A Dynamic Language Under Attack

Every language changes. Even words change meanings. New ones are invented or borrowed. Others die. The Bible that my grandfather used contained such words as thou, thee and art – words also used in the Shakespearean plays I have read; but my own version (King James Version) contains “You are in heaven”, not “Thou art in heaven”. Until this year, I had resisted the urge to write, “Everyone has their faults.” Thirty years ago, it would have been, “Everyone has his or her faults.”

The social media has become the slaughter slab for the English language. Many parents don’t yet understand the damage the “new English” invented in the social media is causing to their kids’ academic progress, though the 70–80% failure now recorded in WASC or NECO exams each year should send a signal. Are parents listening? Parent, please wish your daughter good luck in her NECO exams. Tell her that only the name of the Nigerian president in 2014 has Goodluck as one word.

We all seek to save space and save our phone’s battery life while using the short-message service (SMS) and even email. But are we all careful to avoid transferring our new-found culture to more formal writing?

The new linguists of the social media have dominated conversations on the web. And each of them claims to be an expert in writing! Accordingly, we no longer have “that” in English but “dat”. “You” has become simply “U”; “because” has changed to “bc”; “for” is represented by “4”; two or to has become “2”; instead of “see” we now simply write “c”.

The new spellings have appeared in classwork assignments, in memos drafted by civil servants and in applications for jobs. True or false?

A writer’s mistake

Many claim to be writers just because they can put pen to paper or click on their keyboard. Well, it’s true everyone who writes is a writer, but not every writer is a good one. It is in the nature of writers to be arrogant – she would accept mistakes only reluctantly and would seek ways to prove she’s right.

Journalism or writing is not a profession; anyone can claim to be a writer, even if they write incomprehensible things. In the public corporations of many African countries, these great “writers” occupy the topmost positions.

You are taking this course because you’re less arrogant, and aspire to be a better writer. You know that no one knows it all and that everyone keeps seeking improvements in their writing. You’re right. And, very soon, you’ll stand out from the pack. You’ll start writing with confidence, assured you’re one of the great writers of the 21st century.

There is this quote that editors used to display in the newsrooms of several newspapers in the 1980s: “When a doctor makes a mistake, a patient may die. When an engineer makes a mistake, a building may collapse… But when a journalist makes a mistake, he publishes it for the world to see.” That explains why all journalists – and all writers – have to keep learning. I have opened books written by professors but couldn’t go beyond two paragraphs because of atrocious errors. I received a letter from a ranking director in a ministry, in February 2015, as a response to a letter I sent him introducing the print version of Eyeway. He said he “aknowlege reciept of your magsine” and prayed that we “sow hire and hire in the relm of publishing”.

Every day, we listen to such English language murderers on TV and on the radio. Newspapers are decorated with them. But you dare not point out their errors! When we founded www.eyeway.ng on October 1, 2014, I proposed to manage a column called “Language Police” in a bid to “arrest” mainly public officeholders and other “experts” who violated the rules of grammar in public. We soon found that it was bringing enemies rather than friends; so we renamed it “Language Clinic”. It has now become “Communication Clinic”.

Nigeria faces disgrace every day overseas because, instead of speaking in Igbo, Yoruba, Hausa or any other native language and then requesting interpreters, some diplomats struggle to communicate in a foreign language. Is the country’s reputation the only thing that is being damaged? Not at all.

I hear young people often proclaiming that “it doesn’t matter”. After all, “the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong…” Perhaps nothing matters anymore. And so policemen can go on strike. Soldiers can mutiny. It doesn’t matter that young, ill-trained doctors are killing patients every day with wrong medication and negligence. These days, people seek jobs in order to earn a salary, not to work or learn new skills. It doesn’t matter?

Do not be like them. Come out from among them.

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EXERCISE

  1. What are your doubts?
  2. In 30 to 40 words: how would you want a writing school to help you become a better writer?

Drop your answer as a comment below or send it to your coach at eyeway4elearn@gmail.com.

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ELWC 500 is meant to whet your appetite for the real thing. We promised to make you become a better writer. Test that claim by continuing with this writing course.

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