of the “p” consonant in Arabic, from where Hausa Christians derived it. It is the Hausa Christian name for Peter. The name is given as Petros in Hebrew. Arabs domesticated it as Boutros, and Hausa Christians further domesticated it to Bitrus. Most people who came of age in the 1990s would be familiar with the late Boutros Boutros-Ghali, the Egyptian (Coptic) Christian who became UN Secretary General from January 1992 to December 1996.

5. Filibus: This name is derived from the Arabic Felib, the name Arab Christians use in place of Philip. As pointed out earlier, the appearance of the terminal “b” in the name is the result of the absence of the “p” sound in Arabic.

6. Irmiya: This is the Hausa Christian name for the Anglicized Jeremiah, which is rendered as Yirmeyahu in Hebrew and Irmiya in Arabic.

7. Habila: Derived from the Arabic Habil, this is the Hausa Christian version of Abel.

8. Yohanna: Most Nigerians who have an active interest in (military) politics are familiar with the late Colonel Yohanna Madaki.  Yohanna is the Hausa Christian name for John. The name’s original form in Hebrew is Yohanan. It then changed form in Greek to Iohannes. In French, it became Johan and came to English in that form. Over time, however, the “a” deteriorated and John emerged. So the Hausa Christian Yohanna is actually closer to the original than the English John.

Interestingly, although John (or Yohanan) is mentioned in the Qur’an as Yahya, Arab Christians render it as Yuḥanna in their Bible, which is close to the Hausa Christian Yohanna.

9. Yunana: I had a colleague at the Daily Trust by the name of Yunana who was from Taraba State. He died a few years ago. I used to think his name was a Kuteb name. (The Kuteb are a major ethnic group in Taraba who share close linguistic and historical kinship with the Jukun). It was from him I first learned that Yunana is the Hausa Christian equivalent of Jonah.

The name is known as Yunus (Yunusa in many African Muslim communities) in the Qur’an, but Arab Christians render it as Yunan in their Bible. Hausa-speaking Christians formed Yunana from the Arabic Yunan by adding a terminal vowel to it—like most African languages do when they borrow words that end with consonants.

10. Yakubu: This name is synonymous with both James and Jacob, which are essentially the same name. James emerged as the Latin corruption of the Hebrew “Ya’aqob.” Spoken Latin, known as Vulgar Latin, first corrupted it to Iacomus from where it evolved to James.

Other names:
11. Luka: Luke
12. Markus: Mark
13. Timatawus: Timothy
14. Rahila: Rachel
15. Dinatu: Dinah
16. Lai’ atu: Leah
17. Rifkatu: Rebecca

Concluding Thoughts
Not being a Christian, I recognize that this is a risky column to write. But my motivations are purely scholarly. In writing this, I consulted northern Christian scholars and religious leaders to verify my findings and to seek clarity on other issues. Of course, I expect that there will still be a few omissions or misrepresentations. My hope is that people who have intimate knowledge of Hausa Christian names will write to expound, clarify, or even dispute what I’ve written.

But this column isn’t simply linguistic. It’s also intended to contribute to more cordial inter-religious and inter-ethnic understanding in the Nigerian polity. I have discovered, for instance, that many southern Christians have no idea that the quintessentially Hausa Christian names I’ve identified above are actually Christian names that are, in fact, closer to the original than the Anglicized versions of the names they bear.

Similarly, many Muslims (both in the North and in the South) have no awareness of the etymological affinities between these distinctive Hausa Christian names and the Arabic language. What is more, many Muslims think when northern Christians bear names like Yakubu, Musa, etc. they are merely mimicking Muslim names when, in fact, they are bearing names from their Hausa Bible, which is heavily influenced by Arabic, as I’ve shown.

If this column causes the reader to develop a heightened awareness of the importance of names, especially Hausa Christian names, it would have achieved its purpose.

Related Articles:
Top 10 Yoruba Names You Never Guessed Were Arabic Names
Hello Bello: How "Bello" Became Nigeria's Most Ecumenical Name
Zuckerberg, Facebook and Why Hausa is a "Unique" Language
Politics of Grammar Column

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Shehu Sani’s Home Truth about Nigeria’s Foreign Missions

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

Nigeria’s foreign missions are a distressing reflection of the crippling dysfunction at home, a fact Senator Shehu Sani has helped to push to the forefront of public awareness during a recent Senate hearing. Every Nigerian who lives outside Nigeria can relate to this reality. Our foreign missions are denuded of basic conveniences and are worse than the jailhouses of their host countries.

