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Reading the News in Nigeria

One of the fun things about the English language is the abuse that it can (and does) take, whether at home or abroad. And in my nook of ‘abroad’ it would appear that my mother-tongue has been shamelessly hijacked and forced to do all kinds of uncharacteristic things.

So, just for fun, here are some extracts from online newspapers I found quite amusing.

Leadership:

An eyewitness told the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) that the incident, which occurred about 10.31 a.m, caused a pandemonium among travellers at the airport…

Well, well, well. A pandemonium. That word is so rarely used back in the old country I really miss it. You have to love the way that Nigeria picks up quaint but picturesque expressions and puts them to work again. (Perhaps the same could be said of American English, with its diapers, faucets and numerous other endearing archaisms.)

But there’s more…

“The plane landed on the runway with its tyres locked in, an indication that the tyres did not shoot out. But only the pilot can really explain what happened,’’ the source said.

Give this (unnamed source) a prize, people. What a genius! Sounds like he’s figured the whole thing out. I guess the tyres being locked in may be an indication that they didn’t shoot out. Who would have thought it?!

The Nation’s treatment of the same incident has a puzzling sentence in it:

An industry source also confirmed that the pilot and a colleague in training were the only occupants of the aircraft, which was forced to belly land following the failure of the nose wheel or landing gear to retract.

Spot anything wrong?

Dash me a hyphen!

First, consider the small matter of a hyphen. What’s the difference here:

Well, the problem is that ‘crash’ and ‘lands’ could each be either a noun or a verb; the reader has to decide. How do we decide?

  • “Plane crash” is (unfortunately) a common combination: a noun-noun compound.
  • English clauses can only have one main verb in them. Everything else should be a noun, modifier or some other grammatical word.
  • Punctuation leaps to the rescue because crash-lands can only be a verb. So the Nation invites ambiguity and may have a “plane crash” landing at the airport, but Leadership is clear and easy to understand.

Does it really matter? Yes! The fact is that punctuation and word division in English affects our intonation and stress, which you have to get right in order to convey meaning properly. Similarly Nigerian languages need their written form to indicate the word and grammar tone patterns used. Otherwise the reader and listener has to puzzle for a bit to figure out what the meaning was supposed to be. You’ll probably get there eventually, but it makes reading so much harder than it needs to be.

Exciting New Big Words!

From the Nation again:

Without such clarifications and conscientisation, the flocks are bound to mistake the trees for the forest.

Has anyone spotted that word before? I think maybe it’s just been born. Any idea what it means? Probably something to do with conscience, but that’s about as much as I can guess. And can anyone actually say plainly what the whole sentence means? No, I thought not.

Fortunately that’s not the last we’re to hear of conscientisation:

There are a thousand and one ways of responding to the challenge… [following some disturbing punctuation abuse] But there are even cheaper and more lasting options too. One of these is conscientisation and mobilisation of the populace across popular democratic aspirations as opposed to ethno-religious and regional jingoism, a job for which the political parties are the most suited.

Well, I guess that makes it all clear then. I’ll leave it to the reader to figure out which of the 2 interpretations of the final sentence the writer may have intended. Are the political parties most suited to ethno-religious and regional jingoism? or are they most suited to conscientisation?

Perhaps I’m not being entirely fair here. After all, we all know that political news reporting exists only to give a decent airing for the writer’s Big Grammar and Convoluted Verbiage. It isn’t supposed to be understood, is it?

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