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“Core North,” “in the Social Media”: Q and A on Nigerian English Usage

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D. Twitter: @farooqkperogi Question: What do you think about the phrase “core north”? I don’t recall you ...

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

What do you think about the phrase “core north”? I don’t recall you writing on this phrase. I would be delighted to read your dissection of it. I know hundreds of people would also want to read what you have to say on it.

“Core north” is a politically loaded expression invented by the southern press to refer to the far north. So, as you can see, “far north” is a more value-neutral referent than “core north.” The term “core” is a spatial metaphor first used to refer to political entities, in the 1950s, by an Argentine economist by the name of Raúl Prebisch.

It was popularized by American sociologist Immanuel Wallerstein who propounded the famous world system theory that divided the world into “core” nations and “peripheral” nations. Core nations refer to the advanced, industrial nations of the West, and “peripheral” nations are poor, underdeveloped, formerly colonized parts of the world. Formerly peripheral nations can become “core” nations, such as Singapore. “Coreness” is therefore a variable attribute. So is “peripheralness.” They are not inviolably fixed, unchangeable notions—at least in theory.

 It’s noteworthy that a “core” always presupposes a periphery.” If there is a “core north,” is there also a “peripheral north”? What states might constitute the “peripheral north”? What makes the so-called “core north” core? Core in what? Prebisch and Wallerstein talk of “core” and “periphery” in terms of relative economic advancement. What, one might ask, constitutes the core of the “core north” that distinguishes it from the rest of the north? Can the “peripheral north,” even in theory, transmute into the core north— like Singapore did?

And why is there not a “core south”—and a peripheral south? If both the south and the north of Nigeria were arbitrary colonial administrative units, why is only a part of the north isolated and labeled the “core”?

Northernness is an incidental geo-historical identity. It’s not a choice. It’s not an achievement. So there can be no “core” to it, just as there can be no “core” to the south. The expression “core north” is not only mischievous and semantically imprecise, it is also one of the most unintelligent phrases invented by the southern Nigerian press. But, to the credit of the southern press, even far northerners who had resisted the expression because of its apparent mischievousness, have now embraced it and flaunt it as a legitimate identity label.

Is it “in the social media” or “on social media”? I see that you use “on social media.” Why?

Although social media are relatively recent phenomena, it’s amazing that in all native-speaker English varieties “on social media” has become idiomatic. It is true, too, that “in the social media” (or, less commonly, “on the social media”) has become standard in non-native English varieties, including Nigerian English.

My sense is that non-native English speakers say “in the social media” on the model of “in the media” or “in the news media.” That seems perfectly logical and sensible to me. Perhaps, there is also logic behind the native English speaker preference for “on social media.” I just haven’t given a thought to it.

I say “on social media” precisely because I live in America where everybody says “on social media.” If I lived in Nigeria I would probably also be saying “in the social media.” Even President Muhammadu Buhari, in his 2015 inaugural speech, thanked Nigerians “who tirelessly carried the campaign on the social media.” The phrase struck me as odd then because, not resident in Nigeria, I hadn’t heard it said that way.

So in my June 6, 2015 column titled, “A Grammatical and Rhetorical Analysis of President Buhari’s Inaugural Speech,” I wrote: “Unless you’re referring to a social media platform you had mentioned previously, the definite article ‘the’ is unnecessary, even confusing, when it precedes ‘social media.’ The phrase would have been better as ‘campaign on social media’ since the reference to ‘social media’ is generic, not specific.”

 In a subsequent column on July 19, 2015 titled, “Response to the Critique of my Critique of Buhari’s Inaugural Speech,” I wrote: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.”

But I have since encountered “in the social media” and “on the social media” in countless non-native English usages, and have come to accept it as a legitimate dialectal variation modelled after such fixed expressions as “in the news,” “in the media,” etc. where the definite article “the” doesn’t refer to a specific news item or media.

I’m vying for the president of the university students’ association. Is the sentence “For a better student’s experience” correct? Or should it be “For a better students’ experience”?

Neither sentence is correct. It should be “For a better student experience.” In the sentence, “student” functions as an adjective modifying “experience.” It doesn’t function as a noun and so shouldn’t have a possessive. Nouns that function as adjectives are called “attributive nouns.” In the sentence, “student” is an attributive noun, that is, a noun doing the job of an adjective, in this case modifying another noun.

It’s similar to “university administration,” where “university,” though a noun, modifies “administration” and therefore does the job of an adjective. No one says “university’s administration,” or “or universities’ administration” when they mean administration of university. In your example above, your object is not to show possession; it is to modify the word “experience.” Students don’t own the experience.

Are there rules guiding the way compound nouns are written? This is because sometimes they are written together, separate, and hyphenated.

Frankly, the only way to know that is to check the latest dictionary. Typically, new compound words start out being hyphenated. As they become more common, the hyphen goes away. Remember it used to "e-mail"; now it's email. It used to be "on-line"; now it's online. So the more traditional a compound word is, the less likely it is for it to be hyphenated. But that’s not true of all cases. Some compound words remain permanently hyphenated.

I just submitted a memo to my boss wherein I wrote ‘I was in a meeting', but he corrected it to read 'I was at a meeting'. Please which between the two is correct?

Both are correct depending on the context. "At" suggests that you're talking of the location of the meeting. "In" suggests that you're talking about being in the middle of a meeting; that is, the event, not the location.

Kindly clarify the confusion with writing 'th,' 'rd,' and 'st' for dates in letters and other correspondences. January 1, 2016 is being written as 1st January, 2016 in my office and I don't believe it is right. I hope to share your article (I am hopeful you will write one) with my office.

The British write the day before the month (such as 1 January, 2017) while Americans write the month before the day (such as January 1, 2017), but both don't use ordinal indicators like “st,” “nd,” “rd,” and “th” in dates, at least in formal writing.

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