Workers are owed backlogs of salaries and allowances and are, for the most part, unmotivated to work. Even when they are not owed salaries and allowances, several of them have internalized the Nigerian public service work ethic that has ensured that we’re stuck in perpetual infancy as a country: mindless slothfulness and awful customer service.

Last week Friday, I accompanied my wife to the Nigerian Consulate here in Atlanta to get an Emergency Travel Certificate for her brother, which was necessitated by the inability of the consulate to produce his passport a month after he applied for it. It took us seven hours to get the certificate, which anyone can effortlessly produce on their home computer.

Nevertheless, it wasn’t the inordinate number of hours spent to get such a basic document that was the scandal. It was the fact that the consulate had no heating system in this frigid winter. My 9-month-old baby and I got sick from continuous exposure to extreme cold in the waiting area. (During summers, the consulate is also usually an oven because the air-conditioning is dysfunctional. I’ve experienced this twice.)

And at several times during our wait, machines malfunctioned and the consulate ran out of ink to print documents. Of course, the workers were blithely unconcerned at best and outright discourteous at worst when we asked questions. It took the intervention of a good-natured acquaintance of my wife’s to get the emergency travel certificate—that is, after waiting seven mind-numbing hours.

 What I’ve described about the Nigerian Consulate in Atlanta is true of most Nigerian foreign missions elsewhere. That’s why Nigerians outside Nigeria dread the prospect of renewing their passports—or having any dealings of any kind with our foreign missions. It’s pure physical and emotional torture, especially for some of us who have become habituated to excellent service delivery and courtesy to customers.

Foreign Affairs Minister, Geoffrey Onyeama, talked about the extreme distress of our foreign missions during his defense of his ministry’s budget before the Senate Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Diaspora on December 19. He said both the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and its foreign missions “are still heavily indebted,” among other troubling things he said.

Yet, the minister, in characteristic sycophantic fashion, said, “I commend the Federal Government…Of course we are not sitting down with our arms folded. We are doing the best we can to improve this situation. We have raised some issues at the Federal Executive Council meeting.” The Foreign Affairs Minister even found time to commend the Minister of Finance “who has really been doing her best and trying to come up with ways to address some issues.”

So, basically, the minister of foreign affairs commended the very people and institutions that are responsible for the poor state of affairs of the ministry he heads.  I get that it’s bad politics to be openly critical of the people you need help from, but do you have to commend them and lull them into complacency and a false sense of self-satisfaction?

Senator Shehu Sani couldn’t take the thoughtless sycophantic hypocrisy lying down. He let the minister have it. His riposte is worth reproducing in detail:

“From 2015 that I got to this place, we talked and talked. 2016, we talked. Now again, we are talking. They are releasing money to you people as if you’re beggars. Every day people call me on the phone from different parts of the world and we are here on the same ritual again.

“The presidency of Nigeria is not serious about our foreign missions. People are afraid to say it. You’ll say there is a problem: this one is bad, that one is bad, and then you’ll end it with commendations. Who are you commending?

“This problem is man-made. We are deliberately refusing to release money even for simple things that don’t require money. To even put foreign ambassadors of Nigeria on a schedule to see the president takes four to six months, sitting down in Abuja doing nothing.

“Niger Republic, Benin Republic, Malawi, Burundi, Rwanda, Seychelles, Cape Verde can all take care of their embassies. What type of giants are we?” he said, according to the Premium Times of December 19.

This forceful, fearless forthrightness made my day in ways I can’t possibly express. If more people in positions of power can be this bold and frank, maybe things might change. If more people in decision-making capacities are as invulnerable to fear, intimidation, or blackmail as Senator Sani has demonstrated, maybe we would be able to confront our problems and find solutions to them. 

