I am perplexed by a growing phenomenon. The increasing number of wannabe communicators who are petrified by _”grammar”_ Mostly found on the social media environment, this rapidly growing and increasingly vocal troupe leave me in total confusion.

I am not quite sure how they want to ply their trade if they are shy of or inadequate in the use of the the main tool of their craft. The grammar associated with diligent communication.

That is not even the critical concern. The real tragedy is that they seem to be proud of their inadequacies and even flaunt it as a mark of class. Thankfully I suspect that this is largely a feature of flighty social media commentators but as I observed earlier, it is a growing phenomenon and a troubling one too.

How could a commentator who is worth his perch admit gleefully to being afflicted by a debilitating form of atelophobia (an anxiety disorder which is the fear of not being good enough or of imperfection ,which the fear of grammar must form a natural part). Some in more tolerable circumstances still admit of pangs of logophobia (the fear of words). But there can be scant communication without words which are the essential building blocks of communication. How can they then cope as good communicators if they begin by quarrelling with their tools?

I do not know about now, but before our times primary school English needed just a slight garnish to serve as an adequate medium for universal communication while in my time, school certificate English was broad and detailed enough to prepare one for life. I have not had any further formal English language lesson since I left Mr. E. E. Etim’s eternally delightful English language class in Hope Waddell Training Institution after taking the WAEC School Certificate examination in which 55 of the 66 students in that class made an A in English language. That was the way it was.

Today, Nigerian University graduates shamelessly flaunt their fear of all but unregulated and personally concocted forms of englishes. The effect on our national pride is as I have illustrated, devastating. Take time off to watch a welter of extreme performances by our language-challenged public officers; from Generals to Senators down to athletes and “agberos”. It’s a cacophony of unregulated and pedestrian delivery in all types of degraded Englishes imaginable. A tragedy of international proportions.

Without a doubt, there is a general decline in the quality of the English language both spoken and written in our society today. Curiously, with the growth in social media communications, users of those platforms have generated very liberal rules of engagement with the language. The cloak of annonimity which has empowered much of the mediocrity one encounters on the social media platforms comes readily to the rescue of these serial murderers of the syntaxes of the modern form of the language of Mr. William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, Achebe, Soyinka and Chimamanda to mention but a few of the high priests of this temple. It may not be long before the requiem is enacted for elegant english prose in Nigeria.

Unfortunately an equal or even more quantum of decline has hit the vernacular languages. Apart from very few lucky local competitors like the Hausa, Yoruba and to a lesser extent Igbo which have had some form of internationalisation and therefore are readily supported by organisations such as UNESCO, other Nigerian languages are in serious decline, there are a few half hearted efforts to revive some of the other vernacular languages, these are largely powered by stout hearted but underfunded or under motivated volunteers but there is no determined national effort directed at the revival of most of the other Nigerian languages. So gradually we must gravitate to the bewildering state where we will not be properly positioned, in a general sense, to produce logical or elegant documents in either correct English or intelligible vernacular languages. That time may be a while off yet and it may even transpire that the country may eventually wake up to the threat of the extinction of her formal languages to intervene and stop the decline. However it is in fact not inconceivable, given our preferred culture of neglect for us to eventually be left with the choice of only vernacular as our sole official medium. Well that will indeed be the day but at this moment, we are left with no choice but English and it is the height of irresponsibility for communicators, both on and out of social media to treat the language with levity. The evolving social media enthusiasts and budding communicators must therefore begin to take the standards which attend the language and their crafts seriously.

In deep reference, I will seize this special privilege to reminiscence about and dedicate this piece to my English language teachers especially the delectable and urbane English teacher and word smith, Chief Ernest E. J. Etim.

He was not called _”Etim ikó mbakara”_ for nothing and I would wager that there wasn’t a better manipulator of the English language, both oral and written, who walked the face of the globe in his time. We were blessed to have had this maestro of the English prose as our teacher.

With deep gratitude to their memories and in all humility, I say a prayer for the repose of the angelic souls of these quintessential instructors; any time people raise positive commentaries on or contract pangs of inadequacy by my usage of the Language.

It is all due to the dedication of these three English language craftsmen in the old citadel of training, Mr. E. Efanga, the father of the newly appointed INEC national commissioner, Mr. Obo Efanga; Mr. Alstair Rosemale-Coque, an English gentleman who later, as Sir Alstair, became the conductor of several world famous Philharmonic Orchestras, including the London Philharmonic Orchestra and lastly, the delectable, unforgettable and debonair Ernest E. J. Etim, the father of the equally suave Don Etim. who served as the eclectic Commissioner of Works under Governor Godswill Akpabio; all of whose souls I am persuaded, have found heaven and are romping very comfortably in the bosom of our Lord at this moment.

Ah, to be 17 again and retain the immeasurable privilege and pleasure to be tutored yet again by such dedicated purveyors of knowledge. Sadly and realistically, wishes are indeed not horses. A critical lesson our country refuses to heed.

Otu Ita Toyo

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