English in our media

Syed Badrul AhsanSyed Badrul Ahsan
Published : 2 July 2022, 07:38 PM
Updated : 2 July 2022, 07:38 PM

The English language will not leave us alone. It pits us against problems we often find hard to handle. Go on, take a look at how English is handled in part of the English language media here in Bangladesh. It may well be that you will be in for quite a few shocks.

How would you respond to a phrase 'emphasised on' or 'stressed upon'? You keep telling the news department that the 'on' or 'upon' turns the expression wrong. Ministers do not 'emphasise on' hard work. They only 'emphasise'. But, yes, if you wish to make use of that 'on' or 'upon', there is a perfectly good way of doing it. Turn 'emphasise' into the noun 'emphasis'. And there you have it, safe and secure. 'The minister placed emphasis on hard work'. Beautiful, isn't it?

But the beauty instantly vanishes when a news item or snippets from everyday conversation would have us know that person B has been 'following the footsteps' of person A. You never follow someone's footsteps. You follow 'in someone's footsteps'. And yet this is an error we often confront in English language newspaper reportage. But let us not 'discuss about' it. That would be a sin. Let's stick to the very grammatical 'discuss', for grammar does not permit you to add that 'about' to 'discuss'.

There is this bit about politics. Where in nations around the world, especially those with parliamentary forms of government, the term 'minister of state' (meaning a junior minister) is in official use, in Bangladesh it is always 'state minister'. Now who will explain to the authorities that every single minister, senior or junior, is a state minister, meaning he or she serves the state. But couldn't we change that 'state minister' in the way we know it to 'minister of state' in the way parliamentary government should know it? And yes, dictators never 'take power'. They 'seize power'.

Where proceedings related to a legal case are the issue, all too often newspapers refer to the 'trial of the case'. We did not know that the case was on trial, did we? And that is our problem. We tell our colleagues, some of them at least, that the term should be 'trial of the accused in the case.' Perhaps they will correct their mistakes. Who knows?

A big problem has to do with the word 'scenario', which reporters and news editors employ with abandon in the newspapers to explain an existing situation. 'Scenario' is a projection of what the future might hold and has nothing to do with the present. Therefore, when a news report speaks of the 'current economic scenario' in the country, it is tripping over the English language. But the tripping over goes on, to our intense discomfort.

The landscape of misused or abused English goes on getting rockier by the minute. The police arrest an individual in a particular place. The alleged rapist, we are informed, was arrested in his village. That is perfect, for no one is arrested 'from' a village or town or any anywhere but 'in' it.  And, please, protest rallies are not held 'in front of the Press Club' but 'before the Press Club' — meaning the road or pavement facing it.

Of late, we have been hearing much about the Prime Minister or a functionary of the state being 'set to inaugurate' some conference or the other. Whatever happened to 'scheduled to'? Vaccination programmes, we have been told by newspapers multiple times, have been 'kicked off' in the Upazilas or districts or towns. How does football language come in here? And should it? Next year, the nation's political parties will 'launch' their election campaigns. They will not 'kick off' the campaigns.

And, yes, let the reporter as also the man at the news desk know that where nouns are countable, we keep them that way. Therefore, the statement will not be 'prices of onion' — a single onion does not have a multiplicity of prices and, besides, traders do not sell a single onion — but 'prices of onions'. We do not deal with 'prices of potato and tomato' but prices of 'potatoes and tomatoes'. And must we keep speaking of parents and their 'kids'? Where is that very proper word 'children', particularly when we use journalistic English?

There have been news reports, many times over, referring to Sheikh Hasina as Bangabandhu's 'eldest' daughter. The Prime Minister has Sheikh Rehana as her sister and the two of them do not have a third sister. Our news people clearly upend grammar when they forget that Sheikh Hasina is the 'elder daughter' and Sheikh Rehana is the 'younger daughter' of the Father of the Nation.

News reports, literally translating the term 'shodoshsho' from Bengali, cheerfully refer to 'members of the armed forces, police, etc,' rather than the very proper 'personnel' of these services. By the way, smugglers operate in the 'border areas' and not in the 'bordering' areas.

'The trade delegation left Dhaka on Monday last'. Where is the issue here? Grammarians will point it out with alacrity. You don't say 'Monday last' but 'last Monday'. And in this particular sentence, 'on' will be discarded. The delegation left 'on Monday' or, simply, 'last Monday', the 'on' cut out of the latter phrase. When we refer to 'pages after pages' of any published work or statement, it is our hold over English which goes for a nosedive. The proper term is 'page after page'. We never give readers 'a news' but simply 'news' or 'a news item'. Bangladesh Biman does not have 'aircrafts' but 'aircraft'.

Criminals are not put 'behind the bar' but 'behind bars'. Legal submissions are presented 'in court' and not 'in the court'. Lawmakers speak 'in parliament' rather than 'in the parliament'. The police, a collective identity, are and not is responsible for security. In diplomacy, Bangladesh has 'relations', not 'relationships', with other nations. We do not welcome visitors or guests with 'floral bouquets' or 'flower bouquets' but simply 'bouquets'.

An ailing person is 'in hospital' and not 'in the hospital'. Ministers 'decline' to comment on issues rather than 'refuse' to do so. 'Floodwaters' have ravaged the Sylhet region. We do not speak of 'flood water'. Speaking of education, the focus ought not to be on 'educational institutes' but on 'educational institutions'. Visitors from abroad do not 'call the Prime Minister' but 'call on the Prime Minister'.

Finally, we in the media are in serious need of discarding the clichés we have held on to for ages. 'The minister said', 'he further said', 'he added' do not enthuse us anymore.

Time was when our parents advised us to hone our English language skills through a diligent reading of English language newspapers. And we took their advice seriously. To what extent can we proffer similar advice to our children and grandchildren in these mediocre times?

Toufique Imrose Khalidi
Editor-in-Chief and Publisher