Unfortunately, brave voices like Senator Sani’s are drowned out by a cacophony of fawning obsequiousness.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

The Self-Isolation of Native English Speakers

On Friday, here in Atlanta, I witnessed a communication breakdown between a Nigerian English speaker and a UK-born American English speaker that speaks to a larger problem in the Anglophone world: the isolation of native English speakers from the unique expressive styles of non-native English speakers, who now constitute the majority of English speakers worldwide.

The native speaker said he would like to visit Nigeria someday, and his Nigerian interlocutor said, “Make sure you don’t visit when there is fuel scarcity.” The British American looked manifestly bewildered. He had no clue what the Nigerian meant to say.

I knew he didn’t understand what “fuel scarcity” meant, not because it’s outside his experiential radar, but because the phraseology is quaint and unfamiliar. The Nigerian strained hard to explain herself, but the British American was still lost. So I intervened and said, “By fuel scarcity she meant gas shortages.” Then the man understood her. “Oh, I see. I can deal with that,” he said.

In my April 10, 2016 column titled, “‘Premium Motor Spirit Otherwise Known as Petrol’ and Other Petrol-Inspired Grammatical Boo-boos” I pointed out Nigerian English’s tendency to use “fuel” as a synonym for “petrol” was universally applicable in the English-speaking world. I wrote: “When Nigerian journalists don’t call petrol ‘premium motor spirit,’ they call it ‘fuel.’ In both American and British English, fuel is not necessarily synonymous with petrol. Among its many meanings, fuel is the umbrella term for all substances that produce energy such as coal, petrol (which Americans call gasoline or gas for short), kerosene, diesel, petrol, and liquefied petroleum gas.  So if kerosene, diesel, liquefied gas, etc. are not in short supply, we can’t legitimately say there is ‘fuel shortage’ or, as Nigerians like to say, ‘fuel scarcity.’ We can only say there is ‘petrol shortage.’

“But I have come to accept ‘fuel’ as Nigerian English’s synonymous term for petrol or gasoline. When I write for a Nigerian audience I too habitually—and intentionally— interchange the two terms…”

I can almost bet that no non-native English speaker would have a hard time understanding what “fuel scarcity” means. In other words, the multiplicity of non-native English varieties in the world share more similarities with each other than they do with native varieties. That’s ironic because all non-native English varieties evolved from native, mostly British, English varieties.

Idioms are at the heart of the intelligibility problems between native and non-native English speakers. Just like native speakers struggle with understanding the creative contortion of their language by non-native speakers, many non-native English speakers have great difficulties with English idioms because of their opacity and cultural specificity.

 That was why when English was adopted as the mandatory language of aviation in the world in 2008, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), said pilots who are native English speakers should limit “the use of idioms, colloquialisms and other jargon” during communication so that non-native speakers can understand them without difficulty.

A December 14, 2017 article in the (British) Telegraph titled, “Idiomatic English means Brits struggle to communicate with the world” captured this really well. I’ve decided to share it with you, my reader. Enjoy:

By Olivia Rudgard, social affairs correspondent

It's a theory which is bound to put the cat among the pigeons. The British are proud of the idiomatic humour of their language.

But an academic has argued that they are actually falling behind because they insist on using phrases that the rest of the world does not understand.

Professor Jennifer Jenkins, chair of Global Englishes at the University of Southampton, says that people who speak English as a first language are bad at changing their speech to suit non-native speakers, meaning they struggle to be understood.

The divide means those who speak English as a second language speak it very differently to native speakers - and the two groups are increasingly unable to understand each other, she argues.
Native speakers are also unwilling to make allowances for others by changing their speech patterns or slowing them down - meaning they struggle to socialise with non-native speakers who are better able to communicate with each other in English than they are with the British.

The dynamic means the two groups could be unable to understand each other in as little as a decade - putting native speakers at a disadvantage with the rest of the world.

Her research has included speaking to students on Erasmus programmes, which allow students from different EU countries to study abroad.

In one case she interviewed Hungarian, German and Italian students who said they could speak to each other with perfect ease but only had trouble when a native English speaker joined the conversation.

"Not only did the British keep to themselves but they also said that they get along very well, they understand each other, and the only trouble comes when a really British person comes and joins the conversation," she told The Telegraph.

