What We Speak; What We Hear

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By Africanus Owusu-Ansah
Communicative competence is composed minimally of grammatical competence, sociolinguistic competence and communication strategies, or what we will call strategic competence.

Geoffrey Leech and Jan Svartvik

A Communicative Grammar of English

IT WAS FASCINATING TO HEAR panelists at a local radio programme tried to correct people’s use of English, making references to ‘iced water,’ ‘ice water’, ‘chop-bar’, ‘chop money’. Perhaps the time allotted for this programme was so short that the discussants could not go deep into the word-analysis OR they took the exercise casually and appeared flippant, not bothering about those critics who might be listening with a critical ear.

The discussion simply dismissed the use of ‘ice’ to discuss water which is cool or cold. The discussants recommended the use of ‘chilled’ to describe water or drink which is very cold. Some Ghanaian writers have compiled books that have discussed tit-bits in English usage; and they have included the words analysed above: Kofi Sey, I.K. Gyasi….

Talking about ‘ice’, this is what Annor Nimako in his book ‘Mind Your Language: Educated Ghanaian English’ says: ‘Iced water’ is British English while ‘ice water’ is American.’ So the sentence ‘He went to the bar asked for a glass of iced orange juice is quite correct’. You may come across ‘iced coffee’, but Lipton will tell you ‘ice tea’ can be good for your health.

Another word of interest is ‘chop’. This is very well elaborated in Kari Dako’s ‘Ghanaianisms’. The general usage of the verb: to chop is to cut into (small) pieces (with a knife, an axe), as ‘He was chopping wood in the forest’; ‘My mother chopped the onions (up) and added it to the soup’.

In our part of the world, or if you like, in ‘pidgin English’, ‘chop’ means ‘eat’, ‘enjoy’, ‘consume’ or ‘dine’. Did you chop the Christmas well? Go and chop your food. For us, a wooden box for keeping provisions is called a ‘chop-box’. Money for running, keeping or maintaining the house, or money for food is called ‘chop-money.’ When people steal, embezzle, we use the expression ‘chop’, as for example: The politicians are chopping Ghana small. They must stop their chop-chop. For us, ‘meal time’ is ‘chop time’: You may hear: ‘chop time no friend’.

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‘Chop bar’ is used in place of restaurant, eaterie, cafeteria, joint, café, grill, coffee shop, outlet. Perhaps we think because fufu, ampesie, banku, eto, and other local dishes that go with stew or soup, spiced by salted fish (NOT: stinking fish: momone) we are justified in calling such restaurants ‘chop-bars’. Restaurants may be reserved for those places that serve European dishes, Chinese cuisines with waiters handy, and the environments relatively cleaner. For our local encounter these expressions may be well understood, and we can communicate ‘freely’ with them. It is rather when we speak with others outside our confines that problems arise. Or when we write examinations in English as a subject that these interferences negatively aid us in getting aggregate ‘F’ in chains.

In a statement that smacks of lamentation, Annor Nimako says, “There had been some unwillingness and resistance to change when errors were pointed out in the articles serialized in the Daily Graphic. For example, some agents, including lawyers (we vehemently protest), have resisted the correction of errors they had made in their advertisements, retorting that they had been writing the announcements in that form for years. It is realized that change would come slowly. It would take some time for many Ghanaians to learn that ‘says’ is pronounced /sez/ not /seiz/.”

On the cover (that is, the blurb) of Annor Nimako’s book ‘Mind Your Language’ is a gentleman who says (sez): ‘The small chops taste good’. The lady beside him corrects him: ‘Savouries, my brother! Savouries not small chops’. Change would, instead, come slowly; those who point out these mistakes must be ready to accept the accusation of being pedantic (too known?). How many people know this word ‘savouries’?

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I.K. Gyasi’s golden maxim is apposite: “English may not be our mother tongue. However, until we decide to select one local language as our official language, it would be suicidal to ignore the correct use of English.”

And J. E. Metcalfe and C. Astle in their book ‘Correct English’ argue clearly: “Many university graduates with excellent degrees tend to believe that grammar, punctuation, spelling and syntax do not matter. Indeed, empires have been built by those who do not know their adverbs from their adjectives or their principles from their principals. But good English distinguishes the professional from the amateur, and most of us cannot afford to write ‘its’ (The dog wags its tail) for ‘it’s’ (It’s – it is – not a good sign to start your day with sneezing). Messages may be too easily misunderstood if we get the fundamentals wrong.”

Should we stop drawing speakers’ and writers’ attention to these foibles, peccadiloes? How many times have sticklers to correct forms not drawn people’s attention to these seeming ‘petty’ mistakes?  It may be like 1974 when Ghana chose to change from driving on the left to driving on the right (as we do now), and some drivers insisting on driving on the left. Did we hear some people say the examples are far-fetched and incongruous? Perhaps it has not affected you or you may not have been in the dilemma some of us have encountered. For example, asking a question in cross-examination about a dead body in court. Where did the dead body lie in state? Hmm. Did you mean where was the dead body laid in state? No, I mean the dead body was laid on a bed in a room in the house, but the moment you bring ‘in state’, the grammar should change as if the body ‘lies in state’ by itself. So what do you want us to write? My Lord, where did the body lie in state? This is a fixed idiom, and the present ‘lie’ has a past tense ‘lay’ while the present ‘lay’ has a past tense ‘laid’. And that if we should go further: lie (present); lay (past); lying (continuous); has lain (present perfect); will lie (future). Lay (present); laid (past); laying (continuous); has (been) laid (present perfect); will lay (future). Oh-ho-oo.

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The court room need not be a classroom of teachers and pupils, with the 1960-brand head teacher wearing white shirt over white shorts and Achimota sandals with Kennedy socks or long hose holding a long cane to beat the devil out of any recalcitrant pupil and a putrid mouth to scold an iconoclastic (critical) teacher.

You remember the maxim of the three wise Japanese monkeys at the Togoshu Shrine; Misaru covering his eyes and seeing no evil; Kikazaru covering his ears and hearing no evil; and Iwazaru covering his mouth and speaking no evil.

Chinese Confuscius in ‘Analects of Confuscius’ (2nd to 4th Century) admonished his students: ‘Look not at what is contrary to propriety; listen not to what is contrary to propriety; speak not what is contrary to propriety; make no movement which is contrary to propriety. Did we hear someone say: ‘As[m s[ b[’?

africanusowusu1234@gmail.com

 

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