Not sorry for helping make English Africa’s lingua franca

Posted on: 2018-08-01 16:30:00

As a former lecturer in colleges in colonial central Africa, I must plead “guilty” to teaching many students how to teach English in their primary and secondary schools (How the English language is taking over the planet, 27 July). During my 17-year tenure, I must have spread the language to maybe thousands of Africans and no doubt they spent their careers passing English on to umpteen thousands of their pupils, ad infinitum (if I may be permitted to use a Latin term).

I gladly took on the role of cultural ambassador to enable these young women and men to take their place in the greater world. They were eager learners and laughed when I told them they were perfectly entitled to use English to attack the British colonial regime. They were also well aware that having a foreign lingua franca (ditto) meant that they could avoid choosing one of the 70 local languages for this task, thus igniting the anger of speakers of the other 69 tribal tongues. I very much doubt whether this led to their decay; bilingualism was almost universal.

So you can understand why I make no apology for helping to some small degree to make English the one and only global medium of communication. It’s supremely well suited to this purpose.

 Maurice George

Ormskirk, Lancashire 

American English differs from (standard) British English in allowing such constructions as “he grabbed the bag off of me”, “I left it outside of the house” (ie with two prepositions). However, these usages are nothing at all to do with “linguistic precision” as claimed by Elizabeth Wilson (Letters, 30 July). They are simply regional variants, both equally acceptable/grammatical. I recall using the “off of” expression myself as a boy in Yorkshire. Non-standard yes, but nothing to do with grammaticality as such. And in what sense is “different to” ungrammatical/inaccurate? It is simply a reflection of the writer’s personal taste/style. In confusing the informal with the ungrammatical in such an authoritarian manner, it is the writer who is guilty of “imprecision”, not American English.
Philip J Jaggar
Emeritus professor of West African linguistics, Soas University of London

Elizabeth Wilson complains about the Americanism “different to”. My 1982 copy of Eric Partridge’s guide to English, Usage and Abusage says: “The impeccably correct construction is different … from although different … to is permissible.”

I have been using “different to” for years without thinking it American. Indeed, American friends take me to task about this “Britishism” as the American version is now “different than”. Lynne Murphy, in her recent book about British and American English, The Prodigal Tongue, points out that many constructions perceived by the British to be Americanisms actually aren’t.
Paul Dormer
Guildford, Surrey

I’m sorry, but what Elizabeth Wilson refers to as “American” English, is just sloppy English. I refer her to that classic handbook of American grammar – The Elements of Style by Strunk: “… one thing differs from another… ; ... Can means ‘am able’, not to be used as a substitute for may… ; … Less should not be misused for fewer…”.
Paul Thomas
Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk

Source: The Guardian

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