A couple of days back, I had this conversation with one of my followers, who says he loves reading my piece because of the knowledge he gains from it, but questions my emphasis, or what he describes as bending towards the British English as against the American English. That, don’t I think people should be at liberty to choose whether to use the British or American English to communicate their feelings to the audiences they wish to address, rather than compel them to hold on firmly to the British, and indeed, the Queen’s English. This fellow even went a step further to describe my insistence on the British English as colonial hang over that should be discarded and to open the space for people to express themselves the way they like it. A valid argument, some would agree with him. But certainly, that is not the way to go. Otherwise, chaos or disorderliness, like any other business that is not properly organized would be the order of the day. I pointed to him not even to go too far, but take a cue from, or a close look at the Catholic Church where we both worship.
Why is the Universal or Mother Church said to be most organized institution in the world, even after centuries of its existence, and despite the schism that greeted her around the middle 16th century masterminded by the German priest, Martin Luther the Church still stands firm? I asked. For a moment, he thought it through. Just as I was about to speak, he woke up from the momentary slumber and fired back, “because the Catholic Church has never for once deviated from the traditions and scriptural mandate handed down by the fathers and doctors of the faith, and galvanized or held together by the power of the Holy spirit, when Jesus Christ explicitly told Peter the first Pope in the gospel of John 21 vs. 15 “take care of my lambs”. And that powerful message had been embedded in the Church down to the present Pope, His Holiness, Francis.
That is one clear example of holding on to tradition, especially the sacred ones that should never be diluted or changed. That is orderliness in practice. I quipped. And that sets the tone for the question, is there rivalry among users of the British and American English? The answer I will give here, is capital NO! We can only talk of restrictions and the manner language is acceptable to people of different cultures and nuances. The British would want to maintain a firm grip on their style and delivery of the language of mass communication. America would always want to exercise power with dominant influence in commerce and politics, and of course, inventors of the computer system widely in use, fortunately also want to dominate the media space.
That has given room to the small changes in spelling the words. Before then the dictionary recognises the American English, but quickly points at it in parentheses (US) English to separate it from the standard or Queen’s English. However, the standard or Queen’s English holds sway predominantly in the countries that came under British rule before gaining independence from the once powerful Great Britain. They introduced their education system and indirectly or directly influenced the way we think and act. To date, the British influence is not going away any sooner but rather the American influence is running riot in Nigeria, nay Africa. And so, there is that seeming rivalry between the British and American influence down to the language and style of presentation.
This is most noticeable in the media, especially the broadcast stations in Nigeria. The English pragmatists have raised the alarm over time how the American influence has crept in deep. They hold some broadcast stations, radio and television guilty of this and even called for sanctions or the retraining of the On Air-personalities to conform to the standard we know and popularised by the government or public sponsored media outfits. This group of adherents to the norms as it should be, insists that normalcy should be restored to the industry, in the style of presentation and use of grammar, at least to carry the audience along who are not familiar with American pronunciation, often drawl and difficult to follow. The exact opposite is the British pronunciation which is clipped and distinct, easy to understand and comprehend.
That is where Nigeria belongs, and by implication the Commonwealth countries whose English is second language. It is visible in official circles, or education system where English is made compulsory as Nigeria’s lingua franca. When one fails English language at the school certificate level, he or she is treated with disdain or rejected till he or she is able to remedy it. In short, we are told to stick to the British English that runs across Nigeria’s media space in spelling and pronunciation for the broadcast stations. The print media appears to do better in maintaining the inherited culture of accuracy and standard with the Queen’s English.