In another case, interviews with 34 PhD non-British students who spoke English revealed that they struggled to understand their British counterparts who "didn't make any allowances for the fact that they came from a different language, they spoke very very fast, used very idiomatic language, they joked a lot, the lecturers joked a lot, using very British-referenced jokes," she said.

The theory appears in a new book, "Languages After Brexit", as part of an essay in which Professor Jenkins argues that native English speakers are worse at communicating clearly than people who have it has a second language.

She cites one case where an interviewer on BBC Radio 3 asks Italian opera singer Roberto Alagna whether his trip to London was "going swimmingly".

"It was clear that Alagna did not have any idea of what this opaque idiom meant, and the interviewer, after an uncomfortable pause, realised this and asked instead ‘Is it going well?’" the article says.
Another interviewer, a Channel 4 news presenter who was bilingual, asked then-French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron how he would challenge the country's rightward move by asking "So how would you buck that trend?" leaving Macron confused.

"While in both cases, the interviewer, especially the second one, was able to paraphrase fairly speedily (which is by no means always the case), these two anecdotes demonstrate that native speakers who have experience of speaking English with non-natives, and even those who have other languages, may find it problematic to adjust spontaneously away from their local use of English," Professor Jenkins adds.

She argues that the dynamic is causing  a divide as other countries see the English as aloof because they insist on using their own language instead of learning others.

"It's seen as a sort of laziness, as an arrogance, people seem to think that people are unwilling to make the effort," she said.

English as spoken by foreign countries is also developing new grammar rules which are seen as incorrect by native speakers but are valued abroad because they are logical and efficient.
For example, nouns which do not become plural in native English, such as "feedback" or "information", are made plural by foreign speakers into "feedbacks" or "informations".


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Saturday, December 16, 2017

There Must be an Alternative to Buhari and Atiku

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

If former Vice President Atiku Abubakar (or anybody the PDP presents as a presidential candidate) is the only alternative to President Muhammadu Buhari, then Buhari’s victory in 2019 will be a definite shoo-in, and that’s terrible for the future of Nigeria.

As a political party, PDP is a hopelessly damaged brand. It’s too soon to forget the agonizing blight that the party inflicted on Nigeria. However hard one tries, it’s impossible to get past the insufferable arrogance, insensitivity, and impunity of the henchmen of PDP. To be sure, APC (which is actually old PDP wine in a new bottle) is continuing where PDP stopped. In fact, APC is a crueler, less transparent, and more sinister monster than its older PDP brother.

That’s why presenting Nigerians with a choice between PDP and APC is a cruel Hobson’s choice; it’s like a choice between six and half a dozen, between evil and evil. Any selection or deflection of these two options would be a distinction without a difference.

Like Buhari, Atiku has no new ideas, is barely educated, is deeply invested in the same retrograde politics of patronage that has held us back, disdains the poor (recall his boast about how his private secondary school students speak better English than UniZik students who are products of public schools?), and is a classic, untrustworthy flip-flopper. When he wants to wrest power from southern politicians, he is a closed-minded northern chauvinist, but when his opponent is a northerner, he suddenly transmutes into an exhibitionistic nationalist who plays to the (southern) gallery. It reminds one of Buhari’s theatrical and faux nationalism in 2015 that saw him donning the symbolic ethnic attires of numerous Nigerian ethnicities, even going so far as to attend church functions, but we all know what he has turned out to be.

If Nigeria must make progress, it must search for a future outside PDP and APC— and outside Buhari, Atiku, and all the familiar old stagers of Nigerian politics. But why hasn’t any transformational, forward-thinking, truly educated, and energetic non-career politician emerged yet as a presidential contender? Why is our country’s fate perpetually left in the hands of insouciant, doddering, uninspiring, incompetent, and provincial gerontocrats who have no earthly clue what it takes to govern a modern, multi-ethnic nation?

As it stands now, if fractured and feuding PDP is the only alternative to Buhari’s APC, I can bet the farm that Buhari’s second term would be a blowout. I hope I am wrong because I doubt that Nigeria can survive four more years of Buhari’s dreadful ineptitude.

