"WR6_gUnUj-ztiW07KQcOCnTel9A"/> Notes From Atlanta: Touchscreen, not Screen touch, number plate, not plate number: Nigerian English Q and A

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Touchscreen, not Screen touch, number plate, not plate number: Nigerian English Q and A

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

1. Question:
Is it “screen touch” or “touch screen?

Answer:
Until I received this question I was never aware that Nigerians call touch screens “screen touch.” Your question prompted me to search “screen touch” on search engines and on such social media networks as Facebook and Twitter. I found the phrase only on Nigerian-themed websites and by Nigerian social media handles.

The use of “screen touch” in place of “touch screen” is an example of a kind of error linguists call lexical metathesis or spoonerism; it is a kind of slip of the tongue in which the usual positions of words in a sentence are transposed. Another common lexical metathesis in Nigerian English is the tendency for Nigerians to say “plate number” instead of the standard “number plate,” which is the British English term for vehicle registration plate—or what American English speakers call license plate.

2. Question:
Is the word “gateman” Standard English? Or is it a Nigerian English word?

Answer:
It isn't a uniquely Nigerian English word, but native speakers, at least in America, rarely use it now. Doorman is the commonly used word for what Nigerians know as gateman. Other gender-neutral alternatives are "door guard," "gatekeeper," "doorkeeper," "porter," "ostiary," etc.

3. Question:
I watched a video of an American senator called Graham saying "and y'all both know that". I was puzzled as to how he used 'y'all + both'.  Kindly please say something about this.

Answer:
"Y'all," which started as a southernism (i.e., English usage peculiar to southern United States), is now used outside the South as a stand-in for the plural form of "you," which does not exist in Standard English. In contemporary Standard English, "you" doesn't change form whether it is singular or plural. People increasingly have a need to lexically differentiate between singular "you" and plural "you," and that's why "y'all" or "y'alls" is becoming popular. In old English, "ye" functioned as the plural form of "you," but it's lost now, except in low-prestige dialects of the language in Newfoundland, Northern England, Cornwall, and Ireland.

4. Question:
"This is to confirm that the above named has been offered Provisional admission into [name of university] in 2015/2016 Academic Session. The Candidate has been admitted to read: Doctor
of Human Medicine 100 level in the Faculty/College/School of College of Health Sciences." Sir, I quoted this from the letter of confirmation of admission I received. But a friend of mine said, "The candidate has been admitted to study" is more appropriate than "to read".  Is he right?

Answer:
He is wrong. In British English, it is usual and perfectly permissible to use “read” to indicate the act of being a student at a university—or at any higher education institution. I typed “admitted to read” on Oxford University’s website and came across several matches, including this: “The number of undergraduates admitted to read Chemistry at Pembroke over the last few years has typically been around six per year.” A recent obituary in the UK Telegraph also contains the following: “After leaving school, she was admitted to read Chemistry at London University…”

American English speakers, however, don’t use “read” in the way British English speakers do. In America you are “admitted to study” a course, not to “read a course.” Maybe that is what your friend was hinting at. However, since British English is the standard that Nigerians privilege and emulate, I don’t understand why your friend thinks “read a course” is wrong.

5. Question:
Recently, I said “say me well to your wife” to a friend of mine, but he laughed at me. When I asked why he laughed, he said you once wrote that the expression was wrong. But isn’t “say me well to…” an American English expression? Please clarify.

Answer:
First, I think it’s impolite to laugh at people because you think they’ve committed an error in speech. And, no, “say me well” is not an American English expression. Here is what I wrote in my November 11, 2012 article titled “Top 10 Peculiar salutations in Nigerian English (I)”:

“1. ‘Say me well to him/her/your family,’ etc. Nigerians use this ungainly verbalism when they want to send expressions of good will to someone through another person. This uniquely Nigerian English expression would be puzzling to native speakers of the English language because it is structurally awkward, grammatically incorrect, and unidiomatic. I have no earthly idea how it emerged in Nigerian English. But it certainly isn’t a British English archaism or a literal translation from native Nigerian languages, nor is it Biblical English or a distortion of contemporary British or American English—four of the dominant sources of Nigerian English that I have identified in earlier write-ups here.

“Whatever it is, the expression has attained idiomatic status in Nigerian English and should probably be patented and exported to other parts of the English-speaking world as Nigerian linguistic invention in English.

“Some examples of fixed phrases that native English speakers use to express the same sense Nigerian English speakers convey when they say ‘say me well to…’ are ‘give my hello to him/her,’ ‘tell him/her I said hi,’ ‘give him/her/your family my (warm) regards,’ ‘give him/her my best wishes,’ ‘say hello to him/her for me,’ etc.”

6. Question:
Distinct people still spell that name as "Mohammed” or “Muhammad,” or “Mohamed," yet they are all referring to the same person in their write-ups. I am not even talking about Muhammadu Buhari. I mean the prophet. Does it mean they're not talking of the same man when they choose any of the variants? Usually abused by non-Muslims?

Answer:
Well, it's because they are all using Roman orthography to write a name that is originally Arabic. Every time you use a different orthography to spell a name that was originally written in a different orthographic tradition, you often have several variants. It's normal. Names originally written in Latin alphabets also have different variants when they are written using different scripts such as Arabic, Cyrillic, Chinese, Thai, etc.

Having said that, it helps to note that, over the years, “Muhammad” has emerged as the preferred rendition of the name in English. Even in the Oxford English Dictionary the name is written as Muhammad. Much older variants like Mahound or Mahomet are now considered offensive and are avoided by careful writers, except when references to the dim and distant past (when the variants were in vogue) are inevitable.

7. Question:
Is it in appropriate to say "please make sure" in a formal letter? I wrote a letter to my principal asking him to provide reagents for practical examinations, but when I said "please make sure you provide the actual reagent listed above" he was annoyed and said I wrote in a commanding tone. Is it true? I thought the “please” in my sentence suggests politeness.

Answer:
Saying "make sure" to your superior is inappropriate, even imperious. That's the language adults use when they talk to children. It's a command, not a polite request. You could have written something like, "Please provide the reagents listed above."


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