Generational errors in teaching/learning (Part II)

Sun, 27 Apr 2014 Source: Pacas, Idris

: Origin—tiGO Cash, No Wahala!

This write-up is the second in series under the heading GENERATIONAL ERRORS. The term generational error was defined last week in the maiden edition titled ‘TV3 must improve upon its spellings’. But a recap—a generational error is an ‘inherited’ error.

A sharp distinction exists between generational errors and sensational errors. A sensational error is an ‘error’ deliberately committed by someone to create a particular effect. Typical examples are sensational spellings: deliberately misspelled words such as fone and kutz. Sensational spellings are a commonplace in business/advertising (e.g., vodafone & kombat): the aim here is often to convert a popular word into a trademark. These errors, causing no problem at all, are excluded from the Generational Error Series.

Difficult to correct, generational errors pose a serious threat especially to teachers; the difficulty to correct them being directly linked to the cause. And because of their generational effect, we (teachers ourselves) grew up with them and in most cases are ignorant that they are even errors. Never thinking of them as errors means that no effort will be expended to correct them; hence, their persistence. More dangerously, those infected with these errors resist any attempt of being corrected and even view those attempting to correct them as being too-known.

This week, our spotlight is still on the media especially the advertising section. We focus on this sector because its errors have a marked propensity of infecting people especially children en bloc (check the pronunciation of this word). Specifically, we centre on two ads—one by tiGO and the other by Coca-Cola. (Notice that both names are in CamelCase—a mixture of both small and capital letters in one word. See also PowerPoint, ProCredit and iPhone.) Today’s write-up attempts to digest the tiGO ad; tomorrow’s own will look at the Coca-Cola one. So make it a point to be here again morrow.

Before focusing on the ‘errors’, we must remind ourselves that businesses are typically focused on making profits and never on grammar. Thus, companies adopt only words or expressions whose meaning will be understood by the target—consumers. The opposite is the target of us (teachers). In striking a balance, these write-ups focus on only ‘errors’ committed by the advertisers most likely because they (the companies) are unaware of the errors.

The title of the tiGO ad is tiGO Cash, No Wahala! In the said ad, a small boy complained of how bad his father’s business was such that he was in ‘charlie watei’ which got cut on his way walking (all those who have seen the ad too would have seen this scene). We pardon this innocent, yet generationally infected child. One reason for pardoning him is that ‘charlie watei’ is the name known by many people. In fact, many people are even unaware that there is an English name for them. In last week’s write-up, we stated that the ‘charlie watei’ are called flip-flops.

Using the correct word, the child would not have dented the ad because viewers will still see the cut footwear and those previously unaware of the name will get to know it. So, look for and use the right word wherever possible.

Still in the tiGO ad, the second and third errors made by the child came at a time when he said his dad’s business was now booming and his father bought shoes for him. The boy said,’

Look at my SHOES! IS nice!

The errors are the capitalized words. The boy was actually not in ordinary shoes. Every footgear that covers the entire foot is not shoes. And in reality, the boy in the ad is in PLIMSOLLS. His plimsolls are green. I am yet to see shoes that are really green.

Plimsolls, sometimes called by the wordier version plimsoll shoes, are a type of footwear with an upper made of canvas and sole made of rubber (see photos in Google). The upper of any footwear is the part that covers the top of the foot. Etymologically, the term ‘plimsolls’ is more useful to science teachers. These items of footgear, originally called sand shoes, were renamed plimsolls in the 1870s because the rubber sole usually has two coloured lines running round the footwear. These lines resemble the Plimsoll line on the hull of a ship. And because the Plimsoll lines on a ship show the level to which the ship can be safely loaded so that it remains afloat, the second line on the sole of plimsolls also shows that if the wearer steps on water and the water rises above that line, the wearer’s foot will get wet. Just google the term plimsolls, you’ll see more images.

The third error arises from simple concord. Notice these two points.

1. A singular subject requires a singular verb and vice versa.

2. Grammatical agreement is only between a verb and its subject.

Many teachers teach only the first but most concord problems are caused by the second. An embarrassing error of this type occurred in ICT (information and communications technology—notice the ‘s’ at the end of communications; WAEC erroneously omits the ‘s’. Look it up in your dictionary). The said question (BECE 2013: ? 13) reads

A group of files are stored in a

A. folder. B. graphic. C. text. D. word.

Only a cautious reading will let you appreciate the graveness of the concord error in the above-mentioned BECE paper and that in the tiGO ad. The subject of the boy’s sentence is the implied one—the shoes. Joining the two pieces, we get, ‘The shoes is nice’. Reading this sentence aloud, you are most likely to break your tympana (eardrums). The small boy needed to say ‘Are nice’.

But what lesson do we learn from the boy’s mistake? To avoid the boy’s problem and the likes, you need to note this simple rule: items occurring or being used in pair require a plural verb when not preceded by a single quantifier. Examples are as follows:

a. The trousers are blue.

b. My scissors are sharp.

Notice Sentence ‘c’ and ‘d’ which contain a single quantifier preceding the nouns.

c. My pair of trousers is blue.

d. The pair of scissors is sharp.

In both Sentence ‘c’ and ‘d’, the subject, pair, is singular. However, the untrained eye may likely be deceived by the words trousers and scissors which precede the singular verb, is. Remember that it makes little sense to draw somebody’s attention to an error without helping to remedy it. But how do you explain this situation to your pupils/students/colleagues? To be able to explain or understand this clearly, refer to Point 2.

Here too, a simple rule exists: the noun following a preposition is the object of that preposition and never the subject of the verb. Thus, such a noun plays absolutely no role in subject–verb agreement. Reread and note the aforementioned point. Therefore, by simply striking through / underlining the prepositional phrase, teachers can help their students or colleagues to see the union between the subject and its verb.

i. A pair of shears is used to trim hedges.

ii. The driver together with his mates is dead.

iii. The man alongside his wives sings nicely.

Reading the sentences without the prepositional phrase, a learner fully appreciates why the singular verb is correct. Now, let’s reintroduce the example from BECE here to see why the examiner’s error is unpardonable:

A group of files are stored…………..

Striking through the prepositional phrase to restore the link between the subject and the verb, you’re more likely to sue WAEC in the non-existent court of grammar. Hmm!

The need to write/speak good English is a requirement for teaching. Discuss.

Generational errors in teaching/learning is a series that will be published weekly either on Thursday or Friday or both. Courtesy Ghanaweb, this series will be a mini-platform for discussing common errors especially those frequently encountered in the sciences. You can contribute not only by commenting on the articles but also by mailing suggestions to the address below. Your corrections/suggestions to any errors in these write-ups will be highly appreciated.

Idris Pacas: 020 910 15 33 & iddrisuabdulai12@yahoo.com

Columnist: Pacas, Idris