I have stated several times that one of the goals of this column is to equip my readers with what I have called “multi-dialectal linguistic competence in English.” In my December 23, 2012 column titled “Q and A on Outdated Nigerian English Words and Expressions,” for instance, I outlined multi-dialectal linguistic competence in English as follows:
“By that I mean being familiar with the forms, peculiarities, points of similarities and dissimilarities, etc. between the major dialects of the English language-British English, American English, Nigerian English, etc. For instance, when I’m in Nigeria-or when I speak with Nigerians-I have no anxieties about saying I will ‘flash’ somebody. I know I will be understood as saying that I will call their cell phone number briefly and hang up before they pick my call. But my multi-dialectal competence in English would ensure that I never say that when I am in America or in the UK because I could be (mis)understood as saying that I want to briefly expose my naked body in public.
“Similarly, a Nigerian who has multi-dialectal linguistic competence in English would use ‘go-slow’ in Nigeria to mean a traffic jam, but would know enough to know that in the UK ‘go-slow’ means a ‘form of protest by workers in which they deliberately slow down in order to cause problem for their employers.’ A Nigerian who tells his boss that he is late to work because of a go-slow could lose his job because he could be mistaken as implying that he is on a one-man industrial protest.”
On a regular basis, I receive a steady stream of emails from readers who tell how reading my column saved them from falling victims to well-executed Nigerian 419 scams purporting to be from the US State Department. They were saved, they said, by encountering some of the dead stylistic giveaways of Nigerian English that I’ve pointed out in my columns. For example, someone was saved by the appearance of the expression, “reply me as soon as possible” in an otherwise deceptively well-written email. She said she escaped being duped because she had read in my previous columns that native English speakers always say, “reply TO me,” “not reply me.”
As recently as a week ago, someone wrote to tell me he received a professional, well-crafted email purporting to be from the US State Department informing him that he had won the US Green Card Lottery. He was told to wire some money to a US bank account, and he was prepared to send the money until he came across this phrase: “We need the money to enable us process….” He wrote: “I immediately knew this was written by a Nigerian because I recall reading several of your articles where you said native English speakers always include a ‘to’ after the word ‘enable’ and that it’s a feature of Nigerian English to exclude it.” He called the US State Department and was told that he was the potential victim of a scam. These sorts of feedback gladden me immensely.
Nigerianisms in fake Pro-Buhari Trump quotes
But, apparently, Buhari social media minions have not the vaguest familiarity with multi-dialectal linguistic competence in English, which explains why, like Nigerian 419 scam artists, they are scamming people with fake pro-Buhari Trump quotes that drip wet with hilarious, easily detectable Nigerianisms. I will analyze only the most popular one here.
The most popular fake pro-Buhari Trump quote that circulated on Nigerian social media went something like this: “I stand with you the number one African president. I support you my fellow president. Your integrity is second to none. I am at your back in spirit, physical and in faith. Go on with your anti corruption fight against crooks in your country. I support you President Muhammadu Buhari. God is also with you.”
The quote is so staggeringly comical in its fakeness it provoked a burst of deep, loud, hearty laughter in me when I first read it. First, the cadence of the sentence is unmistakably Nigerian. So is the syntax. But the lexis was the giveaway. “I am at your back” is a calque formation (as linguists call direct, unidiomatic translation from one language to another) from almost all Nigerian languages I am familiar with. It means “I support you.”
Although British English occasionally uses the idiom “at someone’s back” to mean literally pursue or metaphorically support, it is entirely absent in American English. The closest idiom to “at someone’s back” in American English (which is also present in British English and other native English varieties) is “behind one’s back,” which means “in one’s absence; without one’s knowledge; treacherously; secretly.” So if Trump said something about Buhari behind Buhari’s back, it would mean he said an unkind thing that he wouldn’t want Buhari to hear.
And, of course, “in spirit, physical and in faith” is ungrammatical, structurally ungainly, and out of synch with the natural rhythm of native-speaker speech. In other words, it’s not a construction any native English speaker would make. It violates the rules of what is called parallelism in grammar, that is, the “use of successive verbal constructions in poetry or prose that correspond in grammatical structure, sound, meter, meaning, etc.” “In spirit” and “in faith” are prepositional phrases, but “physical” is quaintly syntactically orphaned in the sentence. To make the sentence obey the rules of parallel construction (or parallelism), it should have been rephrased as, “in spirit, in physical form, and in faith” or, better yet, “spiritually, physically, and in faith.”
Even then, it would still be a nonsensical sentence, one that no native English speaker would ever utter even in a state of drunken stupor. Most importantly, though, American speech outside religious circles is never suffused with outward displays of religiosity. In my recent peer-reviewed academic journal article titled, “‘Your English Is Suspect’: Language, Communication, and the Pathologization of Nigerian Cyber Identity Through the Stylistic Imprints of Nigerian E-Mail Scams,” I observed that “inappropriate, exhibitionistic expressions of religiosity” is an enduring feature of Nigerian English, which is being exported abroad by Nigerian 419 scam artists.
I wrote: “For instance, in quotidian Nigerian life, identity is performed through the exhibitionistic preening of the rituals and idioms of religiosity. In particular, the vernacular of Nigerian Pentecostal Christianity has emerged as a fundamental source of Nigerian English. The linguistic seepage of the vernaculars and registers of Nigerian Pentecostalism into popular Nigerian English occurs primarily through Nollywood movies, from where it percolates into the Nigerian news media and later to the general population. Nigerian Pentecostal Christian English codes have now become so widespread that even Nigerian Muslims and non-Pentecostal Nigerian Christians have unconsciously co-opted them in their conversational repertoires, and this is inflected in the language of both honest and fraudulent Nigerian email writers” (Journal of Communication Inquiry, 2018, p. 18/19).
In addition, Trump is not religious. For instance, according to CNN, on July 28, 2015, conservative Christians asked him if he ever seeks God’s forgiveness for his sins. He said he doesn’t. “I think if I do something wrong, I think, I just try and make it right. I don’t bring God into that picture. I don’t,” he said. He also does not go to church. During a campaign stop in in August 2015, for instance, he lied that he was a “Presbyterian Protestant” who worshipped at the “Marble Collegiate Church” in New York. The very next day, the church issued a statement saying although Trump’s late parents were “active members” of the church, Trump “is not an active member of Marble,” a polite way to say he lied about being a member of the church.
A man who told Christian leaders to their faces that he doesn’t seek God’s forgiveness, who says he “doesn’t bring God” into his everyday affairs would never say to a visiting foreign president, “God is also with you.” It’s a transparent fabrication.
A Google search of the quote yielded 81 results, all of which were Nigerian web pages and social media mentions. The quote appears to have been fabricated by a Lauretta Onochie, Buhari’s social media aide, and spread by Buhari Media Center operatives. Unfortunately, they don’t have the multidialectal linguistic competence in English to make it sound American-or at least Trumpian.
Another fake Trump quote goes as follows: “Mr Jonathan Goodluck. The government of Nigeria and Most Nigerians say you are a thief. You looted their country. If you really feel it is a lie, why not sue someone in a court of law to clean up your legacy as a looter–Donald Trump.” Yet another goes: “Why I did not talk about Biafran issue with President Buhari. They have a history of criminality with more of them in almost every country jail in the world. So I don’t think they are worth enough to acquire a country of their own.”
These quotes are so incompetently fake as to be unworthy of any analysis. Even by the standards of Nigerian English, they are illiterate.