I was recommended by someone who has observed my teaching style and who had been convinced of my knowledge of the area he thought journalists could benefit.
Adeleke Adelekan Fakoya, Professor of Applied Linguistics, Educational Sociolinguistics and Cyber Discourse, is the immediate past Dean, Faculty of Arts, Lagos State University (LASU). Recently, he delivered the 68th edition of the university’s inaugural lecture series. Titled “What Does This Babbler Want To Say,” in the course of the lecture, he toured, virtually, all the linguistic landscapes in English and Yoruba. Clarifications of some of the points he raised with the lecture formed the focus of this interesting interview with Saturday Sun. He spoke on them as well as on his sartorial style.
I find intriguing the title of your inaugural lecture: “What does this Babbler Want To Say?” How did you come about it?
I received it by the Holy Spirit of God. Sounds funny, yes, but that’s what happened.
If I understand you very well, as far as use of English Language is concerned, we all babble.
All of us babble, especially when we use a language that is not our language. Every non-native speaker of any language is a babbler in that language When you listen to Americans and Britons, White people generally, speak Yoruba, for instance, any Yoruba native speaker would know that this is not the way my language is spoken. Just reverse it. No matter how knowledgeable you are in English, you would sound the same way to them. So, all of us are babblers in any foreign language.
Talking about Yoruba, in your lecture, you proved that we also babble when you cited, for an instance, the mistake children make with the popular chant, ole ajibole. Could you explain?
You know, there are things we carried over from our infancy and they go on with us into adulthood because we are not allowed to question certain things or because those things are just customarily a question of culture for us. So it is with ole ajibole. There is nothing like that when you break it down. But the thing is, children would hear something and, in their rendition of what they thought they heard, you have a corruption of that thing. So, what the elders would have been saying is ole e ki’gbe ole, which is: ‘thief, (everybody) shout thief’. Ole ajibole does not exist; there is no way I can say that in English. So, we have so many such things we just carry on and it affects names too.
Yes, you made mention of Magodo, today a popular highbrow residential area of Lagos. You insist we have corrupted the pronunciation and the real meaning of the name.
Ma gun odo means “do not pound”. The early settlers in Ma gun odo set aside Sundays for peace. Nobody should make a noise, so no pounding. Pounded yam was actually their staple food there. So they set aside Sunday as a day of not pounding yam, Ma gun odo: do not pound. But we now have people who just twist everything, Magodo, Magodo which does not make any sense when you break it down.
You also mentioned the case of Alausa, which today happens to be the seat of the Lagos State Government, in Ikeja.
Yea, there are so many such names in my research. Alausa, the way we pronounce it now, means “somebody who sells Hausa people”. Ala anything, in Yoruba, means the seller of something. Alagbado, means “seller of” agbado or maize or corn. Talking about Alausa, the real name is Ala Awusa, “the seller of walnuts.” So, people just came and turned everything upside down to Alausa, probably because they saw it in writing. Sometimes when you read something, you just don’t know how it is pronounced unless the tone marks are there. That’s what could have led to all those corruption you have there. There are so many of them
It seems to me that the essence of your inaugural lecture is to tell us what we can do to minimize or stop the babbling. Is that correct?
What we can do is to prescribe ways not to babble. But then unless you speak the language as a native speaker or among people who speak it so that you can learn some things from them, there is no way you will not fall into some of the pits that we are trying to prevent.
There’s this advert that I saw in a newspaper recently. It talked about Governor Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta State welcoming former President Olusegun Obasanjo to commission landmark projects. But news reports later showed that these projects they are talking about had already been completed. In English, I understand it is wrong to use the word “commission” or “commissioning” when talking about an already completed project.
You can commission projects that are non-existent yet. Let’s say, there is a piece of land somewhere, barren land, nothing is on that land. Whatever you want to put on that land is going to be commissioned: it could be a hospital; it could be a police station; it could be a post office; it could be anything but the beginning of it is to commission it. When you have completed that building, you can now open it for public use; you can inaugurate it; you can start using it but you are not commissioning it again. No. There is another instance, in which I think you can commission an existent building. This building used to be a mosque. Now it is being commissioned as a police station, post office or as a church, in other words, the use to which it was put earlier is now being nullified, it is now another thing, you can commission in that case because it is a new thing.
There was this other case, still published in the papers recently, about President Buhari urging members of Armed Forces not to “rest on their oars” in their fight against Boko Haram. I understand that the expression, “rest on their oars,” as used in this case is wrong. Could you confirm this?
