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OCHIENG: However hard, use language with its rules

by kenya-tribune

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In an example of what a European media commentator used to dismiss as “ … the pseudo-facts of newspaper headlines …”, a Nation sub-editor wrote as follows in the September 20 edition: Obado is father of Sharon baby: DNA.

Though accustomed to such locutions, many intelligent newspaper readers might have been forced to ask: What on earth is a “Sharon baby”?

The answer, of course, is that the writer transposed the two words and failed to insert the apostrophe “s” into an appropriate place in his or her sentence.

If communication is what you are in the marketplace to sell, please use the apostrophe “s” and say “Sharon’s baby”.

For page one is the responsibility of somebody high up in the hierarchy of a newspaper establishment, closely monitored by the managing editor himself or herself even the editor-in-chief is actively interested in how all the pages are progressing.

For time is of the essence. Yet, as the myrmidon of the managing editor, the chief sub-editor closely monitors the activities of all the sub-editors. And he or she is frequently obliged to reject a proposed headline and to force its sub-editorial author to try again.

Even what one media historian dismisses as “ … the pseudo-facts of newspaper headlines …” are ultimately the sub-editors’ responsibility.

The problem is that, in all former European colonies, all of a newspaper’s editorial personnel are forced to use a language imposed on the given country’s elite by the buccaneers of the colonising European tribe.

But English imposes special difficulties on all foreigners which no sensible language should ever impose on the natives of any country.

Probably the most important English difficulty is that spelling is never to be relied upon as a guide to pronunciation. It is a mystery how, in writing, the sound ruff came to appear as rough the whole world over.

French is the only other worldwide language I used to know that imposes such a difficulty on learners. One of the chief problems with English, then, is that the learner is actually learning two languages simultaneously.

For the reason that pronunciation differs markedly from spelling, English spelling is a reflection of the pronunciation of a dead language.

It is for that reason that a word pronounced as ruff appears in our books as rough, thus giving no end of grief to all of the world’s learners of the language of England.

For another example, thru is the pronunciation of through: Moreover, right, rite, wright and write are a thorough waste of letters because all of them are identical in pronunciation.

Urgently needed is for the world’s teachers of the language of England to organise a world conference in which to try to reconcile English spelling with English pronunciation in order to bring all English words under the same communication bastion throughout the English-speaking world, which is today the whole world.

Ochieng is a veteran journalist.

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