To Kill a Living Language

1 June 2010 at 6:37 pm (Uncategorized)

The other day, owing to a technical problem related to reception, we watched the 19:00 news on SABC3. Usually, we restrict ourselves to the news on because it isn’t a mouthpiece for the ruling mob, unlike the three SABC channels which wear their bias and cant like so many tin badges of honour. A further difference we’ve found is that is also aware that the world doesn’t end at SA’s borders, and for this reason, too, we don’t normally dine at the trough of the SABC’s pre-digested fodder.

Now we may well be stodgy old stick-in-the-mud grouches who are a few decades behind the times, but it occurs to us that a certain minimal ability to speak the language of the newscast would be an essential job requirement for newsreaders and TV reporters. In this case, that language would be English. Surely the news is intended readily to be understood without its target audience having to scratch its head and ponder at length the barrage of garbled pidgin and gibberish that has issued from the newsreaders’ or reporters’ lips.

It is true that isn’t entirely innocent of such language abuses. In particular, some of its reporters are obviously speaking a third or fourth language when they speak English, but on the whole the newscasts are intelligible. Not so in the case of those that the SABC injudiciously broadcasts, which require the skills of an accomplished linguist/phoneticist to extricate meaning from the garble of errant grammar, mispronunciation, malapropism and misnomer (collectively known as “ErrMMM”). Such a failing will be a sad reflection on this country’s ability to produce from its many millions even just a few well-spoken and educated people when the World Cup hordes arrive, many of whom are English speakers who will struggle to make head or tail of the spoutings on TV. Equally importantly, this defective diction and anarchic enunciation by newsreaders and reporters perpetuates among the country’s youth the idea that it’s okay to torture spoken language into a broken heap: after all, they do it every day on TV.

Several local entertainment productions for TV feature actors and personalities who can speak clearly and intelligibly in English. Thus, there really are such people who have the requisite ability. While there are many more who, based on their English impairments, should never have been selected for whichever role they were awarded, the presence in locally-produced dramas of those who have a decent speaking mastery of the language immediately raises a telling question. If there are some actors who can speak properly, why are the unknown and struggling ones who share that talent but who are without fixed work not snatched up to be newsreaders? Instead, we are treated to a compote of minced gobbledegook by people with club-tongues and an assortment of adverse glosso-laryngeal conditions.

It makes no sense at all to us that the SABC would pursue – if that indeed is the driving force behind it – racial quotas (or possibly afrocentrism) ahead of intelligibility on something as important as a news service. Not everything brought by the colonists is automatically bad. Whether one likes it or not, English is the de facto communications standard in all spheres of interest around the globe, be it business, science, the arts, or just about anything else one would care to mention. India and China have realised it and are emphatically engaged in enlightening their populations to that fact. To ignore it is political and ultimately economic suicide by way of parochialism.

And merely to pay lip service to it by employing newsreaders and reporters barely capable of speaking a nominal version of it is stupid, ridiculous and vaguely insulting.


1 Comment

  1. Balanced Truths said,


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