There are so many fixed expressions usually called idiomatic expressions, or, if you like idioms, that Nigerians usually miss because we are used to hearing the wrong forms from people whom we think are the best speakers or users of the language because they are journalists or because they are respectable people in government. It is possible for everybody to say, well, it is ok, so long as we understand what the person means. It may be ok within Nigeria but the moment you are talking to non-Nigerians, especially in America, in Britain, in Canada and so on, there is the need for us to speak internationally acceptable forms of English, which would mean that all these idioms need now to be understood and used in the proper sense. So, Nigerians need to be told it is not for one not to rest on one’s oars but on one’s laurels.
Sometimes, you come across some advert notices by some of these housing agents. They advertise “self-contain” rooms to let. If I may ask, is it “self-contain” or “self-contained”?
It is self-contained.
For journalists to become model users of English, as far as reporting is concerned, in your inaugural lecture you advised them to adopt one or two native speaker newspapers or electronic media. What do you mean by that?
If you look at the way you report, you will find that your reporting takes after the reporting style of either BBC or the CNN or Al Jazeera and so on. And, then your newspapers as well. So, look for a newspaper that is published in good English and try to see how they express certain things there. Before you know, you will begin to write like those people. And, then watch their TV and see how they report all those things. Their reporting styles also can influence your own style. You know, practice makes perfect. Try to put in practice the things you see there, the things you read there. Use the words. Put them into practice and use them in your own newspapers or in your own TV report or so. That’s all.
I write for The Sun newspaper of Nigeria, for example. Should I be reading The Sun of London, for instance? Is that what you mean?
The Sun newspaper here is sensational. Then look for a sensational newspaper abroad and imitate somebody’s style there. Before you know it, you could be a trendsetter here.
A typical Nigerian journalist would argue that he does not have the money to buy foreign newspapers.
But these things are available online for free. Instead of going to Facebook or watching Youtube all the time, why don’t you go to sites that can help you improve your reportorial style?
You spoke about Mr. Ademola Osinubi of The Punch newspapers discovering you. What do you mean by that?
I was one of the teachers that taught him when he was a student of the Law in LASU. And, there was a time they had a small crisis at The Punch. I think their reporters were not writing good English and so he sent one Mr. Dafe Onojovo, he is dead now. Dafe talked to one or two other people and they recommended me. So, when they told Mr. Osinubi that they have got somebody from LASU, he simply told them that if that person is not Fakoya, take it away from him. They now said, well, that is the name we brought to you. Unknown to me, I was recommended by someone who has observed my teaching style and who had been convinced of my knowledge of the area he thought that journalists could benefit. And, from there I was able to learn even from the mistakes that those journalists make. Some of those mistakes even I made them at that time. But because as a teacher, there was need for me to rewind what I did earlier; two, see how these people’s language differs from my language, I was able to see where I could begin to improve myself, where I could suggest improvement to other people, and then from one training session to another, I gained higher ground and was able to write many of my first books. As at today, I can say I have had more knowledge than I had earlier on and my knowledge is still increasing but they are all thanks to Osinubi.
You also thanked Pastor Ituah Ighodalo, Senior Pastor, Trinity House, Lagos, for spiritual assistance. What do you mean by that?
All of us, human beings, we are not just physical. There are things that happen in your life and somebody just prays for you. Whether you believe or not, the prayer is answered, and your problem becomes like, oh, I didn’t even know that it has solution. Ituah and some other people have stood in the gap for me, sometimes, and I can see the hand of God working through those people’s prayers. That’s why they have to be acknowledged.
Your one-time student, Mrs. Foluso Okebukola, now a full-fledged Professor talked about the arresting or captivating way you dress while in class. Has that changed with years?
No, I am consistently formal when it is necessary and, then, at times when you have to tone down a bit but never flippant because your appearance is the first statement even when you are not saying anything; you can say something by the way you look. And, by your appearance, people have a way of relating to you or distancing themselves from you.
She was also fascinated by the fact that you were able to deliver your lecture ex tempore, without having to read or dictate your lectures from notebooks. How were you able to do that? Habit formed from experience over the years?
Over the years, maybe, but the thing is for you to set out to be a brand, a brand to be imitated or a brand to be avoided. But from the beginning I had some very good mentors who showed me how to shine and I followed their advice. And, that’s what has been guiding me all along.
Is she the only student that passed through you that is now a Professor?
No, no, no. I have so many other students who passed through me who are now professors.