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Media dropping grammar ball

(republished with permission from the Nation Newspaper, Barbados)

Media dropping grammar ball

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Editor: There was a time one could depend on radio and the daily newspaper for good examples of flawless use of English. Alas, today, in both media, one finds the kind of sloppy language that would make Jeanette Carolyn Barrow, Olga Lopes-Seale and E. L Jimmy Cozier turn in their graves.

It is now fashionable to hear and see “on a whole” used in place of the idiom “on the whole” and an “s” added to “regard” in the phrase “in/with regard to”. The newest grammatical nuisance is the use of the conditional “would have” or worse “would of” when the simple past tense is required. Thus, a person no longer “visited London last year” ; instead he/she “would have visited London last year”. The conditional is reserved for sentences in which one intends to indicate that something “would have” occurred were it not for something else. For example, “I would have gone to the beach if it had not rained.”

Ignorance of the infinitive in sentences such as “I heard her enter the room” leads to speakers and writers rendering “I heard her entered the room.” Enter is the infinitive without “to” and cannot carry a past tense marker. And then, there is the perennial problem of lack of concord in the use of subject and verb, often indicating that the speaker does not know the subject word. Thus, some media personnel and public speakers seem blissfully unaware that it is incorrect to say “Michael, as well as other family members have lost everything in the fire”. The subject being Michael, the correct verb should be “has lost” While we are at it, would someone please point out that one can “aggravate” a situation but not a person? Malapropisms now abound, especially on radio. What took the cake for me recently was a newscaster, in her best voice, informing us that the Trinidad police had not yet “comprehended” a suspect in a “fateful” shooting. Are news items not edited before broadcast?

Where has the bad habit of using the reflexive pronoun in place of the nominative or objective case of the pronoun come from? Must radio announcers and others persist in saying “Vanessa and myself planned the party” instead of “Vanessa and I?” Nor should we say “ Richard invited My wife and myself to the wedding.”

I am fully aware that the Bajan dialect influences one’s learning of Standard English, but, certainly, by the time we finish secondary school, we should be able to recognise that the Bajan vernacular and Standard are two discrete varieties of English used in Barbados, each with its own domain-informal and formal. Moreover, speakers and writers should, by then, be fairly competent in the use of both varieties. Certainly, our newspapers, television and radio should not be guilty of some of the egregious language errors now served to readers and listeners.

On a related matter, I urge teachers to stop telling students not to begin sentences with “because”. That word is a subordinate conjunction like others such as “although”, “if”, “after”, “when” and “unless” among others and can be correctly used at the beginning of a sentence once the idea is completely expressed. Therefore, while it is incorrect to write “Because I was tired.”, nothing is wrong with “Because I was tired, I did not go to the party.”

The use of Bajanese is a legitimate form of expression which we should be proud of, but when Standard Caribbean English is required, we need to ensure that we use it proficiently.

John Goddard Former Teacher of English

Searchlight Editor’s Note: The incorrect use of the conditional “would have” has reached epidemic proportions in SVG, with some of the main culprits being prominent professionals, senior government officials and people holding public office. What then do we expect of our impressionable young people?

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