I don’t really understand it so it must be great!

The Rowbory/Nigeria Family Blog

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I don’t really understand it so it must be great!

Journalists love writing about themselves and Nigerian journalists are no exception. I came across this gushing report on the Nation’s awesome achievements whilst searching for a turgid (but apparently award-winning) article on threats to Nigerian languages from the dash to English. I’m honestly trying not to be unfair here and to allow for the possibility of Nigerian English grammar and idioms being significantly divergent from British English, but I still would struggle to give this article more than a B–.

“But surely it deserves more,” I hear you cry, “for all the weighty phrasing, convoluted sentences, nested relative clauses, exotically mixed metaphors and elaborate esoteric language.” There is the distinct possibility that the very clarity and comprehensibility which I prize are derided by the Nigerian press and indeed the Nigerian reading public. A show of big talk without substance seems more likely to be what people want.

Let’s leave this ancient rock behind and build our house on modern sand

Actually the article I was seeking was fairly wide-ranging and relatively well researched. It’s just a pity about the unconscious heavy irony that undermines it for me: lamenting in highfalutin English riddled with schoolboy errors about the shunning of Nigerian languages both exhibited and undermined the author’s point. For the tragedy I see here is not merely that the deep foundations of centuries-old languages and cultures are being abandoned, but that education and the future of the Nigerian people is being built on a shoddy foundation of half-understood language. Perhaps that is why I often observe Nigerians talking to Nigerians on the phone in English having great difficulty in communicating clearly and precisely.

But to get back to the awards, one has to wonder whether we’re just in the midst of a giant performance of the Emperor’s New Language! No-one wants to admit they don’t understand what another writer is actually trying to say, and no-one will admit they know how to use the ‘big grammar’ and idioms of impressive English properly.

Watch out for pesky pikins who dare to say: “Look at the king!”

(And please comment below. Comments from Nigerians – who no doubt understand the situation much better than this ignorant Oyibo – are particularly welcome.)


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