Write in English, S’il Vous Plaît

By Uche Amunike

Dear readers, I came across this interesting piece written by my very good friend, Ikeddy Isiguzo. He tries in this narrative, to point out the major dangers in our acceptance of the many expressions and abbreviations in social media which we tend to adopt as correct while killing our knowledge of the English Language. I agree with him also on the score that we have all become lazy as a result of this trend. We need to stop being ‘trendy’ in our writings and start writing the proper way and spelling words correctly. This new trend stunts the development of the English Language and even our own native dialects since whatever you speak is a product of the mind! He captioned his work, ‘Write in English, S’il Vous Plaît’. It’s a piece everyone should read as we are all guilty of this very disturbing trend on social media. I’ll leave you to read the rest of this very educative and informative piece…

Few things would affect the English language, and our lives, as much as Facebook. All languages are accepted, all expressions are admitted, and abbreviations that mean nothing to you, challenging your knowledge of English and life, are thrown in as extensions of English. Years back, we studied English Literature; later it became Literature in English, a more appropriate way of accommodating African authors who used English as the language in expressing African cultures. It made sense that Things Fall Apart is African Literature in English.

Facebook also seems to make people lazy, a handicap to the development of any language and individual. It is permissive of shallow thinking. Happy birthday has long become HB. The accompanying prayers have been decimated too. “Long life and prosperity” has become LLP, rounded off with IJN, “In Jesus Name”, and versions thereof. Each time I think I am through with these abbreviations, new ones turn up, I guess in line with the dynamism of language and our growing proclivities to laziness.

The first time I heard a student refer to holidays as “hols”, I under-estimated the problem until the day in another conversation I asked someone who constantly spoke of RNB what RnB meant. He retorted it was RnB and expressed surprise that I was asking. Has he heard of rhythm and blues? Surprise was all over his face. It was on the same occasion that I knew that his knowledge of several things was abbreviated.

I probed further. What is “aka”? Aka is Igbo for hand, he rightly said, a hint of anger laced his voice. I meant in English, for instance, Ikeddy, aka Ozuome. He has heard of that even used it, he told me. It stands for, also known as, I told him. He pretended gratitude and changed the discussion to more comfortable subject.

Facebook may not be blamed as some of these encounters preceded it. The other day I read Pamela Mojekwu on Facebook asking people to write in English. She wondered why people would attempt expressing themselves in a language they could not manage. I thought she was the one who had a challenge. One major challenge with communication is that we could assume that those we are communicating with think like us, or at least would understand us. How did she know their language was English?

Since communication is the business of generating meaning(s), we also assume mostly that everyone is communicating to generate meaning, the meaning that we know, or would like to know. It does not seem to be so. The speed of Facebook communication and other social media platforms appears to be more important than what the users say. Be the first to say it has overtaken what is said, to whom, by whom, and for what reason.

Facebook has its language, which is unlike any other language. It is handy, it is useful, and above all, it is momentary. It serves passing purposes and the language is often not retained for other uses. The language is mainly attached to issues that are under discussion. People write from local perspectives that only indigenous languages appear capable of portraying. We therefore read from English into another language, may be French. It is all so fleeting.

We assume their meanings since meanings are meant to be contextual. Sometimes we strive to make meanings of the whole situation by introducing what others may consider extraneous to the issue under discussion. To others, you are mixing up things, to you; you are making contributions that the whole wide world (www) could read.

The language of Facebook is closer to patois (also patwa, patwah). Many associate patois with Jamaica. By definition and character, Nigeria’s pidgin is patois, Nigerian patois, just as we have Jamaican patois, admittedly one of the most popular globally. In Facebook, expect nothing, and get everything. If you set your expectations on anything, I mean anything, you would be disappointed. Patois evolves, with a speed that out-trends society, it is a pacesetter that does not wait for anyone to catch up. The variation spoken to Warri, and parts thereon testify to the impetuosity of patois. My concerns with the abbreviations I have noticed could be so belated that you could be wondering where I issued from – you have a point.

