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This study was carried out to investigate grapho-syntactic errors in the language of advertising in Nigeria. The purpose was to find out the nature, types, and causes of these errors of writing, which included spelling, punctuation, agreement, omissions and wrong tense usage that occur in the advertisements in the electronic and print media in Nigeria. The advertising materials used were inscriptions on hoardings, posters, newspapers, magazines and motor vehicles. Public announcements on television were also used. The data were collected from the major cities of Anambra State i.e. Awka, Onitsha and Nnewi, which represent the major commercial centres that habour more abundantly sources of these data. Different national newspapers and magazines were selected on daily bases for a period of three weeks and used for the study. Unstructured interviews were administered to artisans who had incidences of such errors on their hoardings. Questionnaire was also administered to professional advertisers to find out whether they were aware of such errors and whether these errors served any specific purposes. The findings revealed, among other things, that grapho-syntactic errors were mostly due to the incomplete mastery of the English language which is the language of the media in Nigeria; that the level of education of advertisers correlated with the quantity and nature of the errors; that some of these errors were caused by interference from the first language of the advertisers; that some of these forms were regarded as aspects of Nigerian English; that some advertisers intentionally used erroneous but popular forms to draw attention of the potential clients. Finally, teaching of spelling and calligraphy well in, especially, the early formal education, encouragement of the use of the dictionary, and proper teaching and learning of grammar had been recommended for the reduction of these errors.
1.1 Background to the Study
Advertising is basically a system of disseminating
information about specific goods, services or ideas to a target
audience by specified sponsors, through multi-faceted means.
Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary defines advertising as
The action of calling something (a commodity for sale, a service offered or desired) to the attention of the public especially by means of printed or broadcast paid announcements (31).
Thus, advertising implies the techniques and practices
used to bring specific products, services and opinions to public
notice for the purpose of persuading the public to respond in a
certain way towards what is advertised. Advertising involves
communication and communication involves language use.
Language is the major means of human communication and
interaction. Sapir explains language as
... a purely human and non-instinctive method of communicating ideas, emotions and desires by means of a system of voluntarily produced symbols (8).
Thus, language forms the basis for all forms of human
activities and interaction. Advertising as a form of human
interaction makes use of language and Brook says that “the words of advertising need to be chosen with care if they are not going to have ridiculous effects” (167).
In Nigeria, the language of the mass media is essentially English. This does not mean that our indigenous languages are not used in media advertising, but English is the main language of the mass media. The English language is non-indigenous to Nigeria, but it is one of the nation’s official languages and her lingua-franca.
The establishment of Lagos as a British colony in 1862 officially marked the advent of the English language to Nigeria, but there are traces of the existence of this language in Nigeria before 1862. With the arrival of the Europeans in Nigeria for political, economic or religious conquest, there arose a need for communication between English and Nigerians from different ethnic groups. The Europeans, according to Omolewa (in Uzoezie), had a very poor opinion of the vernacular which they considered neither very extensive nor of very high quality. So, these Europeans decided to use their own language in communication with Nigerians (163).
The first set of Europeans to arrive at the shores of Nigeria were Portuguese. They made contacts with some Southern Kingdoms such as old Calabar and the Empire of Benin, around the seventeenth century. The British traders were the next batch of Europeans who came to Nigeria. According to Uzoezie, the British ousted the Portuguese and replaced the contact language with English as the language of diplomacy and trade (163). Quoting Omolewa cited in Adetugbo, Uzoezie says that England also acquired the monopoly for slave trading along the West Coast of Africa by the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713 and the subsequent British success in the famous race to Nikki in 1884, and according to him, the ground was, thus, already prepared for the permeation of the English language along the coast and the hinterlands. Due to the contacts between the English language, Portuguese, and some indigenous languages, a form of inter-language (pidgin) emerged (164).
In 1862, the official annexation of Lagos as a British colony took place; thus, the British needed manpower badly for running its affairs of government in Nigeria, and having adopted English as the language it would utilize in government, they then had to teach the indigenes English in order to facilitate better
interaction, understanding and governance. In 1882, the English language was adopted as the mode of instruction for training of the badly needed manpower.
The missionaries who also came to Nigeria to spread the gospel had to use English. They emphasized the English language as it related to religion. They introduced reading, arithmetic and writing (the 3 – Rs) to Nigerians as part of the strategies of conversion. Thus, they enhanced the spread of the language.