Just like in 2015, the Southwest may determine the outcome of the 2019 election once again—if the election is free and fair, that is. As of now, Tinubu appears to control the intellectual and cultural elites of the region, who in turn influence public opinion in the region. Tinubu is alternately in the good graces of Buhari and silently pissed with him, and this is reflected in the endless vacillation between muted criticism of Buhari and visceral defense of him by Tinubu’s minions in the Lagos-based legacy news media and on social media. Tinubu’s mood swings toward Buhari dictate the pendulum of mainstream Southwest public opinion about him. This isn’t a dig at the southwest intellectual and cultural elites; it’s an acknowledgement of a reality, one that frankly unnerves me.

Buhari is smart enough to know that Tinubu holds the key to his reelection, and has been careful to not alienate him—or to quickly retrace his steps when he inadvertently alienates him. He has practically handed the commanding heights of the economy to Tinubu and is banking on him to “deliver” the Southwest to him.

If no one stops him, Buhari will win the majority of the Northwest, the plurality of the Northeast, and make a significant dent in the Northcentral, particularly in Nassarawa, Niger, Kwara, and Kogi states. That’s what I characterize as the “Muslim North.” He will certainly lose the Southeast and the South-south.

But with two regions already in the bag, which he has always won handily, all he needs is the Southwest and a good chunk of the Northcentral. The lack of a viable alternative to Buhari and Atiku would make Tinubu’s campaign for Buhari in the Southwest a cinch.

Given Buhari’s provable incompetence and undisguisedly subnationalist proclivities, which have plunged the nation to the nadir of fissiparity, allowing him to rule for another four years could sound the death knell for the country. This is no hyperbole.

This is the time for a fresh, viable third force to emerge. I don’t know who that would be, but I know it wouldn’t and shouldn’t be the usual suspects; it must not be from the same cast of cancerous characters that have held sway in our polity these past 18 years.

When I shared my preliminary thoughts on this on Facebook, several people challenged me to suggest names of people who might be considered as alternatives to Buhari, Atiku, Saraki and all the expected contenders, but I don’t want to get caught up in the web of petty squabbles about personalities. This is a challenge for all who give a thought to the future of Nigeria.

People have talked about the outsized influence of money in politics and how this fact makes the emergence of the kind of presidential contender I am advocating impossible. I get that. But the election of Buhari has shown us that it’s possible for someone to win election in Nigeria on the strength of the notions of his “integrity” and “modesty of means.” This has turned out to be untrue of Buhari, but these were the most significant motive forces for his acceptance outside his traditional base.

How about we try someone else? Off the top of my head, I can think of retired Colonel Dangiwa Umar widely acknowledged as just, fair, principled, hardworking, cosmopolitan, widely traveled, and well-educated. I’m not suggesting that he is perfect. He is not. No one is. It is our imperfections that make us human, but we all know what sorts of imperfections ruin nations and people. I don’t think anyone can accuse him of those sorts of imperfections—sloth, lethargy, corruption, clannishness, incompetence, indecisiveness, etc. He may decline to throw his hat in the ring. But there are many like him.

 I have no interest in partisan political contest. That's not my strength. I am only an observer of power. An English proverb says the onlookers, not the participants, see most of the game. Coaches and technical advisers are needed in games not because the coaches and technical advisers are better than the players (several coaches and technical advisers, in fact, don't have half the talent of players), but because the coaches and technical advisers have the benefit of technical knowledge and, most importantly, critical detachment from the field of play.

I am by no means a coach of people in power, but my critical distance from the field of power play allows me to see what people ensconced in the easy chairs of power don't and probably can't see. And I am not alone in this.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

A Fake London Economist Article About Real Buhari Problems

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

A critical article about the Muhammadu Buhari presidency purportedly written by the (London) Economist has been trending on Nigerian space these past few weeks. I actually first read it in May this year, and knew it wasn’t written by the London Economist after reading the very first paragraph. As someone who has a heightened sensitivity to comparative English usage, the style and idiomatic rhythm of the first paragraph struck me as distinctively Nigerian.

Subsequent paragraphs were peppered with the typical errors and turns of phrase of Nigerian English. This led me to investigate the article’s source. It turned out that although the writer strained really hard to mimic what David Bradley, publisher of the Atlantic, once called the Economist’s “tight and engaging prose,” it was written by a Nigerian.