I knew they were there, I never knew their use was so wide spread and I am concerned about how they affect our language use. Language is essentially the product of our thinking. What else are we abbreviating? Most interventions on Facebook are disruptive, annoying, provocative, insulting, and sometimes witty, hilarious and some defy classification, laced with heavy dosage of patois. People feel obligated to comment on all issues (freedom of speech comes carte blanche), misdirecting others and spreading complete ignorance in many cases. Nothing seems to matter more than the fact that we can communicate, may be express ourselves, no matter the effect.

Pamela was wrong in thinking that English was the language of communicating in Facebook Nigeriana. It is patois of a kind that we have not interrogated, nor implicated in the dropping standards of school examinations. We are giving ourselves too much credit in thinking that we can switch from patois to formal language as the needs arise.

A friend was worried enough about none of his children speaking a Nigerian language. One of the sons sprang to his own defence. He told his father that he spoke a Nigerian language. A shocked father asked which one, to which the young man responded, pidgin. There are many like him who glorify the deficiency in a Nigerian tongue, a matter we all seem to have given up on, after all, it is not worth an oil licence (possibly, the most important thing in Nigeria, outside the power to award the licence).

Ignorance is celebrated on Facebook, not by the ignorant alone. Followers of the one communicating the “new sense” support him to the hilt, their leader should not be seen as communicating views that anyone should oppose. They largely succeed. German political scientist Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann (1916-2010) in 1974 proposed the Spiral of Silence Theory which appears to apply to Facebook differently. The theory referred to the tendency of people to remain silent if they feel their views are in opposition to the majority view on an issue.

The reasons for the silence include:
Fear of isolation when the public realises the individual has a divergent opinion
Fear of reprisal or more extreme isolation and negative consequences
With Facebook, the theory applies as Facebook activists coerce their followers and others with their opinion, in a keen contestation for space, relevance, and popularity. Isolation includes threats of “defriending” those who reject the spiral. Some are “defriended” without their knowledge. There are also threats of leaving Facebook in protest against verbal assaults, harsh views, and personal attacks.

A flip side of the theory is that the mainstream media may no longer, depending on jurisdiction, be the purveyor of the majority view that Noelle-Neumann had in mind. The majority view on Facebook could in other media be the minority. The minority on Facebook use influence, “louder voices” (more postings), buzz (talking above the din), repetition (proven in studies to sustain a lie until people start thinking it is the truth), abuses (which those who cannot stand back out), and intimidation (as we have seen in governments arresting those who express contrary views) has unleashed different versions of the spiral of silence on Nigerians.

If we note that most of the young voters that the All Progressive Alliance attracted, was through the social media, particularly Facebook, the language of Facebook Nigeriana, in politics, and in any area that could converge with politics, it could be understood that the stringent views expressed on these platforms are not ordinary.

Leaning on the spiral of silence, there is a ceaseless battle to hold the attention of Nigerians by supporters who have invested their reputation and other resources in President Muhammadu Buhari. They launched fully into the fray; it is too late to pull back, and silence is not one of their considered options. They are experts on analyses and they have not fallen behind in emphasising successes and achievements of President Buhari. They have had their embarrassing moments with the President’s performances which they try to cover up with language and their determined grip on their conviction that without Buhari, the country would have been shipwrecked.

How did they come by this conclusion? The postings on Facebook would regale you with Buhari’s qualities, conveniently ignoring his belief that democracy was an inconvenience he had to endure. The positions do not have to associate themselves with logic. If anything, anyone who questions the President’s decisions, is either a beneficiary of corruption, was expecting to benefit from the corruption or was a kinsman of the corrupt. When the President disregards court orders and justifies them with the enormity of the allegations against the suspects, we get hints of what the President expects – the judiciary’s co-operation in jailing suspects, who once arrested have to prove their innocence.

Facebook would continue its relevance in how people are informed. Its place in our political communication is growing. It is time we found out in what language we write, particularly on Facebook.

ISIGUZO is Editor-in-Chief of Momentum Africa Media