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Q and A on Nigerian English and Usage

I’ve decided to attend to some of the questions I’ve received from readers over the months. I will respond to the rest in the coming weeks. I implore readers to be patient with me. Hope you find this week’s Q and A useful.

 

Question:

 

“Long time.” I hope I’m not trying to mangle American and British English into Nigerian English. Well, I since I started reading your articles, I am now always circumspect about using particular expressions that may actually just be Nigerian English.  What would you say about expressions like “Professor Farooq needs no introduction,” “Time without number,” “up and doing,” “offhand,”  “believe you me,” and “hit the nail on the head.” Are these Nigerian English expressions?It is possible you have addressed them in one of your writings, but I need more explanation.  Thanks for your expected response.


Answer:

First, while there is merit in knowing what expressions are uniquely Nigerian English and what expressions have intelligibility across the different dialects of the English language, I don’t think it’s healthy to be so contemptuous of Nigerian English that you try to avoid it like a plague. Nigerian English isn’t necessarily bad English. In fact, sometimes it is inevitable—and supremely creative.

In an earlier write-up, I identified the following as the fundamental sources of Nigerian English: linguistic creativity (to express unique socio-cultural thought-processes that are absent in the standard varieties of English), British English archaisms that lost currency since the 1960s, initial usage errors fossilized over time and incorporated into our linguistic repertory, and a mishmash of British and American English.

Elsewhere, I noted: “I am a strong advocate for Nigerian English, as my previous writings on the subject show. However, my sentiment… is that Nigerian English is most justified where it invents or creatively contorts words to express unique Nigerian socio-cultural experiences that are not lexicalized in current Standard English.

“Clear cases of usage errors that are the consequence of ignorance should not be dignified as Nigerian English. They needlessly distort intelligibility in international communication in English, and in a world where time-honored spatial and temporal boundaries are collapsing at unimaginable speeds we can’t afford that kind of self-limiting linguistic insularity.”

In other words, of the four sources of Nigerian English that I identified, the only one I discourage are clearly avoidable usage errors. What I’ve set out to achieve in this column is to arm my readers with what I like to call a multi-dialectal linguistic competence in English, that is, the ability to tell Nigerian English from British English and British from American English so that they can easily navigate the contours of the linguistic environments of these varieties of English.

Speaking for myself, I sometimes consciously speak and write Nigerian English when I address Nigerian audiences. I have defended the nonstandard use of “flash” in Nigeria’s telephonic vocabulary and echoed Chinua Achebe’s wise words that any language that has the cheek to leave its primordial shores and encroachon the linguistic territory of other people should learn to come to terms with the reality that it will be domesticated.

Having said that, all the expressions you mentioned also occur in both British and American English, except that “time without number” is often rendered as “times without number.” Note the plural in “times.” And “long time” should be “long time, no see.” It’s a Standard English idiomatic expression that was derived from a direct translation of Chinese. That is why it is ungrammatical in English.


Question:

Is it correct to use “extreme” and “end” in the same grammatical environment? Someone wrote: “It is pleonastic to use ‘extreme’ and ‘end’ in the same grammatical environment. Like ‘reverse back’, ‘fellow colleagues’, it is tautological, redundant or duplicative.”


Answer:

That may be true, but there are many socially acceptable expressions in English that are redundant. In an earlier write-up, I wrote this: “grammar books in both Britain and America teach that the expressions ‘revert back’ and ‘return back’ are superfluous and redundant and therefore wrong. Yet these expressions are common in Nigerian and American English. Well, I guess it’s because the rules are not consistent. For instance, ‘close proximity’ is clearly in the class of ‘revert back’ and ‘return back.’ But the expression is not only considered correct (the Oxford Dictionary of English, for instance, uses the sentence ‘do not operate microphones in close proximity to television sets’ in its example of how to use the word ‘proximity’), it also enjoys idiomatic status, although some writers feebly object to it. There are many such redundant fixed phrases in English—such as ‘aid and abet,’ ‘part and parcel,’ ‘any and all,’ ‘one and all’— which are strangely not socially disfavored.”

But “extreme end,” from my perspective, isn’t redundant since an “end” is sometimes a continuum, that is, a continuous succession in which no part or portion is distinct or distinguishable from adjacent parts. So, for instance, we might regard the end of colonialism in Nigeria as beginning from the late 50s and ending in the early 60s. We can legitimately say that the extreme end of colonialism in Nigeria is 1960. Extreme end indicates the very last of the continuum.


Question:

What is the difference between a Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and a Managing Director (MD)? Some organizations in Nigeria use both titles for different officers. Is that correct?


Answer:

Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director mean one and the same thing. Well, except that CEO is the preferred American expression for the overall boss of a firm or corporation, and Managing Director is the preferred British English expression for the same position. However, it is entirely legitimate for Nigerians to domesticate these titles and imbue them with meanings that serve their communicative purposes. Many Nigerian organizations I know that use both titles regard the CEO as being superior to the MD. The trouble is that an “uninitiated” British visitor to such Nigerian companies might mistake the MD as higher than the CEO in positional hierarchy. And he would be wrong. Tough luck to him!

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