It was first published on a website called the Nigerian-Economist.com on April 23, 2017. But, for some reason, the site is no longer available, although the article, which the site’s owner(s) shared on Facebook on April 25, 2017, can still be found on the site’s now inactive Facebook page. It was also republished on April 23, 2017 on Nairaland, a popular Nigerian-themed online discussion site.

But a self-described Nigerian economist by the name of Olajide Oyadeyi appears to have plagiarized the article on his LinkedIn page, leading two commenters on his page to alert him to the “fact” that “his” article was being wrongly attributed to the Economist. “Bros they are circulating your article online claiming that it was culled from The Economist newsmagazine,” wrote one Nur Habib. But Oyadeyi published the article on his LinkedIn page on May 20, 2017, almost a month after it first appeared on Nigerian-Economist.com.

Anyway, quibbles over the authorship of the article are less important than the content, most of which I found to be accurate and thoughtful. If you missed the article, read it here:

The Unprecedented Level of Patience Shown to Buhari
Nigerians have never shown such level of patience and tolerance towards any of their past leaders for his record and strange policies as that shown to their current leader, Muhammadu Buhari– a former military dictator now self-confessed democrat who said he came to fight corruption.

Buhari, 75, is being plagued with failures across every single sector in the economy, the like as has never been seen before. Less than a year into office, the economy plummeted into recession, an economy which had till then grown at an average rate of 7% in previous years (2011-2014). The nation’s currency lost 70% of its value, unemployment rose from 6.5 to 26% , commodity prices tripled across many quarters and the state-regulated premium motor spirit prices were hiked by 67% without practically anybody batting an eye.

There have been stern opposition to his policies however and to his very personality as well, notably in the South East and South- South regions in the country as they are called, where he both received less than 5% of the votes cast at the last Presidential election and where he has always been sternly unpopular for his history of bigotry against the people, perceived incompetence and dictatorial tendencies. But in many other regions across the country the people have rather resolved to suffer patiently, drawing up excuses for him at will, blaming everyone including his hundreds of political appointees, anything and anybody but never the man himself.

Buhari’s party, the APC, promised Nigerians unprecedented swiping changes in government and the eviction of all corrupt individuals.

One possible explanation for this could be his party’s hope narrative in the 2015 General election where citizens were promised an unprecedented crackdown on corruption and the abolition of all government waste by a man whose financial worth they declared to have been less than N30million ($150,000 then), a historical low for a former top official in the country and most especially a former leader.

In a country plagued by acute corruption problems and with the unremitted crude oil revenue scandal of 2014 still fresh in the people’s minds, many were eager for an abrupt change, the like as never been seen before. He was seen an army general, already experienced in government, with a great strength of will, tough to take on the nation’s cabal of hardened criminals. He promised to appoint only technocrats to head the country’s departments and to see out the lingering Boko Haram insurgency from the warfront. For a nation lacking basic amenities such as power supply in spite of its huge energy resources and with the lingering insurgency crises, the choice seemed easy to many- the general with integrity was the man for the country.

Talk was cheap then but now reality has taken its course. His earliest opponents pointed out to his track record and not to his speech, noting that the last time Nigeria fell into dismal failure, currency woes and commodity shortages was when he had seized power as a military general in 1983 and stating that the facts of that record contradicted the poems of his image brokers.

Many however just wanted “change” as it was then called and so voted the General and sat to wait for the sung promises. But from the onset of his government, the course was as his critics had predefined: Incompetency, bigotry and dictatorial tendencies plaguing the country….

He breached the Central Bank’s 2007 Act of Independence, telling it to suspend forex disbursements to steel importers and other manufacturing sectors in a bid to defend the Naira, a disastrous action which kick-started a spiral of recession.

He took 3 months to appoint his Chief of Staff, 6 months to appoint a cabinet and now 23 months and yet counting to appoint heads of agencies and board members he was so eager to fire upon his assumption into office and rose import duties on the most basic of commodities in a bid to raise government revenue.

And as for the corruption fight, the facts on ground do not show any one at all. Apart from a few officials harassed or imprisoned without court order, the country is yet to witness the first victim of the said campaign at the court stands.

