ENGLISH LANGUAGE: How many dialects can you speak?

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In a contemporary Nigerian Society, people communicate erratically in both American English and British English to the extent that it has become difficult in separating them in most cases.

For instance, in the UK, a student is said to SIT for an exam, while in the US, a student TAKES an exam. During the examination period in the UK, students REVISE what they have taught (British English). But, in the US, students REVIEW what they have taught (American English). In the UK, Examinations are supervised by INVIGILATORS [British English] while in the US, examinations are supervised by PROCTORS or SUPERVISORS (American English). In the UK, a teacher SETS an exam, while in the US, a teacher WRITES or GIVES an exam.

The differences are not limited to the above instances. These significant contrasts between American English and British English are so enormous, and sometimes, it could confuse. Sometimes, it may cause ‘fatal’ misunderstanding.

On September 25, 1978, it caused the deadliest California’s air crash when a Pacific Southwest Airlines Flight 182 during a routine trip from Sacramento to San Diego. Unknown to the crew of Flight 182, in the locality, an aircraft instructor was instructing one of his students flying in a private Cessna aircraft.

But, during the transmission with the airport control tower, there was a “dialectal” misunderstanding between the crew of Flight 182 and air traffic controller. The crucial word “PASSED” was misunderstood as “PASSING”.

The Flight 182 crew’s misunderstanding of the gerund “PASSING” for its corresponding adjective “PASSED”, made the air traffic controller believe that the flight 182 crew knew the location of the private Cessna aircraft. Less than two minutes after the transmission, Cessna aircraft slammed into the right-wing of Flight 182. Both aircraft plummeted into a San Diego neighbourhood, killing all 135 on board of Flight 182, seven people on the ground and the private Cessna aircraft.

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Let’s move a little away from aviation. In the wake of World War II, during a crucial meeting of the Allied Forces, this “dialectal” misunderstanding almost caused an unfathomable resentment. As narrated by Winston Churchill, the meaning of the phrasal verb “TO TABLE” created a deep misunderstanding among the attendees. In British English, ‘TO TABLE an item or an agenda’ means to OPEN it up for discussion, while in American English, ‘TO TABLE an item or an agenda’ means to DELETE it completely from discussion.

On May 19 this year, my ten-year-old son was caught in the web of this “dialectal” misunderstanding. On his way to the examination centre for his Common Entrance Examination into JSS 1, he suddenly burst into tears. His grudge against me was that he preferred a “college” to a “secondary school”. It took me close to thirty minutes to explain to him that College may sometimes be used in the UK or Commonwealth countries (such as Nigeria) as part of the name of a secondary or high school. I then gave him some examples – Adeola Odutola College, Ijebu-Ode, Orimolusi College, Ijebu-Igbo, Gbobi College, Lagos, etc.

The major differences between British English and American English are immeasurable; for example: on English television, each year of a show is referred to as a SERIES, while on American television each year of a show is referred to as a SEASON. In the UK, the usage of a PERIOD for a FULL STOP is now obsolete. For example, Barack Obama said, “BLOODSHED IS UNGODLY, FULL STOP”, but in American English, “BLOODSHED IS UNGODLY PERIOD.”

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TRANSPORTATION means an uncommon thing for both Americans and British people. TRANSPORTATION in Britain means “penalty for a crime”, i.e., deportation.

In the UK, DRINK DRIVING is against the law, the legal phrase in the UK is Drunk in Charge of a Motor Vehicle (DIC) but in the US, DRUNK DRIVING is against the law. The legal term in the US is driving while intoxicated (DWI) or Driving under the Influence of Alcohol (DUI).

By: Albert Gbemileke

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