With the abolition of the trans- Atlantic slave trade in 1807, according to Eresimmadu and Arinze, many freed slaves returned to their native towns and states (17). These slaves had already learnt some English in their places of slavery. They took up jobs as interpreters and teachers and helped to spread the English language. Furthermore, according to Udensi and Ike-Nwafor the desire for a good command of the English language was enhanced by the certification system of employment, whereby a credit pass in the English language was made a basic requirement for employment and for further studies (7). Thus, the English language became the language of government, the mass media, education, politics and also the lingua-franca of
Nigeria. The use of the English language as the official language, according to Udensi and Ike-Nwafor, created problems for many Nigerians. These problems appeared in the form of errors in language usage at all levels – phonological, morphological, syntactic and graphological (8). These errors came as a result of language contacts between English and the different mother tongues, the so-called vernacular languages. These languages are totally unrelated to English; there are a lot of disparities, for instance, in the phonemic inventories, syllabic structures, spellings and syntax. In speaking the English language, Nigerians, most times, infuse aspects of their vernacular languages, which appear as errors.
Thus, the coming together of over two hundred and fifty linguistic groups into a nation, the expansion of trade, the development of market economy, among other factors, made it imperative to replace traditional advertising (the use of town criers) with the modern approach, through English.
1.2 Grapho-Syntactic Errors in Language Usage
There are four skills in language use. They are listening, speaking, reading and writing. These skills according to Oniemayin, Medayedu and Daniel are the stages which any
speaker of a language goes through in learning and using the language. The last two skills are acquired later in life in the process of formal education while the first two stages are acquired unconsciously by the child in the process of first language acquisition (15). The last two stages – reading and writing, pose some difficulties for the learner, as he has to apply effort to acquire them. These difficulties appear in the form of errors of syntax, graphology, punctuation, among others. For the purpose of this study, we will concentrate on grapho-syntactic errors, that is, errors of spelling, punctuation, agreement, wrong tense and omissions.
Grapho-syntactic errors are basically deviations from the accepted standards and overall competence in putting the words of a language together in writing, for example, errors of spelling, punctuation, agreement, wrong tense and omissions. These errors normally occur in language use and they are sometimes “conscious errors” and sometimes “unconscious errors”. They are “conscious errors” when a speaker uses the wrong forms because he considers them appropriate in the context, and “unconscious errors’ when they occur as a result of inadequate mastery, carelessness or slips either on the part of the speaker,
writer or the printer. These errors are indexes of the learner’s difficulties in language use. In some cases, because of the occurrence of errors, the information is not clearly disseminated to or understood by the target audience. Deviations in language use are considered real errors when they are consistent and non-random and as well hinder the proper decoding process of the information.
Advertising has been defined by many authorities in various ways to suit many purposes and circumstances. In this study, we looked and selected definitions of the word, advertising. Gollier’s Encyclopedia states
Advertising is a mass paid communication by means of the printed word, radio or television aimed at persuading individuals to take a desired cause of action (136).
Encyclopedia Americana defines it as “any paid form of non-personal presentation and promotion of products, services or idea by an identifiable individual or organisation” (195). In the same vein, the Advertising Practioners Council of Nigeria (APCON), (in Ozo) defines it as “a form of communication through media about products, services or ideas paid for by an
identified sponsor” (1). The Encyclopedia Britannica (Macropaedia) defines it as “the techniques and practices used to bring products, services, opinions or causes to public notice for the purpose of persuading the public to respond in a certain way towards what is advertised” (113). Also Bovee and Arens define advertising as “a non-personal communication of information usually paid for and usually persuasive in nature about products, services or ideas by an identified sponsor through various media” (5). Similarly, Websters Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary says
Advertising is the action of calling something (such as a commodity for sale, a service offered or desired) to the attention of the public especially by means of printed or broadcast paid announcement (31).
From the above definitions, we can infer that advertising is a form of communication about ideas, things, services, events or people, which is paid for by an individual or organization. The form of communication is not personal or one-to-one; it is not face-to-face interaction, rather, it is directed at a particular group of people. Advertising is basically a communication process involving a transfer of information from the advertiser to the consumer with a view to getting a subsequent feedback in the form of buying the good, service or idea that is advertised.
The practice of advertising is as old as man. In Nigeria, advertising can be traced back a long way to the pre-colonial period. Town criers were used as a form of advertising technique. Hawking is also a form of advertising whereby hawkers call out their ware to the public and encourage the public to buy. People also display their goods in front of their houses to indicate their availability within their houses. This is also a form of advertising.
In this study, however, we are concerned with modern advertising. Modern advertising is a product of literacy and advanced technology. It is done through specific media. The media make the dissemination of the advertised information/goods to the audience possible and effective. Advertising like all forms of communication, involves a flow of messages in a certain cyclical pattern. Udensi and Ike-Nwafor clearly state the elements of communication process as “source, message, channel, receiver and feedback” (4). Source is the advertiser. He encodes his intentions and desires into a message. This is the advertised information. This information is transmitted through the media, which is the channel. The
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