Government waste is on the rise, officials publicly caught in graft acts were swiftly excused, the 2016 Budget year passed without implementation and most worrisome, the Central Bank’s foreign reserves were being shared among unknown Bureau De Change operators at variable rates at the detriment of critical manufacturing, business and banking sectors.

The government continues to praise itself but the people seem to be increasingly tired of the paraded self-righteousness. The President’s recent illness was greeted with cheers by many.
Many are just tired of the government. But the remarkable level of patience shown so far has been unprecedented and many a times the general reactions towards acts of constitutional violations was one of calmness or insensitivity.


If the Change narrative of the 2015 election and the songs of man of integrity are to account for this, then Nigerians may have just certified themselves on the world map as a nation easy to fool with propaganda. An adult should be judged on his track record not on his tongue.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

English Mumpsimuses, a Senator’s Tweet, and Lesson in Tenses

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

I didn’t intend to write a sequel to last week’s column on the Senator Shehu Sani tweet that invited sarcastic, ill-natured grammar trolling from a paid agent of Governor Nasiru El-Rufai. But the social media circus that my column elicited necessitated this follow-up. There are lots of people who genuinely want to learn about the appropriate uses of tenses but who are bewildered by the cacophony of social media hooey masquerading as expert opinion on this issue. This column is for them.

But I need to mention right off the bat that Senator Sani is far and away the most imaginative user of the English language in the current Nigerian Senate. His puns, witticisms, and humorous yet thoughtful metaphors have enlivened an otherwise dull political climate. His speeches on the floor of the Senate have made by far the most memorable quotes in the life of this republic. So no one can deny that Senator Sani is a masterful and proficient user of the English language. The minor grammar slips in his social media status updates, which we are all liable to make, in no way detract from his facility with the language. 

And just so I am not misunderstood, I actually wholly align with the sentiments encapsulated in the senator’s tweet and decry the infantile pettiness of his critic who suggested that because he transposed tenses in his tweet he should take an elementary school competency test.

With that out of the way, it helps to realize that this isn’t political punditry; it’s bare-bones, technicist analysis of grammar and usage, which isn’t amenable to the interpretive liberties of political punditry. Several of the people who are “defending” the senator’s tense-challenged tweet are general-interest commentators on social and traditional media who imagine that everything is subject to pontifical dialogic brawl. As psychologist Abraham Maslow once pointed out, "If the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail."

Their hammer is punditry and they see every issue as a “perspective,” as an “opinion.” That bespeaks cognitive unsophistication. I am both a political commentator and a language enthusiast, and have learned to separate political commentary from my language and grammar interventions.

English Mumpsimuses
The political-commentators-turned-overnight-grammar-mavens who are nonetheless mistaken in their defense of a demonstrably wrong grammar usage but who persist in their error out of vanity and a need to nurse their hurt egos fit in nicely to a group I once characterized as “English mumpsimuses” in my April 9, 2017 article titled, “English,Indigenous Language Instruction, and National Development.”

What is, or who is a, mumpsimus? Well, there are two senses of the term in linguistics and general usage. Mumpsimus is defined as “adherence to or persistence in an erroneous use of language, memorization, practice, belief, etc., out of habit or obstinacy….” It is also defined as “an error to which one clings after it has been thoroughly exposed.” A person who is wedded to, or who persists in, mumpsimus (that is, pigheaded insistence on clinging to an error after it has been shown to be an error) is also called a mumpsimus.

The term came to mean stubborn resistance to correction because an old, uneducated monk in the 16th century mispronounced the Latin word “sumpsimus” as “mumpsimus” during a religious observance. When he was corrected, he refused to take correction and intentionally persisted in his error out of prideful stubbornness.

There are many mumpsimuses in Nigerian cyberspace who defend, and persist in, provably wrong usage. They deny the admissibility of correction and, when they can’t sustain their defense with the resources of logic and evidence, claim that English isn’t their native language, or that they are “creative” people who are taking liberties with the rules, who are bending the rules.

Well, to bend the rules, you first have to know the rules. Dalai Lama XIV echoed this sentiment when he said, “Know the rules well, so you can break them effectively.” Pablo Picasso said it even better: “Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.” You can’t betray unfamiliarity with the basic rules of grammar and claim to be “creatively” bending them when you are called out.

Someone even called the rules of grammar “false rules”! Since language, every language, is inherently rule-governed, the notion that time-honored grammar rules, which are organic to the language, are “false” has to rank as the most comical defense of bad grammar I’ve encountered. No language is arbitrary or anarchic. Of course, rules change. That is what makes languages endure. A stagnant, inflexible language sooner or later withers and dies.

But changes to the rules of language don’t take place overnight— and certainly not because some mumpsimus petulantly wills it into being on social media. Language change is usually a gradual, complicated, osmotic, even imperceptible, process.  For example, tautologies (such as “most unkindest”) and double negatives (such as “I don’t want nobody”) were perfectly permissible during Shakespearean times, but have been stigmatized in the language since the 1700s, and are now considered solecistic. (For more on this, read my August 9, 2015 article titled “Shakespearean Expressions that Sound Illiterate by Today‘s Standards.”) On the other hand, many expressions and usage patterns that were frowned upon generations ago are now accepted and socially privileged.

However, every language consciously or unconsciously polices boundaries of what is considered correct and acceptable usage at particular times either through curricular tyranny or through social and symbolic pressures. Plus, some rules hardly change in language. One of them is tense, especially the present tense. You don’t get to choose when to use the present, past, and future tenses. 

The fact that even otherwise educated and proficient users of the language can defend an incontrovertibly ungrammatical use of tense and fancy themselves as doing anything other than embarrassing themselves shows that it won’t hurt to occasionally bone up on basic grammar lessons like the meaning, uses, and functions of tenses.

That’s what I intend to do today for the benefit of people who want to learn. I will use the senator’s tweet as an example to instantiate the rules.

Tenses in English
There are primarily three tenses in English: present, past, and future tenses. I will only discuss the present tense because there is no space to discuss all of them and because only the present tense is relevant to this intervention.

 The present tense has four sub-categories, and they are “simple present,” “present continuous,” “present perfect,” and “present perfect continuous.”

The simple present expresses habitual actions that are not bound by time. Example: “Our economy grows.” Here, the sense is that this growth is not limited by time. That’s why saying “our economy grows by 1.4%” can only mean that our economy grows by 1.4% in perpetuity. That’s logically and factually impossible since the no country’s economy grows at the same rate forever. In fact, the Nigerian economy grew by 0.72 percent in the second quarter and shrank in previous quarters. The simple present tense also expresses general, enduring truths such as, “our economy grows when we have leaders who have a clue.”

The present continuous tense expresses actions that are occurring now, and typically combines a verb to be (such as “am,” “is,” and “are”) and the “ing” forms of action verbs. Example: “Our economy IS GROWING.”

The present perfect tense expresses actions that show a continuity between the past and the present or that show actions that began in the past but are not finished yet.” Example: “Our economy has grown 1.4 percent.” It means the growth started at some point in the immediate past but still subsists now because we are still in the same timeframe. That’s what Senator Sani should have written if we were still in the third quarter when he tweeted.

A defender of Senator Sani on Facebook wrote: “AS Aruwa should understand that the Distinguished Senator was right for using the simple present tense ‘Grows’ instead of ‘Grew’. The economy grows by 1.4 percent means it is still on that growth number. If it eventually changes to 2%. [sic] We will be reporting 1.4% as complete Past [sic] tense.”

People with little understanding of English grammar were persuaded by this grammatically impoverished defense. First, as I showed earlier, the name for the tense that describes actions that started in the past but with effect that continues in the present, which is what the defender describes, is “present perfect tense,” not “simple present tense.” Second, it is ungrammatical to use the morphological inflection of the simple present tense, that is, “grows,” to indicate the present perfect tense. The present perfect tense is correctly indicated with the linking verb “has” or “have” and the past participial inflection of action verbs, such as “grown.”


In last week’s column, I said “grew” was the appropriate verb to use because the third quarter ended in September, and the data for the fourth quarter would be different from the preceding one. In other words, the third quarter has no continuity with the fourth, just like the second had no continuity with the third. That makes it a simple past tense, also called a preterite. This isn’t a different “perspective.” It’s a basic rule. You either know it or you don’t.

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